4.10 Cross Country Chase (3m 7f)
Cause Of Causes (4-1) tries to win this for the second time, which would also make him a winner at four consecutive Festivals and he has a favourite’s chance. One could worry about the general form of Gordon Elliott’s horses but this has been his plan for about 10 months and he comes here fresh. Josie’s Orders won three times over this course a couple of seasons back and was a fair third on his return in December. The Last Samuri, by contrast, is making his cross-country debut. He was second in a Grand National a couple of years ago but prior experience of this course is usually helpful. Beeves is another first-timer, having a Grand National prep run. Urgent De Gregaine bolted up in a handicap here last year but this level-weights contest demands more.
4.50 Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle (2m 1/2f)
Another tricky handicap in which the trickiness lies in measuring the ability of four-year-olds with hardly any form to their names. Paul Nicholls has won this twice in the last three years and fields Act Of Valour, beaten only by the classy We Have A Dream when last seen. Nube Negra has won two hurdles starts easily and given best only to Apple’s Shakira, the Triumph favourite, in the other. Oxford Blu is thought to be a contender by his young trainer, Olly Murphy, who has begun his career with a bang, but this is one who could be vulnerable on a testing surface. Eragon De Chanay (12-1) bolted up at Sandown at the weekend, allowing him to sneak in at the bottom of the weights. If he can run to his best for the second time in five days, he has a big chance.
5.30 Champion Bumper (2m 1/2f)
A benefit for Willie Mullins over the years, the Irishman having won it eight times, albeit not since 2013. He fields Blackbow and Carefully Selected (10-1), among others, and both of those are easy to like for their unbeaten records in such races. Blackbow has had much the greater support from punters so far. Crooks Peak won here in November, a race that has worked out well, though his stable has been quiet since then. Felix Dejsy represents Gordon Elliott. He’s well fancied but made hard work of it last time and the placed horses have been beaten again since then. Didtheyleaveuoutto is closely related to Denman and won an Ascot bumper that can sometimes prove influential.
There is nothing like as much activity in the betting markets today as there was on the opening morning, but Douvan has definitely started to drift for the Champion Chase and is now the third-favourite at 4-1 with Min the more solid of the two Willie Mullins runners at 7-2. The bookies are also starting to see money for Altior, the favourite, with several cutting him to 6-5, but there is still a fair bit of 5-4 around for now.
Elsewhere, Voix Du Reve has been quite popular with the sponsors in the Coral Cup, and there has been a little money too for The Last Samurai, who is the class act in the Cross Country on ratings but has yet to be tested over these obstacles.
The 6-1 has gone about Kim Bailey’s runner and 11-2 is now the top price for the second-favourite, while Cause Of Causes, who is attempting to win at the Festival for the fourth year running, is a drifter in the same race, out to 4-1 having been top-priced as the 3-1 market leader overnight.
How healthy is Altior? He was on box rest for a month after a breathing operation in November and then was found to be lame on Monday. All now seems well and perhaps he really is ready to sustain his unbeaten record over obstacles, which now extends to 12 consecutive wins. This surface will be at least as testing as anything he’s met before, another source of doubt. Douvan lost his unbeaten record over fences when he cracked a pelvis in this race last year. After a troubled winter, which at one point he was going to miss in its entirety, he is back to see if he can dethrone the favourite. Ruby Walsh’s decision to ride him rather than Min (10-3) surely has something to do with sentiment; Min, an impressive winner last time, has much the more obvious chance. God’s Own could go well at big odds, considering how well his stablemates ran yesterday. Special Tiara won this last year but has not generally been as happy on soft going. Politologue was held by Altior last time but had won his previous three and might be there to pick up the pieces if the favourite ran below par.
2.10 RSA Novice Chase (3m 1/2f)
Presenting Percy (11-4) is the deserving favourite, having run the Irish National winner Our Duke to a length last month. For a novice, that’s outstanding form and he won over hurdles at last year’s Festival. Monalee is a classy type who went close in a Grade One here last year. A fall has been the only blip on his record in three starts over fences. Jumping has been more of a problem for Al Boum Photo, who might have beaten Monalee last time but for a lack of fluency. It’s asking a lot for him to show better jumping form in such a hot race but he does have the benefit of Ruby Walsh this time. Black Corton, the only British runner in the first five in the betting, has improved enormously since starting his season at Newton Abbot in October, with Bryony Frost a big part of his story. They stuffed Ms Parfois at Ascot last time and that one ran a huge race in the four-miler here yesterday.
