Zar can prove Fly in the ointment
Man On The Spot previews all the action from the first day of the Cheltenham Festival.
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13.30 William Hill Supreme Novices' Hurdle
My Tent Or Yours is an obvious starting point in this opener having defied a mark of 149 to win the Grade 3 Betfair Hurdle at Newbury with plenty left in the tank. Ill-fated stablemate Darlan followed a similar route before finishing second in this contest 12 months ago and Nicky Henderson will be hoping My Tent Or Yours will go one better. However, it's a worry that he's only raced on flat tracks before and he's very short in the betting when one considers others appear equally as progressive. The Irish have a strong hand and Jessica Harrington's Jezki is unbeaten over hurdles and beat CHAMPAGNE FEVER by a length-and-a-half at Fairyhouse in December. However, last year's Champion Bumper was conceding 3lb that day and it must be significant that Ruby Walsh has chosen him ahead of strongly-fancied stablemate Un Atout following his return to winning ways in the Grade 1 Deloitte at Leopardstown. He gets the vote though Willie Mullins is also represented by the useful Pique Sous, while Dodging Bullets ran very well in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day having beaten River Maigue in a Grade 2 here in November. Puffin Billy will relish conditions but may not be quite good enough, a remark that also applies to Cause Of Causes and once-smart bumper Cheltenian.
14.05 Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase
There are seven runners facing the starter in this but it will be a surprise if one of the first two in the betting doesn't come out on top. Overturn must be a pleasure to own and train having won a Northumberland Plate and a Chester Cup on the Flat and a Fighting Fifth over hurdles. A brave second in last year's Champion Hurdle, he's won all three starts over fences this season by an average of more than 20 lengths and will undoubtedly try and make all again here. His slick jumping will have most of these in trouble but we fancy SIMONSIG to gallop past the nine-year-old up the hill. Nicky Henderson believes the grey to be something special and he reportedly produced a sparkling piece of work last week in his final preparation. A winner over hurdles over a longer trip here last year, he will relish conditions and though his form over fences so far isn't as strong as that of Overturn he can extend his winning run. The others will probably be playing for places barring accidents and Arvika Ligeonniere may come out best of those if a fall at Leopardstown hasn't affected his confidence. He's already won twice at this level. Majala beat His Excellency in a Grade 2 at Warwick last month but this is another big step up the ladder.
14.40 JLT Specialty Handicap Chase
Fruity O'Rooney made a bold bid to make all in this 12 months ago and was only cut down on the run to the line by Alfie Sherrin. He's a pound better off with third Our Mick and 7lb better off with fourth The Package and can confirm running with both of those and make the frame again this afternoon. Quantitativeeasing was even further behind and has been out of sorts this season while Tullamore Dew only beat one home and isn't getting any younger. Midnight Chase, Planet Of Sound and Jadanli are others approaching the veteran stage while the handicapper may have finally got to Cloudy Too and Pete The Feat but Merry King went down with all guns blazing at Haydock in December and should have been freshened up by a short break since. White Star Line was second over a shorter trip at last year's Festival but this is a tough race in which to try and lose his maiden tag while Monkerty Tunkerty only won a veterans' handicap at Doncaster last month and was earlier more than 11 lengths behind LOCH BA at Newbury. Much improved this season for Mick Channon, the seven-year-old showed a fine turn of foot on the soft ground that day and can defy a 12lb rise in the weights. Novices Tour Des Champs and Poole Master may be best of the rest.
15.20 Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy
Age and history looks to be against Hurricane Fly and the 2011 winner may struggle to regain his crown. He's only won three weak Grade 1s in Ireland this season and his overall performances certainly aren't reflected in his short odds given his market rivals have shown form that is at least on a par with Willie Mullins' nine-year-old. Cinder And Ashes, last season's Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner, would have been interesting had the ground been good or better but he's twice finished behind last year's Triumph Hurdle winner Countrywide Flame on heavy ground this season and the latter was well beaten by Rock On Ruby at Doncaster last month. The defending champion has been lightly raced this term and will have needed the run when third behind ZARKANDAR and Grandouet in a Grade 2 here in December. He was giving 4lb to the winner but so was the runner-up, who has obviously been aimed at this all season and should confirm the form. But we are going to stick with the Nicholls gelding, who underlined his potential when easily beating Khyber Kim and Balder Succes in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton. He's bettered Grandouet on the three previous occasions they've met and is much stronger now than when only fifth last year. Former champion Binocular may not be quite good enough at this level nowadays.
16.00 Glenfarclas Handicap Chase
Balthazar King halted Ireland's domination of this cross-country race 12 months ago but the status quo should be restored this year as the home team are significantly outnumbered. Arabella Boy's race at Punchestown early last month may well be the key to this. Enda Bolger's charge beat Big Shu, Uncle Junior, Shakervilz and BOSTONS ANGEL with Sizing Australia, winner of this on much faster ground in 2011, a faller. On better terms with most of his rivals, you'd expect Arabella Boy to come out on top again but he has still to really to prove he stays this far whereas Jessica Harrington's nine-year-old, who gets the nod, was an excellent second over course and distance behind Outlaw Pete earlier and is now 15lb better off with that one. He should confirm that running with third Leac An Scail and fourth Double Dizzy while Shakervilz and A New Story were further back. Uncle Junior and Arabella Boy both failed to complete. Wedger Pardy has run well here in the past but needs faster going and Freneys Well is now a 13-year-old. Any Currency could be interesting if taking to these unique fences, however, as he's fairly handicapped and stays well as he proved when third in last year's Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown.
16.40 OLBG Mares' Hurdle
There looks to be little standing in the way of a fifth success in this for the brilliant QUEVEGA. She's prepared every year with this race in mind and has overcome a similar absence to score in the last three years. In addition to dominating this event, she's also won three Grade 1 races over hurdles and has more than 20lb in hand on her rivals according to official ratings. Kentford Grey Lady was second last year, ahead of Alasi, Shop Dj, Cloudy Spirit and Swincombe Flame and has place claims again but a more interesting challenger is Une Artiste, who has won six of her starts over hurdles and has the beating of Alasi, Kentford Grey Lady and She Ranks Me on this season's form. This is a big step up in grade for Swing Bowler but it would be no surprise to see a big run from Kauto Shiny after a pipe-opener at Warwick and Emmanuel Clayeux has sent Sirene D'Ainay over from France on the back of a couple of wins at Pau.
17.15 Rewards4Racing Novices' Handicap Chase
Carlito Brigante has won at the Festival in the past and has a decent record at Cheltenham. He could well figure in this off what looks a decent mark. Useful staying hurdler Restless Harry is another potentially well handicapped but he's often let down by his jumping while Colour Squadron has also been far from foot perfect so far over fences. Vulcanite may find this too competitive but there are possibilities about Shangani, on a hat-trick after victories at Sandown and Catterick, while Kruzhlinin beat a good yardstick in Conquisto at Kelso. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the likes of Night Nurse, Little Owl and Alverton were hogging the headlines at The Festival but the Easterbys still have no hesitation sending one down to Cheltenham if they think they have a chance of collecting some prize money and FOURJACKS might be worth an interest in this. He's taking this easier option despite being entered in the RSA Chase and his only relative failure so far has been when unable to cope with Grade 2 company at Wetherby last month. The soft ground is definitely in his favour. Ohio Gold hasn't had much luck so far but is running well and shouldn't be ignored along with easy Wincanton winner The Druids Nephew.