The ground will be soft, and people will have to be conscious of that. But it won’t be what we see in December: you need to see heavy to think real winter ground. This won’t be overly attritional. It’ll still take a bit of getting, and if you have the odd one who wanted fast ground you’re going to struggle, but even though there’s been a couple of heavy showers here, there’s a lot of daytime hours at this time of the year, and Cheltenham is a great track to dry.
I wouldn’t be too worried about the majority of the Irish horses. The should all handle it. They’re used to running on it. The English have had a pretty wet winter as well, so I wouldn’t be overly concerned about their horses either.
With that in mind, here’s how I see things going on Day One of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival.
Race 1: Supreme Novices Hurdle – 13:30
The ground may inconvenience Sharjah. He’s definitely a horse we think would improve with better ground. He’s not going to get that, but that’s the luck of the draw.
Getabird, however, he’ll handle it.
He handled it well in Punchestown. He’s a National Hunt-bred horse. I’d have no concerns about him. He ticks all the right boxes. Everything he’s done thus far is what you’d want a Supreme horse to do. We’re really happy with him, and we’re mad keen on him.
Looking through the field, the one that could come back and surprise people is Mengli Khan. For my money, he was a better horse in Navan than he was even at Fairyhouse, when he won his grade one.
As for Kalashnikov and Summerville Boy the really soft ground could suit the two of them, but I can’t see how Kalashnikov can turn the form of Summerville Boy. So, I’m in the Summerville Boy camp there.
Race 2: Arkle Chase – 14:10
The big guns are all here. You’d expect this one to be all about Saint Calvados, who’s going to love the ground, versus the two big names from Ireland, Petit Mouchoir and Footpad. The other two, Brain Power and Robinshill, have to improve to compete with these three.
You’d have to think the premier trio have the credentials to make for an epic encounter. So, it’ll be fascinating stuff. You don’t need 20 runners to make a great race.
We’re happy with Footpad. We think he’s improved since Leopardstown, though Henry de Bromhead’s entitled to think Petit Mouchoir has done the same. There’s no doubt about Footpad’s stamina. He won over two and a half as a novice, in France actually, as a four-year-old while Petit Mouchoir won the point-to-point. It’s going to be relentless.
Race 3: Ultima Handicap Chase – 14:50
It’s a very competitive handicap, and I initially fancied Vincente. But the ground was probably going against him.
Now, maybe the horse of Henderson’s that won in Newcastle, Beware the Bear – if they go really hard here, and the ground is soft and it turns into a slog, he could run a big race at a big price.
Race 4: Champion Hurdle – 15:30
Faugheen will be wearing cheek-pieces for the first time, and we hope it’ll sharpen him up and get him to the pace of a race for the first mile. We don’t know if it’ll work, but we’re throwing everything at it. He’s a 10-year-old, so there’s nothing to lose.
Buveur D’air, of course, is the one everyone has to improve to beat.
From the Willie Mullins yard, Melon has been working really well at home. So has Yorkhill. The ground is probably going slightly against Wicklow Brave. But we’re going to give it a go, and that’s about all that we can do, because Buveur D’air’s form is rock solid, and he’s done nothing but improve since he was beaten in the Supreme Novices last year. Every run from that day forward has been better, and he’s going to be hard to beat.
Race 5: Mare’s Hurdle – 16:10
An untypically small field in this one. Nine runners is the smallest field I’ve encountered in a Mares Hurdle. There’s usually a way bigger field.
La Bague Au Roi is making a good head, which will really suit Apple’s Jade.
For us, Benie Des Dieux is an unknown quantity – we don’t know how good she is. But when you don’t know how good something is, you also don’t know how bad it is. She’s done everything we’ve asked of her. She loved the ground when we tried out on Tuesday, and is good enough to give Apple’s Jade a race.
But with the ground gone slow with the stamina Apple’s Jade has, she’s going to be hard to beat.
Race 6: National Hunt Chase – 16:50
Rathvinden‘s profile really suits the race. He has a lot of experience, and a lot of runs over fences. Samina will be no issue to him. He’s handled soft ground, so he ticks a lot of boxes for a horse to win this race. I’m sure he’ll give Patrick Mullins a really good race.
I have believed that he’s a four-mile horse for a long, long time. We’ll see if I’m right on Tuesday evening.
Race 7: Close Brothers Novice Handicap Chase – 17:30
Any Second Now is a good runner for this one, and has a real chance. Barry Geraghty is going for Demi Sang, who, if he jumps better here than he did in Leopardstown in February, could have a good race.
It’s a really competitive renewal. I ride Livelovelaugh for Willie, dropped back in trip. He’ll run a big race for the price, I wouldn’t put anybody off backing him each way.