Cheltenham Day 1 tips: Frank Hickey’s best bets for the 2021 Festival

Frank’s here with a tip for every race on the opening day at Prestbury Park.

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13:20 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – Soaring Glory

I believe this is the smallest field ever to line up for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and surprisingly the key to the race could be how the outsider For Pleasure goes. He looks likely to set the pace to the race and in such a small field, it might be dangerous for the rest to let him loose on the front – like he was in the trial here back in November where he never saw another rival.

If he goes too hard and turns this into a proper test of stamina, it is very likely to play to the strengths of Appreciate It. He has been impressive this season, but I’m just not certain about him here on good ground. The one the race will suit is SOARING GLORY for Jonjo O’Neill.

He was very useful in bumpers last season winning two of his three starts, with his only defeat coming in a Listed Ascot bumper. He has plenty of experience and he is really suited by good ground. He beat Bravemansgame back on his hurdles debut at Chepstow and it looks like his season was all geared around getting well handicapped for the Betfair Hurdle. A mark of 133 really did underestimate him and he was value for winning by further, as he travelled much the best and was still a little green on the run in.

O’Neill won the Betfair Hurdle with Get Me Out Of Here off a mark of 135 back in 2010 and he only failed by a neck to follow up here, so he knows what improvement is required for Soaring Glory. He will wear cheekpieces here and that could be significant, considering how he was green in the closing stages at Newbury.

I always pay attention when Jonjo applies first time headgear at the Festival, as Holywell and Alfie Sherrin are two horses that won at the Cheltenham in first time headgear in recent years. The race should set up for Soaring Glory and he looks to have solid each-way claims, so he may be the one to take advantage if Appreciate It finds the test a little too sharp.

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13:55 Arkle Chase – Captain Guinness (Betting Without Shishkin)

The race was set to be one of the races of the week prior to Energumene meeting with a setback and now it looks like Shishkin will be the seventh odds-on winner of the Arkle in the last 10 years. He is a top-class novice chaser, but his price reflects that. That means I’d rather play in the without market, where Allmankind could be might be vulnerable.

I’m not sure Cheltenham is his absolute ideal track and the stiff finish here might leave him vulnerable, so it may be CAPTAIN GUINNESS who proves to be the biggest danger to Shishkin. He is coming in here after a fall at Leopardstown, but it looked at the time that he was going to give Energumene a better race than he did at Naas. He will obviously need to jump better, but a bit of better ground might suit him and if you go back to last year’s Supreme, he was right in contention when brought down at the second last hurdle. A strong pace here will suit him, and he can follow Shishkin home here.

14:30 Ultima Handicap Chase – Happygolucky

This doesn’t look the strongest renewal of the Ultima and while the fancy prices for HAPPYGOLUCKY disappeared when the weights were issued, but he still looks the one they all have to beat here. He ran a cracker in last year’s Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle when beaten only 3-and-a-half lengths in fourth, despite getting hampered at the final hurdle.

That was only his fourth start under rules, and he emerged from that race with plenty of credit. He is two from three over fences this season, including winning here in December on his first start 3m. The decent ground is definitely a positive for him and his trainer, Kim Bailey, is having a brilliant season. A mark of 147 looks workable and he is most definitely the one to beat.

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15:05 Champion Hurdle – Aspire Tower

This build-up to this race reminds a little of the 2019 edition, where the focus was all on two mares (Apples Jade and Laurina) up against a highly rated gelding in Buveur D’air. Of course, the race didn’t work out as most thought, with the mares running below form and Buveur D’air falling, leaving outsider Espoir D’Allen to come home 15 lengths clear.

This year we have two high class mares in Epatante and Honeysuckle up against Goshen, but I don’t believe is quite a clear cut as saying it is between those three. Epatante has to overcome a poor run at Kempton at Christmas, and this is a stronger renewal than last year’s. Honeysuckle was imperious last time at Leopardstown, but will 2m on decent ground on the old course really suit her? I’m not certain, while Goshen has unfinished business after his hugely unfortunate unseat in last year’s Triumph Hurdle when clear.

