And so to the second half. The bad news for those who find themselves behind at this stage is that it gets tougher hereafter. Yikes. We start with an intermediate distance novices' chase where they bet 3/1 the field...
1.30 JLT Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 2m 3f 198yds)
JLT Novices' Chase Preview
A tricky race likely to be run at a good clip. The market has an Irish horse at its head whereas the official ratings show a couple of Brits leading the pack.
Commencing with the ratings, top rated currently is Modus. Paul Nicholls' 8yo has beaten a total of seven rivals in winning three races this year; if that's unimpressive, the manner with which he's despatched them has been more appealing. Still, none would cut much ice here and the lack of top class winning form is a worry. It's one of those where it would be a tad disappointing were he good enough to win, unless of course he steps forward on what he's shown: after 21 career starts he probably doesn't have the progression of some of his rivals.
Next in is Finian's Oscar. Undoubtedly talented, he's been somewhat unpredictable - like many from his yard - and fair choked it last time on heavy. That may be a more literal statement than it first appears as he's since had a wind op and comes here for his first post-surgery run. He has little to find on the book but, aside from his Jekyll and Hyde profile, the other reservation is the going. There is not a large body of evidence from which to work but that was a lamentable showing in the mud last time, his only race on heavy turf. Perhaps it was an aberration and I certainly wouldn't be adamant he can't act on such deep underfoot, but nor would I want to bet at 6/1 that he can.
Invitation Only is favoured. Willie Mullins' horse has, in my view (but not that of the official handicapper), the best form in the race. That is his close third in the Flogas Chase, the value of which we'll understand better after the first, second and fourth from there re-oppose in the RSA. If he didn't have too hard a race there, he'll go close, though a niggle remains that he's been beaten each of three times he's stepped into Grade 2 or better company.
Nicky Henderson runs the unbeaten in Britain Terrefort. Two wins, at Huntingdon and then in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles at Sandown, were recorded on soft ground but he won twice on heavy in his native France prior to importation. He looks a very smart recruit with doubtless more to come; if ridden a little patiently, behind the likes of Shattered Love and perhaps Bigmartre, he should see it out well.
Although I'm open to being wrong - certainly not dogmatic about it - I don't feel that Benatar's form is quite as strong. It ties in with Finian's Oscar's more recent endeavours, but those don't excite too much in this context either. Gary Moore's charge comes here on the four-timer so he's given his owners a lot of fun already but a doubt about the ground allied to slightly below top form make him a 'no' from me.
A horse of interest at a bigger price is Shattered Love. She is 11211 this season, including a Grade 1 score over three miles at Christmas. That was on soft ground and prior to that she won over two miles on heavy in a Grade 3. That's solid form, and she has a winning mentality generally which makes 17/2 appealing, at least from an each way perspective.
The rest don't look up to this.
JLT Novices' Chase Pace Map
JLT Novices' Chase Tips
A few horses a few pounds shy of top class and this doesn't look a vintage renewal. I reckon Shattered Love might give a bold display from the front, but Terrefort looks the sort to keep improving for a while yet and he's already just about the best in the race. 4/1 is worth a play.
Best value win bet: Terrefort 4/1 general
Best value each way bet: Shattered Love 17/2 bet365 1/4 1-2-3
2.10 Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 2m 7f 213yds)
Pertemps Final Preview
You've got to be kidding me! This is harem scarem stuff. Using the 'avoid bad bets' methodology, I'll try Who Dares Wins and A Great View against the masses.
Who Dares Wins rarely runs a bad race, including when third in the Coral Cup behind Stayers' Hurdle favourite, Supersundae, last year. This is a first try at the three mile range and he's got heavy ground to contend with also, but he has been pretty reliable in big field handicaps over the years and will race within striking distance of the leaders if good enough. He has few secrets from the handicapper, however.
One with a less obvious profile is A Great View, a green and gold runner from the little heralded yard of Denis Cullen. Four pounds higher than his Irish mark, he needed those extras to sneak into the race, and his very close second of 29 in the Leopardstown qualifier (soft) over Christmas is strong form. That was followed by a quiet ride when fifth of 16 behind Total Recall in a Grade B handicap hurdle at the Dublin Festival, an outing that should have brought him to concert pitch for this. I'd imagine he'll shorten a fair bit given connections, and the 16/1 NRNB BOG is good value.
Trip and ground are ideal for Theo's Charm, and he's a third horse worth a look if you can get a few extra places to play each way. Oodles more with prospects.
Pertemps Final Pace Map
Pertemps Final Preview Tips
I'll keep this brief as it's not a race I think I have a handle on. But A Great View could be a well handicapped horse in spite of a couple of bonus points form the British 'capper. 16/1 is the each way bet for me.
