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Sky Sports Racing’s Gina Bryce brings you her best bets for the first day of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival.
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) March 16, 2021
The traditional “Roar” to herald the start of the Festival may well be fake this year but there’ll be nothing false about punter’s excitement to get a brilliant week underway.
As is often the case a short-priced favourite from the yard of six-time winner Willie Mullins dominates the betting with Appreciate It many punters’ idea of the first banker of the week. However, last year’s Champion Bumper runner-up may have his work cut out against the high-class Flat recruit Metier.
The Tolworth form may not be anything to write home about but the eye-catching manner of his victory to pull away after the second last on bad ground bodes well for his chances of powering up the hill and I think the best is still yet to come for the improving British contender.
LOOKING FOR GINA’S DAY 2 TIPS?
Although no longer the ‘race of the week’ after the late defection of Energumene, the Arkle could still provide the backdrop for the performance of the week.
Supreme winner Shishkin has looked foot perfect in three chase starts to date, most recently bounding clear of a classy rival in dead ground at Doncaster to further cement his status as a potential superstar.
Allmankind has a serious engine to set a punishing pace but I expect Shiskin to travel with ease before unleashing that winning kick to land a sixth Arkle for his trainer Nicky Henderson.
A much smaller field this year due to extenuating circumstances and one which for me will be all the poorer for the absence of Escaria Ten who will run in the last race instead.
Proven stamina is crucial for a contest usually run at an end to end gallop while Novices’ have a good record with four of the last seven winners fitting into that bracket. Previous Festival experience is also high up on the check list, all three of which qualify Happygolucky as a solid player, having finished third in a Ballymore Hurdle and third in the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle. Three runs over fences have revealed he enjoys travelling left handed, jumps well and has plenty of stamina with a previous course win to his name. This all further bolsters his chances in this the first handicap of the week.
A race long billed as a match-up between star mares Honeysuckle and Epatante, the Champion Hurdle received a timely boost with the return to form of the Gary Moore-trained Goshen. He was 10 lengths clear with a jaw-dropping display in the Triumph Hurdle when a last obstacle unseat ended the fairytale for the Moore team last year.
It has taken a while for him to show that former brilliance this season, but based on what we saw at Wincanton last time, my suspicion is that Goshen is capable of something out of the ordinary here again.
Roksana took advantage of a last hurdle fall by Benie Des Dieux to win this race two years ago before finishing fourth to Honeysuckle last year. While on the face of it that record alone does not make a compelling case, her form has entered another realm this year with two Grade 2 wins either side of an excellent third-placed effort behind leading Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle contender Paisley Park in the Long Walk Hurdle.
The Skelton team could barely be in better form and Roksana can cap a brilliant season with a second win in this race.
A wide-open contest where a lot of runners seem to have shown their hand already this season. Drying conditions could bring out the best in some of the ex-Flat horses in the line up, like Glorious Zoff, whose former trainer Gordon Elliott has won this race three times in the past eight years.
The Dr Richard Newland-trained Sage Advice could fit the bill too after a promising hurdle debut. He showed signs he might be better than his mark of 127 suggests, with things not working out for him in two subsequent runs on heavy ground.
Two from two over fences since joining Paul Nicholls after almost a two-and-a-half-year break, Next Destination will have been earmarked for this race some time ago by his expert handler. He got a brilliant ride from Harry Cobden last time at Warwick where he showed himself to be an assured jumper with bundles of stamina.
Although the profile of previous winners suggests more experience over fences would help, he looked very professional last time. His tendency to race just behind the bridle means he should have plenty left in the tank, as they make the final climb up the hill. This year’s unique circumstances mean the partnership with regular professional jockey Harry Cobden can remain intact and I expect him to be doing his best work late on to land the finale on day one.
GINA BRYCE’S BEST BETS FOR DAY ONE OF CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL
13.20 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – Metier
13.55 Arkle Chase – Shishkin
14.30 Ultima Handicap Chase – Happygolucky
15.05 Champion Hurdle – Goshen
15.40 Mares’ Hurdle – Roksana
16.15 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle – Sage Advice
16.50 National Hunt Chase – Next Destination
*Paddy will be all over your telly box throughout the Cheltenham Festival sponsoring ITV’s live coverage from Prestbury Park – and you can get free and exclusive tipping columns EVERY DAY from Ruby Walsh, Matt Chapman and Mick Fitzgerald here on PP News.
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