He looked back to his best at Wincanton, but the race fell apart a little and again, I’m not certain the drying ground is ideal for him. I’m going to go with a five-year-old to win the Champion Hurdle -just like in 2019 – with ASPIRE TOWER being a little underestimated here. He was so impressive in his first two hurdles runs last year, but he didn’t quite hit those heights at the Dublin Racing Festival, when he fell at the last, and in the Triumph, where he never jumped or travelled when finishing second.

He was impressive on his seasonal reappearance at Down Royal when beating Jason The Militant and Abacadabras, and wasn’t disgraced when second to Sharjah in the Matheson Hurdle at Christmas. That was Sharjah’s third win on the trot in that race and he is almost unbeatable when on song at Leopardstown, but I really liked the way Aspire Tower stuck to his task to finish clear in second.

It would have been easy for him to fold once Sharjah went by and a strongly run race around here is going to really suit him, as he is a proper staying two miler. Going there fresh is the key to him and with Paddy giving four places, he looks value to hit the frame at the very least.

15:40 Mares’ Hurdle – Indefatigable

Concertista is likely to prove difficult to beat, as Willie Mullins goes in search on his 10th win in the race (from 14 editions). She has finished second and first in the last two editions of the Mares’ Novice Hurdle and has improved again this season. She is short enough in the market though, and I’m going to play one each-way at a far larger price.

INDEFATIGABLE has struggled this season, but she didn’t stay 3m at Kempton and was up against the geldings in the re-scheduled Relkeel Hurdle at Kempton. She has an excellent course record, where her four course starts have yielding a fifth in the Mares’ Novice Hurdle (Concertista was second and Black Tears fourth), a Mares’ Novice Hurdle win, a second to Dame De Compagnie in a Mares’ Handicap Hurdle and a win in last season’s Martin Pipe off top weight.

She has had a wind operation since her last start and the better ground here is a big plus for her. She might struggle to win the race, but she has decent claims of hitting the frame.

Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Cheltenham March 14, 2019

16:15 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle – Houx Gris

Paul Nicholls certainly knows how to lay one out for this race, saddling the 1-2 in 2016, as well as winners in 2010 and 2015 and it looks like he may have laid HOUX GRIS out for this year’s renewal. A winner of a bumper and a hurdle in France, he was pitched straight into Grade 1 company for his stable debut at Chepstow at Christmas.

He travelled really well that day, looking a big player jumping three out, but a mistake two out seemed to knock the wind out of his sails and it is likely the run was needed a fraction. He got a rating of 128 after that run and Nicholls has put him away since thinking that his mark might be enough to get a run.

He gets in here off a lovely weight and he caught the eye at Wincanton where Nicholls worked his Cheltenham Festival string a couple of weeks ago. He is way ahead of the handicapper and I would rate him as my most confident selection on day one.

16:50 National Hunt Chase – Escaria Ten

This race looks really competitive with Next Destination switching here and I would expect him to challenge Galvin for favouritism, if not going off clear favourite. Galvin has been aimed at this all season and has been bit away since his course win last October. The drying ground will really suit him, but I was really taken with ESCARIA TEN when he got off the mark over fences at the second attempt at Thurles and he wasn’t disgraced when second to Eklat De Rire in a Grade 3 at Naas at the tail-end of January.

He is lightly raced with only eight career starts and he looks certain to appreciate the step up to an extreme trip. He would have had a big chance in a handicap off a mark of 147 and he looks sure to be involved at the business end here.

Frank Hickey’s tips summary:

13:20 Soaring Glory
13:55 Captain Guinness (Betting Without Shishkin)
14:30 Happygolucky
15:05 Aspire Tower
15:40 Indefatigable
16:15 Houx Gris
16:50 Escaria Ten

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