Best value each way bet: A Great View 16/1 (BetVictor 1/4 1-2-3-4-5)
2.50 Ryanair Chase (Grade 1, 2m 4f 166yds)
Ryanair Chase Preview
Just seven in this and, if Douvan sticks to the Champion Chase as expected, it will be six. Nevertheless, it's an interesting little heat. Un De Sceaux is the defending champion and he has a fair bit going for him in the repeat bid. He is two from two this season, beating first Top Gamble and then Speredek into second. I'm not entirely convinced of the strength of that form and, as can be seen below, there may be fair bit of pace in the race to prevent a front-running performance.
UDS sets the standard in spite of those reservations, but at ten years old and at even money, I'm looking for an alternative. Sub Lieutenant is no back number himself, though his primary objective here is surely pace-making/spoiling for his more able connection-mate, Balko Des Flos.
Balko is the young pretender: at seven, only Frodon in this field is younger (six). He ran an excellent second to Road To Respect at Leopardstown over Christmas (three miles, yielding) and comes here a fresh horse. There may be a slight niggle about the ground for him, and he does seem to find one too good a little too often for my tastes; but he's talented and moving forwards and could be a big danger under the excellent Davy Russell. Still, 5/2 is unexciting.
Cue Card showed there's life in the old dog yet when a close second to the excellent Waiting Patiently last time at Ascot (this trip and similar ground), and he is by no means out of this. As an eleven-year-old, he has a heck of a lot of history against him - and, actually, given his Festival record, a heck of a lot of history for him too! 13/2 is playable, though there may be a Douvan rule 4 on that, meaning 9/2 is more like it. He'd bring the house down were he to win.
But I'll roll the dice with young Frodon. Tough and consistent, he may not be quite as classy as some of these but would only have to step forward a handful of pounds to be in the shake up. The ground will be fine for him, he should get the run of the race with plenty of dash in this short field. As ever, it's the price that makes the bet, 11/1 being too big.
Ryanair Chase Pace Map
Ryanair Chase Tips
Un De Sceaux will make a bold bid to double up, even money perhaps overstating how bold. Balko Des Flos will be far from a shock but is too short also. Cue Card will probably get bet because he's the people's horse, so take 9/2 BOG if you want it. But I'm taking a flyer on Frodon. I like this young man, who has danced many dances here in his short life to date. 11/1 looks over the top.
Best value bet (win or each way): Frodon 11/1 general
3.30 Sunbets Stayers' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 7f 213yds)
Stayers' Hurdle Preview
A Stayers' Hurdle perhaps short on quality but consequently long on competitiveness makes for a fascinating punting puzzle. Underlining that point, there are no fewer than six horses separated by just three pounds on official ratings between 161 and 164 - whereas recent renewals have been won by horses rated close to or above 170.
Sam Spinner, from the unfashionable Jedd O'Keefe yard, is the favourite, and that looks right given his ascendant profile and very good form on deep ground. He was impressive in the Long Walk Hurdle - a key trial - last time, beating the high class yardstick but hard-to-win-with L'Ami Serge snugly in the end. Prior to that he'd turned a competitive looking handicap hurdle into a procession at Haydock. His rating has gone 136-139-155-164 this term so who is to say he's done improving yet?
The one reservation is whether The New One will allow him the lead he probably craves. TNO's team may wish they'd gone for the Champion Hurdle this year such was the state of the Tuesday turf, but that is history now and their gig is this one. With stamina to prove and very little reason to expect him to step forward he's tough to recommend.
Of the two JP McManus runners, I'm surprised that Unowhatimeanharry is available at longer odds than Yanworth. 'harry was third in this last year when sent off at odds-0n, and he's run acceptably in defeat this term. A ten length third to Sam Spinner at Ascot, he'll relish the deeper conditions this time. He has apparently been working very well and I think he's a good each way play in spite of not necessarily expecting him to reverse form with Sam.
Yanworth was chasing but couldn't jump a fence. He struggles with a hurdle too. He is undoubtedly in possession of a touch of class, is two from two on heavy and has the beating of Supasundae on Aintree form last term. I just don't happen to rate the form line. If I'm wrong about that, I'll be on the wrong horses here. Them's the breaks.
The likes of Lil Rockefeller, Old Guard and Penhill - still less Bacardys - have too much to find on the book.
Stayers' Hurdle Pace Map
Stayers' Hurdle Tips
There are not many horses with the scope to progress markedly in this field, the main exception being Sam Spinner. If he can get the lead without too much duress, he'll be a very hard horse to pass, and I think his 'working man' connections make him a bigger price than he should be.
