Paul Jacobs: How the favourites will fare on Day 1 of Cheltenham

Our star tipster looks ahead to the first day of the Greatest Show on Turf and assesses the chances of each of the frontrunners in the fab field…


In 2013 the favourites ruled the roost at the Cheltenham Festival with Simonsig, Hurricane Fly and Quevega all imposing winners of their respective events.

However, in four festivals and 28 races since, the layers have more than held the edge with only six market leaders obliging.

So, will it be any different on Tuesday March 13th, 2018?

With less than two weeks to go to the opening salvo here is my view of how the favourites will fair and some bigger priced fancies to boot.

1.30pm Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, 2m

I am a huge fan of Getabird and loved the way he hurdled and finished off his race to win at Punchestown from Mengli Khan. That form is rock solid and if he improves again on this better ground then odds of around 5/4 are probably spot on.

But there is one young horse I am going to back where ever he runs at the Festival, it could be here or in the Ballymore, and that is the Colin Tizzard trained Ainchea (33/1).

The son of Flemensfirth is one the forgotten horses in the novice division and would have won a fair event at Sandown last month had he not taken a tumble at the last.

He looks way overpriced and is another set to benefit from the better ground having won on his hurdling debut on good to soft.

Of the remainder, Summerville Boy and Western Ryder are two other each-way alternatives.

Conclusion: Saver on the favourite Getabird, e/w wager on Ainchea.

2.10pm Arkle Chase, 2m

I reckon this is a below-par Arkle Chase with not a lot of strength in depth and favourite Footpad merely had a schooling exercise when seeing off Petit Mouchoir and company at Leopardstown.

I feel he will be a better horse getting a lead, with two and a half miles and further set to suit him even better in time. There is little doubt this stiffer test will be right up his street.

Third in a Triumph Hurdle and fourth in last year’s Champion Hurdle, the son of Creachadoir looks set to open his Cheltenham Festival account here at the main expense of Henry De Bromhead’s runner.

I thought Sceau Royal was coming to the end of his tether last time out at Doncaster, but that was on deadish ground and a more spring like surface will suit him better here.

Conclusion: Back favourite Footpad.

2.50pm Ultima Handicap Chase, 3m

Hope against hope I wanted to see the likely favourite here Gold Present run in the Gold Cup despite being nearly 16lbs shy of what may be required, but he is a hugely progressive sort and the Blue Riband event looks wide open.

Instead it looks like he run here off a mark of 155 here, so logic dictates that if he is a Grade One horse in the making he should go mighty close here on decent ground.

As always in this staying handicap chase they go a rapid pace and I think the lightly raced Storyteller (entered all over the pace during the four days) could be a player if he were to run here.

This talented seven-year-old has been crying out for a return to proper good ground and gets the each-way nod alongside Nicky Henderson’s charge.

Best of the rest could be Pendra and if he gets in at the foot of the weights Bigbadjohn.

Conclusion: Back favourite Gold Present and Storyteller (e/w) if he runs here.

3.30pm Champion Hurdle, 2m

Red hot favourite Buveur D’Air is at the height of his powers and with the ground on the opening day rarely allowed to get quicker than good to soft, he has everything in his favour to successfully defend his title.

A high cruising speed, combined with being the best jumper of a hurdle in training and with gears to spare makes him an irresistible force.

On the downside, he is the 4/7 favourite, but even with a back to form Faugheen in opposition I truly believe that represents his true chance.

‘The Machine’, Yorkhill, Min and My Tent Or Yours simply won’t be able to hold a candle to him if the seven-year-old arrives here at the top of his form. It’s a boring and uninspired selection, but the logical one.

Conclusion: Back favourite Buveur D’Air, but if he is too short for you simply watch and admire.

4.10pm OLBG Mares Hurdle, 2m

On my private ratings I have Apple’s Jade some 4lbs clear of the likes of Le Bague Au Roi and a further 2lbs ahead of Verdana Blue. The former looks set to run in the Stayers Hurdle, while the latter in the Champion.

I believe her victory in 2017 over Vroum Vroum Mag (as she arrives here on her seasonal debut) and Limini was the highlight of last year’s meeting.

She jumped like an absolute buck all the way around, gaining lengths on her rivals at the obstacles, and when asked to put her head down by Coops, she reacted magnificently.

I would make her second favourite for the Champion Hurdle, so her chance here is clear and simple to see and she is desperately hard to oppose.

Conclusion: Back favourite Apple’s Jade.

4.50pm National Hunt Chase, 4m

With ante-post favourite Presenting Percy set to run in the RSA Chase, it looks as though Flogas Novice Chase fourth Dounikos will start favourite.

Gordon Elliot’s charge has looked an out and out stayer from the moment he won a two-and-a-half-mile point-to-point in February 2015 and this looks the perfect race for him.

The yard will also run the consistent Jury Duty, while Elegant Escape has done nothing wrong to date.

But the forgotten horse in the line-up is Rathvinden. Patrick Mullins reacted with a broad smile when he was asked about this 10-year-old after the Grand National weights were unveiled.

A faller at the second last when still in with every chance in the aforementioned Flogas Chase, the bay gelding is simply made for this test.

Unlike many of his rivals, good ground is his preserve and who remembers his staying on third at the Festival in the 2014 Neptune behind Faugheen on a relatively fast surface?

Conclusion: Back Rathvinden e/w at a double figure price and a saver on favourite Dounikos.

5.30pm Close Brothers Novice Handicap Chase, 2m 4f

A really small range of weights for what is arguably the most competitive handicap at the whole meeting. I can see why De Plotting Shed is the PP ante-post favourite, but he is well worth taking on in such an open contest.

The two that take my eye are stable mate Tycoon Prince (has multiple entries) and Movewiththetimes.

The first named has been running in hock deep ground for most of his racing life and absolutely hating it. However, his career record on good or good to soft going reads 411

Movewiththetimes has a similar record of 1114, has had plenty of practice over these stiff fences and will be a different horse granted the spring ground we early always get at the Cheltenham Festival.

Conclusion: Back both Tycoon Prince and Movewiththetimes e/w

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* All odds correct at the time of posting.

What do you think?