The waiting is finally over and the first day of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival is finally upon us! But who’ll make it a winning start on a day which includes the Arkle and an open-looking Champion Hurdle?
Get ready for the famous Cheltenham roar and join us as we go through the card on the opening day at Prestbury Park, starting with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle…
13:30 – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – Asterion Forlonge (NB)
If Willie Mullins has a dart in this race it’s usually wise to pay attention. The Irish trainer has won four of the last seven renewals, and while he saddles three this time around, it’s Asterion Forlonge who may take the honours.
The six-year-old has come on bundles in 2020 and made an almighty leap to go from winning a Maiden to landing a Grade 1 at Leopardstown last time out ahead of some very handy types indeed.
There are suggestions he may want further based on those runs. But we think there’s more to come over 2m from this exciting Novice, who can get the better of both Shishkin and Abacadabras.
14:10 – The Arkle – Notebook (NAP)
Favourites tend to oblige more often than not in the Arkle and Notebook could keep that trend going.
Henry De Bromhead’s stable star is a dual Grade 1 winner this season and faces Cash Back and Fakir D’oudairies again here, both of whom have finished runner-up to the selection this season.
He’ a bold jumper and should have no problem maintaining his unbeaten record under Rachael Blackmore.
14:50 – Ultima Handicap – The Conditional
It’s the first Handicap of the Festival and we think it could go the way of The Conditional. The eight-year-old has been uber-consistent since switching from Martin Hassett to David Bridgwater, with form figures of 3124.
That includes a big run at Cheltenham in the November Meeting and a runner-up berth in the Ladbrokes Trophy last November, both of which suggest this 3m 1f contest could be his optimal trip.
A better round of jumping is required than his run at Warwick. But taking that as a given, he looks to have a fantastic chance of hitting the frame, even if he doesn’t quite end up in the winners’ enclosure.
15:30 – Champion Hurdle – Darver Star (Lively Longshot)
This year’s Champion Hurdle is so open you could drive a bus through it. And with Epatante not looking very strong at the head of the betting, it’s Darver Star who gets the nod for 2019 winner Gavin Cromwell.
The eight-year-old has shown huge progression this season over a range of trips, going from a 119 rated horse to a 158 rated horse, while his price for the Champion has dropped from 100/1 to near single figures.
Even more impressively he’s only been beaten by Honeysuckle, Envoi Allen and Abacadabras in his last two runs, all three of whom are near the head of the market in their respective races at the Festival.
A number who were behind him that day reoppose in this, and with further progression expected from our selection, we reckon he could spring a shock for the trainer for the second year running.
16:10 – Mares’ Hurdle – Benie Des Dieux
Benie Des Dieux won this in 2018 and would have taken it again 12 months later had it not been for a fall at the last when clear of the field. She’s taken to reclaim her title in a mouthwatering match with Honeysuckle.
Put simply, in every race our pick has completed, she’s won. That’s hard to knock, and with the experience of previous Festival’s under her belt, we reckon she can get the better of the pretender to her crown.
16:50 – Northern Trust Novices’ Handicap – Earlofthecotswolds
The recent trends for this race suggest you want a horse rated between 137 and 140 who’s won in their last three runs. On that basis, Earlofthecotswolds could be the one to side with at an interesting price.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ runner has shaped well since a fall on debut over fences and got up to win at Exeter in December. He’s been off since then, but with a record of going well fresh, he has decent each-way claims.
17:30 – National Hunt Chase – Lord Du Mesnil
You need a proper dour stayer to win the National Hunt Chase. And while Carefully Selected is a worthy favourite, his suspect jumping makes him opposable with the consistent Lord Du Mesnil.
Richard Hobson’s runner is a proven stayer and showed his credentials to full effect when runner-up in the Grand National Trial at Haydock last month.
This represents a similar test over a slightly longer distance, and with stamina the most important thing in a contest like this, Lord Du Mesnil should manage to get home, which will give him every chance.
All odds and markets correct as of date of publication