I know it's sad, dear reader, but to me this morning is like Christmas morning. In fact, it's better than Christmas morning. The anticipation is often not matched by the actuality, but at this juncture every second Tuesday in March, I feel the same anxiety, excitement, nervousness and schoolboy hysteria for what is to follow. Yes, folks, Cheltenham is upon us once more!
As you may know, my preparations have been rushed somewhat this year, and as such I'm still playing catch up. Confidence therefore is not what it could be, and I will be using all the tools available to me to supplant my limited research (Gavin's guide, Timeform, ATR website, Racing Post form).
Let's see what I reckon today:
1.30 Supreme Novices' Hurdle
An Irish benefit in recent years, with 10 of the last 17 (and 7 of the last 10) winners coming from across the pond. Those boys in green are very well represented again this year, with Cousin Vinny heading the pack. Vinny is a full eleven pounds clear on Timeform ratings, which for a race like this is massive. However, concerns about how he's travelled must be taken seriously and they put me off lumping on him, as he ticks all the right boxes.
Funnily enough, it's not always the Irish first choice who brings home the bacon, so I'm siding with Kempes here. Lightly raced, and winner of both starts this season, he comes from the stable of Willie Mullins (responsible for the 2007 winner). This makes him a stable companion of Cousin Vinny, but like I said the Irish often win with one of the less fancied horses.
Interestingly, according to ATR website, 8 of the last 16 runnings of this race have been won by a horse who'd had two runs over hurdles that season and won last time out. Kempes fits this bill too.
Of the British challenge, I like Michael Flips most. A winner of two of his three hurdles starts, he's got plenty of speed and - if his stamina can match it - he may prove a tough nut to crack.
Placepot: Kempes, Cousin Vinny, Michael Flips
I've nailed my colours to the I'msingingtheblues mast previously and, whilst not supremely confident, I reckon he'll give us a grand run for our money. At around 10/1, he looks a solid each way tickle. (He's also top rated by five pounds in Timeform).
Placepot: I'msingingtheblues, Calgary Bay
2.40 William Hill Handicap Chase
The first handicap of the meeting, and not the last!
Strongish trends: 10-12 or less in weight (in the handicap though), aged 7 to 10, winner over 3 miles or more, a classy chaser, ideally with previous Festival form.
One that ticks all those boxes at any price you like (well, actually, he's 50/1 - bigger on the exchanges) is Ferdy Murphy's Hot Weld. Murphy is the handicap master at Cheltenham and was responsible for 50/1 Joes Edge in this race two years ago. We backed it on the blog, and I'll be hoping that lightening strikes twice!
(He's won the National Hunt Cup at the Festival, the Scottish National, AND the Betfred Gold Cup. Ok, he's coming here off a long break and a pulled up last time out, but if the horse is near the horse he was, he's no 50 shot!)
Stacks of challengers, headed by Possol, Nenuphar Collonges, and Wichita Lineman, and also look out for improved runs from Patsy Hall and Oedipe representing the powerful stables of Tony Martin and Nicky Henderson respectively (both of whom have saddled the winner since 2000).
Selection: Hot Weld
Placepot: Hot Weld, Nenuphar Collonges, Oedipe, Possol
3.20 Champion Hurdle
Again, I've covered this race elsewhere, and have sided with Osana, whom I've backed ante post at 28/1 (win only).
Incidentally, you could have layed Binocular at 5/4 when I did my preview - he's been matched at 2.98 this morning (now shorter however).
Placepot: Osana, Sublimity, Binocular
4.00 Cross Country Handicap Chase
A race that seems to be the Enda Bolger benefit, with three of the four winners coming from his omnipotent stable. All four winners have been Irish (and a staggering eleven of the twelve placed horses too!), and I see no reason why that stat will change today. The 4/9 that Paddy Power offer about Bolger winning the race looks very tempting, as he has four of the first six in the market, and this race doesn't go to outsiders.
However, you want to know the winner, so I will tell you that my nap of the day is L'Ami. He's also (carelessly?) my placepot banker.
4.40 David Nicholson Mares Hurdle
If Whiteoak had run in this race, rather than the Champion (where I fear her tenacity will not be enough), she'd be a confident selection. Alas she doesn't. There is no trends form to go on, as the race was first run last season.
Instead let's concentrate on the placed horses last year. Chomba Womba seemed to run out of gas when fading to third (albeit not beaten far), but the one I prefer is the fourth placed mare from last year, Gaspara.
She had also won at the Festival the season before, completing the big bonus Imperial Cup - Cheltenham win double. She will try to make the running, and will have many of these on the stretch some way out.
However, my selection didn't run in this race last year, but is an exceptional race mare. Her name is United, and seeing as they are winning everything this season, why not a race at Cheltenham too?!
I can't have Quevega, the favourite. Whilst I respect connections, an Irish horse was sent off 7/2 last season and stuffed out of sight. This one has a lot to prove (don't know what happens when she comes off the bridle, as she surely must here; done all winning on soft surfaces; won off a funereal gallop in Ireland - they'll go far quicker here), and I'd sooner take form in the book.
Placepot: United, Gaspara, Chomba Womba
That then is me for today - whatever you're on, I wish you good luck. And remember, it's a four day marathon, not a one day sprint. So keep at least half of your powder dry!
BRING IT ON!!!!!!!!!!!!!