No longer any need to count the days, the 2012 Cheltenham Festival is with us once again and as always has an absolutely mouth watering opening day.
There are three Grade One races with the show stealer of course being the Champion Hurdle at 3.20. The big race is preceded by the Grade 1 Supreme Novice Hurdle at 1.30, the traditional Festival ‘curtain raiser’, which in turn is followed by the Grade 1 Arkle Challenge Trophy at 2.05 designed to test the ability of the best young novice chasers. Then comes the JLT Speciality Handicap Chase over 3m1f, one of the most popular betting races of the week at 2.40..
The first day is completed by the spectacular Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase at 4pm, before the only Grade 2 of the day at 4.40, where the David Nicholson’s Mares Hurdle and the great Quevega takes centre stage. The first day is brought to a close with the Novices Handicap Chase at 5.15.
1.30 – Supreme Novices Hurdle
Favourites have a poor record in this race, a burden that would appear will be carried by the Nicky Henderson trained, Darlan. However there are a great many in with chances, none more so than the Alan King entry, Montbazon, who has been backed heavily into 6/1 in places from 10/1 last week. Others who have been the subject of many tips include Irish raiders, Steps To Freedom from the Jessie Harrington stable and Galileo’s Choice who is fancied to provide trainer Dermot Weld his first win at the Festival for 22 years. A lively outsider might well prove to be Prospect Wells from the Paul Nicholls stable who will have leading Festival jockey, Ruby Walsh on board.
2.05 Arkle Challenge Trophy
All the rage in the betting ring concerns Sprinter Sacre from Nicky Henderson’s Seven Barrows stable, who has jockey, Barry Geraghty already claiming that he might be the best horse he has ever sat on. If that is the case then the rest might not bother to show up. However, Al Ferof, the Supreme Novice Hurdler last year has a big chance, so does Cue Card, winner of the 2010 Champion Bumper here two years ago and then there is the classy Menorah from the Philip Hobbs stable who has been heavily tipped this week to run a big race.
2.40 JLT Speciality Handicap Chase
One of the best betting races of the entire week, this chase over 3m1f should see a very quick pace with Quantativeeasing also from the Nicky Henderson stable being one of those ready to pounce at the end. He is likely to go off as the favourite but there is also plenty of support in the betting ring for Alan King’s Hold On Julio and the David Pipe entry The Package, making his return to the racecourse after an absence of nearly 16 months.
3.20 The Champion Hurdle
It would appear that this race is all about the 2011 winner, Hurricane Fly and Binocular, winner of the 2010 renewal. However, the betting and the form strongly suggests that it will be the defending champion who will triumph once again for trainer Willie Mullins and the Irish contingent. 2011 Triumph Hurdle winner, Zarkandar from the Paul Nicholls stable is also in with chances although five year olds have a very poor record in the race with only one winning since 1985.
4.00 Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase
The Irish have completely dominated this race since its inauguration at the Festival and there is every reason to believe that they will walk off with the spoils once again. They have the top four in the betting which includes the grand 13 year old, Garde Champetre bidding to win the race for a third time.
4.40 Mares Hurdle
There is no doubt that Quevega from the Willie Mullins stable will dominate this race. She has won this race for three years running and is a massive odds on favourite to make it four. Swincombe Flame from the Nick Williams stable possibly holds the best chance for the home team.
5.15 Pulteney Land Investments Novices Handicap Chase
A very open looking affair which the Kieran Burke trained Hunt Ball is likely to go off as one of the favourites. A winner of six of his seven races this season he will have his growing reputation tested by the likes of Triolo D’Alene having only his second race since arriving from France. There is also the Nigel Twiston-Davies entry, Ackertack, who is expected to improve hugely from his second place last time at Ascot behind Triolo D’Alene