Willie Mullins is notorious for bringing a well-fancied runner over for the festival curtain-raiser and this year is no different with the unbeaten Getabird who has made little of fuss of winning a maiden and novice hurdle so far with his latest outing resulting in a nine-length Grade Two success (Mengli Khan was second, can’t see him reversing the form) and is definitely a worthy favourite but at odds of 13/8 is not for me, though will take a lot of beating. Kalashnikov showed a great attitude when winning the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last month in very testing conditions and with it unlikely that the ground will be good on the day he comes into the reckoning having only lost once from five starts under rules. That one defeat came in the Tolworth at Sandown when second behind SUMMERVILLE BOY for Tom George and I quite like the chances of this six-year old. He was a close second over track and trip in November before not having the race run to suit (went at a crawl) when third there next time, but everything fell perfect in the Tolworth, off a strong pace he came through to lead over the second last before keeping on well up the Sandown hill. I think with plenty of pace on offer he’s got as good a chance as any to get closest to the favourite so I’ll be either having a stab each-way or in the w/o market. Duc Des Genievres, Paloma Blue and Sharjah were behind the exciting Samcro last time and of those three I think Paloma Blue has the better form to be involved in the shake-up whilst Nicky Henderson (won with Altior in 2016) has Claimantakinforgan in the line-up and this horse has some decent bumper form having finished second in the Champion Bumper before a third in the Aintree Grade Two. He’s only tasted defeat once over hurdles and is another who should play a part in what is always a cracking race to kick start proceedings.
Recommended Bet: SUMMERVILLE BOY (12/1) – 1pt ew
- Getabird (13/8)
- Summerville Boy (12/1)
- Paloma Blue (16/1)
The Arkle has been notorious in recent years for odds-on favourites coming out on top and there’s a strong possibility that recent trend may continue this year with the Willie Mullins-trained Footpad (fourth in Champion Hurdle last season) a solid favourite. He’s been very impressive over in Ireland so far this season having jumped superbly. Although Petit Mouchoir beat him a couple of times over hurdles last season he was defeated comfortably over fences most recently and will find it difficult to turn the form around in this. However, as you well know I’m not one for backing short-priced favourites and have hopefully found some value here with Harry Whittington’s SAINT CALVADOS. The five-year old has impressed me massively in his first three starts in the UK improving on each outing with the most recent resulting in a 22-length demolition job in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick in which I was in attendance. It’s a tough jumping track there which will put him in good stead for this and at the prices looks worthy of serious consideration. Sceau Royal won the Henry VIII at Sandown in pretty taking fashion before a more workmanlike victory at Doncaster next time and has some decent course form so could fill the places but Brain Power will need to scrub up on his jumping if he’s to play a serious role having unseated and fallen on his last two appearances.
Recommended Bet: SAINT CALVADOS (11/2 – Betfair) – 1pt win
- Saint Calvados (6/1)
- Footpad (11/8)
- Sceau Royal (15/2)
The feature race on day one of the festival this year for me doesn’t look the strongest of renewals but it does include previous winner of this race and eight-time grade one winner Faugheen. He was pulled-up on reappearance run in the Ryanair Hurdle before going down a close second to Stayers’ Hurdle favourite Supasundae in the Irish equivalent event but now a 10-year old may struggle to serve it up to the ever so exciting reigning champion BUVEUR D’AIR. The seven-year old has laughed at his opposition in three starts so far this season and looks the real deal, he should follow up last year’s victory in my eyes. It looks like Yorkhill is to be reverted back to hurdlers after some very uninspiring chase outings this winter and if he’s fluent with his jumping back in this discipline he’d have a squeak but that’s got to be taken on trust. As Buveur D’air is a very short price, I’ve delved into the betting without market and think it may be the selections stablemate MY TENT OR YOURS who could fill that second place again. He was runner-up in this last year making that 3/3 seconds in this race over the years and he finally got his head in front at Prestbury Park in the International Hurdle in December when beating The New One. Form figures over course and distance read 2-2-2-2-2-1 and he could well add to that again here once the main challengers have tired. Wicklow Brave did beat him in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle and does have the speed to figure having run some fair races on the level over the past year or so and you may have forgotten that he bolted up in the County Hurdle here in 2015 so could well outrun his odds having gone well fresh previously.
Recommended Bet: MY TENT OR YOURS w/o (13/2 – Bet365) – 1pt ew (1/4 odds 3 places)
- Buveur D’air (4/9)
- My Tent Or Yours (10/1)
- Wicklow Brave (20/1)
I personally feel this is a penalty kick for last year’s winner APPLES JADE to follow up that success and I know that’s a bold statement to make in a Grade One of this magnitude but ever since that win here a year ago she just keeps pulling out more on each start and at the age of six is still scarily on the upgrade. She annihilated her rivals in the Hatton Grace by nine-lengths over this trip and was even good enough to outstay leading Stayers’ Hurdle fancy Supasundae when upped to three-miles and I’d be surprised if she’s defeated here. That’s left me no choice but to go in to the w/o market again. Let’s Dance had an excuse last time as she never saw out the step up in trip but was beaten a couple of times after her Mares’ Novice win last year. Vroum Vroum Mag has a good record when fresh and has only finished outside the front three once (that was in Irish Champion Hurdle over two-miles when last seen – that trip is too short for her these days) so I can see her running her race at the age of nine now back up in trip. It’s still undecided as to where Benie Des Dieux will go though would have a chance if turned out here. Jockey bookings are probably your best indication for those three, though you can never tell with Mullins who his main fancy is. La Bague Au Roi struggled on her only previous visit to this course, though has been good on last two outings but the one I’m chancing here is JER’S GIRL who was beaten by Warren Greatrex’s mare the last day but that was over three-miles and this drop back in trip is more up her street. She was still travelling well in this last year when coming down at the third last and she’s since finished two-lengths behind Apple’s Jade at Navan. Her record when fresh reads well and I can see her running a decent race here with Barry Geraghty most probably taking the ride in the JP McManus silks.
Recommended Bet: JER’S GIRL w/o (10/1 – Bet365) – 1pt ew (1/4 odds 3 places)
- Apple’s Jade (4/6)
- Jer’s Girl (25/1)
- Vroum Vroum Mag (8/1)