It’s always good to get your Cheltenham Festival punting off to the best possible start and it looks, as it did last year, like 2016’s opening offerings have two possible routes of attack.
Short-priced favourites courtesy of Willie Mullins and co. take up the head of the betting in four of the seven races, looking to match their exploits 12 months ago.
But as we saw back then, things can go wrong, and it’s not always wise to dive into a shortie.
With that in mind we have trawled the markets for the seven races on day one to pick out a trio of horses who could go better than their lofty odds suggest at Prestbury Park.
Min may look excellent but the fact that only four of the last 18 horses to start at 3/1 or shorter for the race have won, means looking for some each-way value could be a better plan than plunging into the favourite.
Course form can be telling when the Festival comes round and Dermot Weld’s horse has the kind that is perfect for the Supreme given the fact that he won the Champion Bumper two years ago.
He didn’t make the Festival 12 months ago, but had previously finished in front of (an admittedly weak) Grade 1 winner in McKinley in the Deloitte Novices’ Hurdle, with Champion Hurdle hopes Identity Thief and Sempre Medici further behind.
Ground could be key for the eight-year-old with his previous Festival win and subsequent Punchestown bumper second coming on ground with ‘good’ in the description.
Turned over at odds-on on heavy ground at Christmas, expect a much improved animal to turn up at Prestbury Park for a trainer that has won a race at the Festival in each of the last two years.
This one needs a leap of faith with Philip Hobbs’ charge also entered in the JLT Novices’ Chase, but the case for him to run in the Arkle is strong.
The presence of Douvan could scare some off, while others are more likely to go up in trip (Shaneshill) and some are thought to be waiting for Aintree (Alisier D’Irlande and Arzal), making a small field possible.
Throw in that the eight-year-old has been campaigned like an Arkle horse and the hopes of him making the frame look stronger than ever.
The gelding has won all three of his starts over fences to date, including an easy victory over Bristol De Mai, before beating Doctor Harper – a subsequent facile victor – by five lengths unextended.
He’s closely matched with Vaniteux on hurdles form, yet Nicky Henderson’s charge is a third of the price, simply too much of a difference even allowing for the potential for a shot at the JLT.
If excusing his run in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, where he was never in the race, the son of Kapgarde has form of 211 at Prestbury Park and could be one to fill a place behind Douvan and maybe even take advantage of any misdemeanors.
Johnny Farrelly’s horse has yet to get his head in front in five chases so far, but he has been keeping some pretty good company.
Last seen finishing fourth in the Ascot Chase ahead of Triolo D’Alene (rated 155) and Flemenstar (160), dropping down into a handicap could be bang up his street.
Prior to his solid enough run in Berkshire the seven-year-old had finished 10 lengths clear of the 154 rated Otago Trail at Haydock.
He looked to have the beating of the likes of Reynoldstown third Le Mercurey, Pendil Novices’ Chase winner Killala Quay and favourite for this Cheltenham race Out Sam when he came down at the last in the Noel Novices’ Chase back in December.
The gelding got to within two lengths of Stiletto the same month, and with that horse winning easily by 10 lengths next time, the form looks solid.
With all those decent performances yet to yield a success, the 2014 Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle runner-up sits on a very tempting mark of 139.
If connections bid to exploit that and take in this race instead of flying high in the JLT (66/1) he could run a huge one.
All odds and markets correct as of the date of publishing.