2.50 Coral Cup (2m 5f)
Here’s the trickiest handicap of the week so far, a 27-runner affair with nothing shorter than 7-1 as I type. Max Dynamite is to the fore in the betting, which is only fair for a horse who has twice been placed in the Melbourne Cup. He was very useful over hurdles in 2015 but hasn’t done much jumping since and this is asking a lot. William Henry powered home in the Lanzarote and that form has worked out really well. He has ‘boy wonder’ James Bowen to help him. River Frost was pulled up as if something was amiss that day but would have a chance if the in-form Alan King has him back on song. River Frost’s owner, JP McManus, perhaps has a better chance with The Organist (25-1), who showed herself to be a strong stayer in testing conditions when scoring at Newbury in December. Mount Mews, well held by Black Corton last time, switches back to hurdles and could stay on dourly on a surface he handles well.
A change of headgear or a minor procedure to their breathing apparatus can make a big difference to a horse, or can at least indicate a determined effort by the trainer to elicit improvement. Here’s today’s list of horses that might take a step forward on their known form. Of course, there will be other reasons not yet in the public domain and it will be lovely to hear about those from trainers who make it to the winner’s enclosure…
2.10 Full Irish – cheekpieces worn for the first time
2.50 William Henry – cheekpieces worn for the first time
Royal Vacation – wind operation since last run
3.30 Ar Mad – cheekpieces worn for the first time
4.50 Brave Dancing – tongue tie worn for the first time
Eureu Du Boulay – tongue tie worn for the first time
5.30 Felix Desjy – hood worn for the first time
It might be worth noting that all 16 runners yesterday who wore tongue ties were beaten. It would make sense that horses with breathing issues, indicated by a tongue tie, might find it especially tough going on very deep ground. Presenting Percy and Cause Of Causes are tongue-tied runners due to start favourite on Wednesday and it’ll be interesting to see how they fare.
Top jockeys after Day One
Ruby Walsh 2 wins
Noel Fehily, Barry Geraghty, Brian Hughes, Lizzie Kelly, Patrick Mullins 1
Walsh could be on his way to being top jockey at the Festival for the 12th time. He’s now on 58 career wins at this meeting, well ahead of the next man (Geraghty on 35). He had a bit of trouble settling Getabird in the opener yesterday but otherwise there wasn’t much of a clue that he’d been off injured for four months until last week. Lizzie Kelly was the only jockey to break their Festival duck yesterday, her celebrations making it patently clear what a relief this was for her after a frustrating time of it last March.
Top jockey betting: 1-3 Ruby Walsh 13-2 Barry Geraghty 12-1 Jack Kennedy 16-1 Noel Fehily 20-1 Nico De Boinville
Top trainers after Day One
Willie Mullins 3 wins
Nicky Henderson, Tom George, Mick Channon, Nick Williams 1 win
Day one a year ago felt like a changing of the guard, with Mullins getting blanked for the first time in nine years while Gordon Elliott had a treble. The old order re-established itself yesterday, with Mullins taking his Festival tally to 57 and Henderson (now on 59) having to work hard to stay ahead of him.
Meanwhile, Elliott had one of the toughest days ever endured by a trainer here. He ran seven, including two favourites, but couldn’t get closer than third. Alas, he lost Mossback, who sustained a fatal injury in the National Hunt Chase. Channon was breaking his Festival duck at the age of 69. Williams broke his duck just last year but has now won at consecutive Festivals.
Top trainer betting: 1-7 Willie Mullins 7-1 Nicky Henderson 14-1 Gordon Elliott
1.30 Ballymore Novice Hurdle Vision Des Flos 16-1
2.10 RSA Chase Presenting Percy 11-4
2.50 Coral Cup The Organist 25-1
3.30 Queen Mother Champion Chase Min 4-1
4.10 Cross-country Chase Cause Of Causes 3-1
4.50 Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle Eragon De Chanay 12-1
5.30 Champion Bumper Carefully Selected 10-1
If I’m right about these results (no sniggering at the back), Willie Mullins will have matched Nicky Henderson’s tally of 59 Festival successes by the end of the day. Together with Pat Kelly’s Presenting Percy and Gordon Elliott’s Cause Of Causes, that would be four winners for Ireland on the card. Vision Des Flos would be just a second Festival success for Colin Tizzard since 2013. You can read my in-depth analysis here.
