We are less than four weeks away from the 2015 Cheltenham Festival and the opening day is shaping up to be a cracker.
As always on the Tuesday of the meeting, there are four Grade Ones, including the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Arkle Chase, Champion Hurdle and David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Favourites don’t have a great record in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle but connections of Douvan will be hoping their horse ignores that trend and justifies his price following the two mile contest for novices.
The Willie Mullins-trained five-year-old is unbeaten in two starts this season where he was a comfortable winner in the both of his outings in Ireland.
Douvan will wear the same silks as Vatour, who won the race comfortably 12 months ago and has a similar profile to last year’s winner.
The British challenge in the opening race appears to be led by L’Ami Serge, who is from Nicky Henderson’s yard. Again, this horse is unbeaten this season and will be ridden by Barry Geraghty.
The French recruit will be looking to give his trainer his first win in this race since Flown took this contest in 1992.
One of the shortest priced runners at this year’s Festival comes in the Arkle Chase where Un De Sceaux, who is also from the Mullins’ camp in Ireland, will be looking to continue his impressive novice campaign over fences.
Despite falling on his chase debut back in November, Un De Sceaux has won his two most recent outings by a combined distance of 27 lengths.
The seven-year-old’s latest victory was in the Grade One Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown where he had just two rivals in Gilgamboa and Clarcam. With Ruby Walsh on board as his pilot, he jumped fluently and made easy work on his task in the top grade.
Challengers to Un De Sceaux in the Arkle come in the form of Vibrato Valtat, stablemate Vautour and Josses Hill. However, a lot of the horses currently entered in the race may choose other options at the meeting with the presence of the favourite which could lead to a small field for the second race on day one of the 2015 Festival.
Festival Handicap Chase
The first conundrum punters have to solve on day one is the Festival Handicap Chase. This is always competitive, which is great if you have an opinion about a particular runner as it means you are likely to get a decent price.
Early indications suggest Foxrock will head the market for this contest. Trained by Ted Walsh in Ireland, this seven-year-old is believed to be a Grand National horse of the future but his focus this season is on Cheltenham in this valuable handicap.
Foxrock has had five starts this season with his sole victory coming at Leopardstown over 2m5f. He followed that up with a respectable second-place finish in the Grade One Hennessey Gold Cup at the same course at the weekend.
The feature race on day one is the Champion Hurdle and this year it is a fascinating contest to look forward to. Faugheen will go off as favourite, as long as he makes it to the meeting.
The Irish star hurdler has not put a foot wrong so far this season and has just blown his rivals away in his two runs, both of which have come in the UK.
He went off at 1/4 in the Ascot Hurdle in November where he showed no signs of any cobwebs to win the Grade One race. Meanwhile, at Kempton on Boxing Day, he impressed once again to take the Christmas Hurdle, returning with a SP of 4/11.
Ruby Walsh still has a big decision to make, though, as two-time winner Hurricane Fly is also expected to be in the field. The Irishman may have to show for head over heart, though, as the formbook suggests Faugheen is his best chance of winning this feature race once in 2015.
Britain’s best chance in the Champion Hurdle this year lands with The New One, who was very unfortunate in the 2014 running where he finished third after nearly being brought down early in the race. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ runner has won four-times already this season in his build up to Cheltenham.
David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle
Quevega made history at Cheltenham in 2014 by winning her sixth consecutive David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle, breaking Golden Miller’s previous best record of five race wins in the Gold Cup.
Mullins’ wonder-mare started her run in 2009 at the age of just five. Unfortunately for the Cheltenham crowd, they will not be able to see Quevega at a racecourse again as she retired following her run at Punchestown last April. However, her former stablemate Annie Power could help extend her trainer’s run in this race.
Annie Power finished second at the Festival in 2014 when she came home just over a length behind More of That in the World Hurdle. She is expected to go one place better this year against her own sex where she is odds-on to score for Mullins and Ireland.
National Hunt Chase
By the time Don Poli sets off in the National Hunt Chase, you would have expected Mullins to have chalked up at least one winner of the opening day of the 2015 Festival. His day could finish on a high, too, as he has the favourite in the finale in the form of this six-year-old chaser.
Don Poli picked up his first Grade One contest in the Topaz Novice Chase at Leopardstown last time out so is the classiest horse declared for this handicap. The biggest challenger to the favourite is Wounded Warrior, who runs in the Gigginstown House Stud silks.