Best value win bet: Sam Spinner 4/1 general
4.10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 2m 4f 166yds)
Brown Advisory Plate Handicap Chase Preview
Unfathomable stuff as far as I can tell. Using the 'avoid bad bets' approach mentioned elsewhere, I'll remove horses trained by the 'volume trainers'. After that I'll take one from the top and one from the bottom.
At the top my dart is Tully East. Winner of the Novices' Handicap Chase at this meeting last year, he's ten pounds higher this time around. But, with a strong preference for two and a half miles and good form on heavy, it may not be enough to stop him running another gallant race. Denis O'Regan is a decent jockey for playing the cards late, and the expected strong pace here is in his favour too.
Much more speculatively, Ballyalton could go well. He was the winner of the same Festival race as Tully East a year earlier, off a mark of 140. Lightly raced since, he comes here off a two pounds lower mark. He did pull up last time but was a good fourth in a big field handicap on soft ground at the November meeting, that off a five pounds higher rating. I'm not certain he'll cope with the ground - he's never raced on heavy - but the price accommodates that concern, for small money.
The rest also have chances!
Brown Advisory Plate Handicap Chase Pace Map
Brown Advisory Plate Handicap Chase Tips
Two against the field are the last two winners of the Novices' Handicap Chase run on the opening day of the Festival.
Two against the field: Tully East 9/1 Coral, Ballyalton 20/1 Hills
4.50 Trull House Stud Mares' Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2, 2m 179yds)
Mares' Novices' Hurdle Preview
Possibly the weakest race at the Festival - Fred Winter aside - the mares' novices' hurdle looks like it will be a good race for the favourite. Won in the inaugural two years by Willie Mullins' good things, Limini and Let's Dance, it will probably be won again this year by Willie Mullins' good thing, Laurina.
She is only the second highest rated in the field, according to BHA ratings, but her two Irish wins were both on heavy and she remains 'could be anything' material.
Top rated is Stuart Edmunds' tough mare, Marias Benefit. She comes here on a six-timer, having started in handicaps off a lowly 117. She was progressively elevated to 152 before her last run where, despite winning, she dropped back to a peg of 147. The problem for her looks to be her love of the lead and the presence of a potential spoiler. Cut The Mustard is in the same ownership as Laurina and races prominently. If taking Marias Benefit on to be the point of the peloton, she could compromise that one's chances and set things up for the favourite. I suspect that may happen.
The rest are not good enough on what they've done, and would have to leap forward by a stone and more to overcome those at the head of the market. Cap Soleil is one who could sneak into the frame for local trainer, Fergal O'Brien. She won a heavy ground Listed hurdle last time and her held up run style will keep her out of a firing line expected to claim a casualty or two. It would be no surprise to see her pick up the pieces for second or third.
Mares' Novices' Hurdle Pace Map
Mares' Novices' Hurdle Tips
This is about Willie again. But Cap Soleil might be worth a small each way 'without the favourite' interest.
Best route in if you don't like 4/6 Laurina: Cap Soleil each way without the favourite (no prices currently, but 7/2 or better acceptable)
5.30 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Amateur Riders' Handicap Chase (Class 2, 3m 2f)
Kim Muir Preview
Amateur riders, three and a quarter miles, fences, handicap chase, heavy ground. Crikey.
I'll be taking an old established stayer with an old established rider for my two against the field in this. Step forward Pendra and Band Of Blood.
Pendra is green and gold, and has the excellent Derek O'Connor riding. He also has top weight, which doesn't make things easy, but he's got form on heavy (2nd-1st), loves Cheltenham (1st-3rd-5th-2nd at the last four Festivals), and handles big fields. What's not to like?
Dr Richard Newland's Band Of Blood is a fellow ten-year-old, like Pendra, and he comes here on a hat-trick. He actually has few recent miles on the clock having missed the previous two seasons before returning last month. This will be a fairly quick third outing in five weeks, which is a bit of a concern, but he has back class and good recent form in the book. Heavy is no problem for him and nor is the trip. James King, one of the better UK riders, takes to the plate.
In a race where it's often better to be lucky than good, I'll chance that pair against the rest.
Kim Muir Pace Map
Kim Muir Tips
Two each way against the field: Pendra 11/1 general, Band Of Blood 14/1 Hills
It's my least favourite day of the four - tricky punting and lower quality - so the above deliberations should be consumed in that context. Still, if a bad day at the races is better than a good day at the office, then a bad day at Cheltenham is better than many good days at the races!
How are you going so far? And what do you like for Day 3?