Cheltenham: Walsh and Mullins set for trio of first race wins

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As the sun rose on Cheltenham Festival Thursday last year, Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins teamed up in the first race, the JLT Novices’ Chase, looking to win the card’s icebreaker for the third straight day.

On 12/1-shot Marito, Walsh was three lengths off the pace and going well when falling two out and missing out on a hat-trick of first race wins . As this year’s JLT approaches, the pair find themselves in the same scenario, only with much better chances.

After Vautour and Faugheen bolted up in the Supreme Novices’ and Neptune Novices’ Hurdles respectively, Mullins saddles Felix Yonger as the 7/2 favourite for the 2m4f Grade 1 Chase.

Having finished runner-up in the 2012 Neptune, Felix Yonger quickly adapted to the switch to fences, winning all of his first three starts over the tougher obstacles.

There are no doubts over his ability to stay and with Festival form a big plus, there is plenty to like about the eight-year-old, with the improving ground another feather in the cap.

Runners-up finishes the last twice both came in the middle of some incremental weather and the improving ground at Prestbury Park make him extremely hard to beat.

All of the next three in the betting are respected but are likely each way bets at 5/1 or greater. Oscar Whisky (5/1) is a face at the Festival and has an exemplary hurdling record, but didn’t jump fluently over fences last time out.

Paul Nicholls is still looking for his first winner at this meeting and saddles Wonderful Charm, also 5/1, with Daryl Jacob in the stirrups. He chased Oscar Whisky home last time out but gave Nicky Henderson’s nine-year-old eight lbs that day.

However, it’s the 6/1-rated Vukovar that should get the each-way nod. Coming over from France as a prolific hurdler he looked a promising chaser for Harry Fry, winning a novice race at Newbury in his second start.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Matt Wiggins

No idyllic sound comes close to leather on willow for Matt, whose previous experience includes stints with Spin Magazine and Surrey County Cricket Club. It's not just cricket that interests him though, with football, golf, tennis and any American sport not played on ice all high on his list of favourites.