Congratulations to oldpunter, who had six of yesterday’s seven winners and won our tipping competition on a final score of +25.50. Dobdobdob did best of the rest on +18.17. Oldpunter, we’ll be in touch by email to arrange your prize.
You could win a £100 account credit from Betfair by proving your tipping prowess on today’s races. All you have to do is give us your selections for all of today’s races at Cheltenham. As ever, our champion will be the tipster who returns the best profit to notional stakes of £1 at starting price on each tip. Non-runners count as losers.
Please post all your tips in a single posting, using the comment facility below, before the first race at 1.30pm.
There are seven races at Cheltenham today and you must post a single selection for each race. Our usual terms and conditions, which you can read here, will apply, except that this will be a strictly one-day thing. If we get a tie after all the races have been run, the winner will be the one who posted their tips earliest out of those with the highest score. If an entrant has to repost their selections because of a non-runner, we will use the time of their later posting for tiebreak purposes.
If you don’t win today, don’t despair. We are running an identical competition on each day of the Festival.
Bookmakers first started to price up a head-to-head between Altior and Douvan in this afternoon’s Queen Mother Champion Chase 366 days ago, when Nicky Henderson’s chaser extended his unbeaten record over fences with an easy win in the Arkle Trophy.
For 24 hours, Douvan was odds-on to win later this afternoon, but then he surrendered his own unbeaten record in last season’s Champion Chase and suffered an injury in the process. The odds for today’s race then shifted to 2-1 about Altior and 3-1 for Douvan, and 12 months later, after no end of concern and speculation that one or both would not make it to the race, the prices have scarcely shifted at all.
Altior, admittedly, would be an odds-on chance today had it not been for a last-minute injury scare earlier in the week, when he was found to be lame on Monday morning. That has, seemingly, been put to bed thanks to the sterling work of Henderson’s farrier and vet, but the punters still seem to be a little wary of Altior, despite having seen him coast to success in his prep race at Newbury last month.
The last confirmed sighting of Douvan, on the other hand, was his failure at last year’s Festival, so his relative strength in the market is interesting. Does it suggest genuine confidence in Ireland that he will produce his brilliant best today? Or does it reflect the uncertainty after Altior’s recent scare, with half an eye too on Douvan’s stable companion, Min, who did nothing wrong in his own trial for today’s race in Ireland.
My guess is that money will arrive for Altior before the off while Douvan will drift, but that could prove to be a long way wide of the mark. It has all the makings of a Festival classic, including the very real possibility that an outsider will upstage the headline acts.
Samcro, who runs in the opening Ballymore Novice Hurdle, is the other key name on today’s card, and one of only two horses over the final three days of the meeting that is expected to start at odds-on. Defeat for a horse already being talked about as a potential great would be a bitter blow for the punters, and also for Gordon Elliott, Samcro’s trainer, who drew a blank on Tuesday and has been shunted out to 14-1 to defend his title as the Festival’s leading trainer.
Willie Mullins went through the first two days without a winner last time around, however, and still managed to finish the meeting with half a dozen. In addition to Douvan and Min, he has four in the Ballymore, including Next Destination, the second-favourite, five runners in the Coral Cup – where Bleu Berry looks interesting at around 25-1 – and five more in the Bumper. If he has two more winners than Nicky Henderson today, they will be tied at the top of the Festival’s all-time list.
The going here remains soft, heavy in places, having swapped around from heavy, soft in places midway through Tuesday’s card, while the going on the Cross Country course, which stages its sole race of the meeting later on, is also soft, heavy in places.
“It was dry overnight and quite breezy and the going has dried a little more,” Simon Claisse, the clerk of the course, said this morning. “There is still a little bit of heavy ground on what we call the stud bends, so that only affects races over two-and-a-half miles. What I would describe as the round course is soft all over.
“I expect a dry and breezy day with temperatures of 11 or 12 degrees. It may well be that by 1.30pm when we kick off with the first race that we change the going to soft all round, but we will just have to see how things dry out over the next few hours.”