Frank Hickey: Here’s my terrific trio for day one of Cheltenham

This is no time for playing games so we've enlisted Frank 'the Tank' Hickey to make sure you've all the angles covered for Champion Hurdle day ...



Arkle Novice Chase, Cheltenham 2.10pm

This race looks to be lacking depth this year, with Le Richebourg, Cialos Emery and Dynamite Dollars all ruled out in recent weeks. It has left the race with a very open feel to it and with plenty taking their chance as a result, it is very likely that this race will be run at a hectic pace, with seven of the 12 runners wanting to lead or force the pace.

This could play into the hands of Hardline, Kalashnikov and Lalor who should all be ridden off the pace. LALOR is a Grade One winner over hurdles and won the Aintree bumper also. His ability is not in question. He also brings the single best piece of chase form to the race, with his Cheltenham demolition of Dynamite Dollars and Defi Du Seuil looking extremely strong now.

You can forgive his Sandown run when he was beaten as it came too quickly after his Cheltenham exertions.

I expect Lalor to confirm the promise he showed on his chasing debut and win on Tuesday.


Ultima Handicap Chase, Cheltenham 2.50pm

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This is always a fiercely-contested handicap but the one that sticks out from the crowd this year is MINELLA ROCCO. He is a former winner of the National Hunt Chase and he has also finished second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. However, after a quiet 18 months, he now finds himself running off a mark of just 152.

His trainer Jonjo O’ Neill has won this race three times in the past 10 years and Minella Rocco follows a very similar route to former winner Alfie Sherrin, who also ran over hurdles in a Pertemps qualifier in the lead up to the race. The tongue tie and blinkers are reapplied for the first time since his Cheltenham Gold Cup second and he looks to have been laid out for this contest.

I expect a massive run on Tuesday.


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National Hunt Chase, Tuesday, 5.30pm 

There is no doubt that the favourite Ballyward is the one with the most potential. But by only having two chase starts, he possibly lacks the experience required to win a race of this nature.

Four of the last nine renewals of this race were won by a second-season novice and IMPULSIVE STAR fits the bill this year. He was fourth in this race last year, when the heavy going just found him out for stamina. The going shouldn’t be as testing this year and he is capable of an improved show.

He was a very impressive winner of the Classic Chase in January when his stamina won him the day. That form has been strongly franked with the third Crosspark winning the Eider Chase and the fourth Carole’s Destrier winning a strong Newbury handicap.

Impulsive Star has a little to find on ratings but he can make his experience count and is about 14/1 in the market.

He looks a solid each-way player at a double digit price.

*Price references correct at time of publishing.

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What do you think?