The absence of Faugheen may have dampened the squib that is the Champion Hurdle but day 1 still contains plenty of fireworks – David Cormack opens the box, lights the blue touchpaper and retires gracefully below with a selection for each of the day’s events.
Race 1 – If you’d listened to our TRF Cheltenham preview you’ll know I hold Min in high regard, as does a certain William Mullins. However, he’s a hot favourite and we won’t get rich at that price so I’m suggesting you take him on with SILVER CONCORDE. No man finer at getting one ready for the big day than D.K. Weld and this fellow roared up the hill to take the bumper two years ago. Every drying breath of wind will be in his favour as he needs goodish ground and with maximum assistance from the man in the plate, Davy Russell, guaranteed horse, trainer and jockey look a formidable combination. Back him in the morning at 6/1 if you can get it, he’ll start shorter.
Race 2 – Douvan looks as near a certainty as you are likely to get at the festival, in this or any year, but he is a prohibitive price. Only the seven runners too which scuppers my place bet plans but THE GAME CHANGER looks primed to run a big race and he can be the one to profit if the favourite slips up.
Race 3 – it can pay to follow certain trainers in the festival handicaps and at the top of that list is Jonjo O’Neill. His BEG TO DIFFER is young, progressive and has plenty scope. His form has been progressive all season and it looks like Jonjo has been priming him for this. 14/1 is too big, get on!
Race 4 – The Champion Hurdle was robbed of a champion with Faugheen’s withdrawal. It has opened the race up though and it looks wide open. Annie Power is just asking to be taken on and the two I like are My Tent Or Yours, a former runner up, and Camping Ground. Camping Ground comes here off an unusual prep but slammed Lil Rockefeller earlier in the season and can run well. I narrowly prefer MY TENT OF YOURS, my enthusiasm tempered by his long absence. It has the look of a weak Champion Hurdle though and Nicky Henderson has worked the oracle with plenty long term absentees in his time. That said, this will be a training feat of mammoth proportions and it ooks a wide open race so keep stakes low is my advice.
Race 5 – VROUM VROUM MAG looks unopposable here. She’s unbeaten in two years and this division looks weak. Stablemate Gitane Du Berlais can chase her home.
Race 6 – It almost invariably pays to pay attention to jockey bookings in this contest and all those at the head of the market are ridden by the elite of the amateur code. I am particularly keen on SOUTHFIELD ROYALE for whom Neil Mulholland has snapped up Nina Carberry. Her patient style will suit this fellow who has enjoyed a grand season, boasting some strong form. Plenty dangers and I like the look of Ballychorus at double figure odds.
Race 7 – The last race looks a very tricky puzzle. I’m going to take a shot at a real outsider in this in the shape of Henry De Bromhead’s DOMESDAY BOOK. This lad has been pitched against Douvan (twice!) and has been out with the washing on both occasions. In between he has run some decent races and I’m taking a chance that he’ll be suited by finding better ground than he’s faced so far in his short career and that this shrewd trainer will have him spot on.