The highlight of the opening day of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival is the Champion Hurdle, a race we have previewed elsewhere on the site, but there is a wonderful support card for the big race, as we get to see the best of the youngsters as well as the leading mares, while there are a couple of attritional slogs in what are expected to be soft conditions at Cleeve Hill.
We have studied the entire undercard at length and we have come up with bets in four of the other six races to give us a decent squad of bets to keep us entertained over the course of the opening day of the Festival.
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1.30 Cheltenham: Supreme Novices Hurdle
The opening race of the 4 day festival is the 2 mile novice hurdle. There’s 16 going to post including a strong Irish challenge bidding to continue their excellent record in the race, having won 5 of the last 7 runnings.
Willie Mullins has saddled 4 of those winners and has the favourite here in Asterion Forlonge. He looks a class act and is 2 from 2 over hurdles including a Grade 1 most recently but there are question marks going left handed and over this stiff track.
Nicky Henderson has 2 leading contenders in Shiskin and Chantry House. The first named fell on his hurdles debut but has won 2 since, impressive on both occasions. He looks speedy and may just fail to get up the hill. The latter, meanwhile, is a winner of both his hurdle starts including a win here but needs more on the formbook.
Abacadabras is our main hope in the race. He was 4th in the Champion Bumper here last year where he stayed on well up the hill. He then won his first 4 over hurdles with ease before finishing 2nd to the top class Envoi Allen in the Royal Bond. That’s the only time the Ballymore favourite has been made to work for it so that form can go down as the best in this race. Since then, he’s won a Grade 1 at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting.
At a bigger price, Captain Guinness could go close too. He’s had just 2 starts over hurdles, winning his first when being left clear at the last in a 23 runner race before finishing a good 2nd in a Grade 2. He’s the only one in the field not to have raced on the flat so looks open to the most improvement. Also the fast pace will play into his hands having previously shown a tendency to pull hard so is worth a small each way investment.
PLACED – Back Abacadabras (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 6.50 Coral BOG (⅕ odds 1-4)
Back Captain Guinness (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 15.00 Betfair Sportsbook BOG (⅕ odds 1-5)
Back it here:
2.10 Cheltenham: Arkle Novices Chase
Jumping is the name of the game with the novices going for it over the minimum 2 mile trip over the big obstacles.
There are 11 declared but it looks to revolve around the big 3 from Ireland. Notebook, from the Henry De Bromhead yard, is the favourite after winning all 4 of his chase starts including 2 Grade 1’s. His nearest market rival is Fakir D’Oudairies who was beaten by Notebook in receipt of 7lbs so will need to find improvement.
Instead, the one to carry our money is Cash Back who has also been beaten by Notebook when less than 1 length back in the Irish Arkle. That was off level weights so he’s not much to find and he comes from the Mullins yard who has saddled 4 of the last 5 winners of this race (only Altior has prevented a perfect 5). He looks a staying type so this course will suit and, at around twice the price of the other 2, he’s the each way value.
Brewin’Upastorm is the most fancied of the UK runners but is without a run since November. His form falls a bit short, something that can be said amongst most of the rest of the field.
Back Cash Back (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 8.00 William Hill BOG (⅕ odds 1-3)
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2.50 Cheltenham: Ultima Handicap Chase
The first of the big handicaps is a 3 mile 1 furlong race over fences, with a monster field of 23. Interestingly, the last 6 winners of this have all gone off at 11/1 or less and all have won in the current season.
The favourite is Vinndication and he has top weight of 11st12lbs. His sole run this season was back in November where he won in good style. He’s open to massive amounts of improvement and could be anything but I’d prefer to focus on a proven type in a big handicap.
Discorama, No Comment and Kildisart are fancied runners that have failed to get their heads in front this term. Of the 3, Kildisart is the most attractively handicapped and should go well.
The selection, though, is The Conditional, a course and distance this term when staying on really well to land a 15 runner handicap back in October on soft ground. He’s run twice since, with a very good 2nd in the Ladbroke Trophy Chase at Newbury. He was only 4th last time out when failing to stay an extra half mile in a Warwick Grade 3. He’s been eased 3lbs for that run and, with both course & distance and big field handicap form in the bag, he looks primed to go close.
WON – Back The Conditional (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 8.50 Betway BOG (⅕ odds 1-6)
5.30 Cheltenham: National Hunt Chase
The first day closes with a stamina sapping 3 mile 6 furlong chase for amateur riders. The Mullins combo saddle the favourite in Carefully Selected. He’s won his last 3 and could be better than this field but 3/1 isn’t a price I want to get involved in.
Lord Du Mesnil is a proven stayer and has been in excellent form this season but his price has gone now and I’m a little concerned by the jockey change, albeit Sam Waley Cohen is one of the best around. Ravenhill fell last time out and might struggle on the ground.
At double figure odds, I like the chances of Newtide who is lightly raced (winning 2 from 2 over fences) and looks to be on the upgrade. His trainer is convinced he needs a marathon trip so the fact he’s only won at 3 miles is no issue. He’s the 3rd highest rated in the field despite being the least experienced. Sporting a first time tongue tie and with the ground in his favour, he’s the each way bet of the race.
Back Newtide (e/w) for a 0.75/10 stake at 12.00 BetVictor BOG (⅕ odds 1-4)