So, it’s finally here and – as we dive headlong into Day One – we can now, with some certainty, anticipate fairly soft ground. That certainly has a significant bearing on my opening shot, a relative latecomer to the Supreme Novices’ party but, nevertheless, a very important one.
Supreme Novices Hurdle: First Flow – 10/1
The horse in question is First Flow who made a massive impression when wining the recognised trial for this race at Haydock. The official margin was big enough but could have been even greater had he not bungled the last.
That aside, his jumping was very good out of extremely bad ground and there’s something of the freak about this horse. He’s slightly ungainly looking, with a very unfashionable pedigree, but obviously has a massive engine and the ability to cope with testing conditions.
What’s more significant is that Kim Bailey has four or five novice hurdlers that he could have run at the festival, but this horse seems to have emerged at the top of the pack against initial expectations.
Regulars will know I have been a big fan of Kalashnikov for this race, but he really is now quite a short price and I think the value may now lie elsewhere.
Nobody’s going to be surprised if Getabird gets the Mullins-Walsh team off to a flying start, but I’m happy enough to watch him win at a shorter price than Douvan and Vatour.
The Arkle: Saint Calvados – 3/1
It’s slightly disappointing that The Arkle has only drawn five runners, but we know that four of these are of the highest calibre. Saint Calvados is my selection and I suspect he might not see another rival.
An odd comment you might think given that Footpad and Petit Mouchoir are in the race, but neither of their jockeys, Ruby Walsh or Davy Russell, are going to want to sacrifice their own chances by getting into a pace war and Saint Calvados will be very difficult to pass if he establishes the same sort of rhythm he managed at Warwick last time.
Ultima Handicap Chase: Vicente – 16/1
The Ultima is quite often won by a horse we know plenty about and I suspect this might be the case again – the horse that interests me here is Vicente, who has not exactly attracted many column inches in the lead up to this Festival and is a horse who was always considered better on quick ground. He slightly turned that theory upside down, however, when he finished an excellent second in the big staying race at the November meeting. We know he’s got stamina in abundance, he’s still not too badly handicapped and he comes here a fresh horse from top stable.
Coo Star Sivola has very obvious claims at the head of the market, while Vintage Clouds ran a decent race in this before falling last year and is a better horse this time around.
Champion Hurdle: Elgin 18/1 (Each-way)
The Champion Hurdle has filled up remarkably well considering there was supposed to be no opposition to Buveur D’air and it does make a bit of appeal as an each-way race.
I’ll be backing Elgin with and without Buveur D’air. The fact that he has the ability to handle the conditions, he’s proven himself on the course and his progressive profile are enough to convince me that he’s got what it takes to at least be placed. Although he has an excellent flat pedigree, his impressive physique means that he was always likely to do better as he got older and I think it’s reasonable to expect another fairly significant step up here.
Mares Hurdle: Apple’s Jade -4/7 / Jer’s Girl – 14/1 (Each-way)
In contrast, it’s a rather disappointing turn out for the Mares Hurdle which, admittedly, does look Apple’s Jade’s to lose – particularly given her ability to maintain a very high cruising speed.
That’s not really going to be the way this column works this week, however, and an each-way play against her makes Jer’s Girl my bet for this race. I fancied her to win the race last year and she was still going well enough when falling.
It’s worth remembering she was only half a length behind La Bague Au Roi at Kempton earlier this season and, again, she comes into this race a fresh mare for an excellent trainer.
National Hunt Challenge Cup: Mossback – 11/2
The four-miler could yet again go to Gordon Elliott and the excellent Lisa O’Neil, with Mossback. This one looks dead straightforward to me: he’s run a string of consistent races, posting very respectable figures each time, showing a high level of ability, lots of stamina and ability to handle soft ground. I think the horse that beat him last time, Monbeg Notorious, is very good indeed and Mossback is the pick here.
Of the British horses, I like Ms Parfois to run a big race as she looks like she’s been crying out for this sort of trip.
Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase: Any Second Now
In the concluding Close brother Novices Handicap Chase, I am going to set no records for originality in backing Any Second Now who looks to have been found the right trip and conditions to make this handicap mark look pretty lenient.
Odds are provided at time of writing, please check your betslip to confirm they have not changed before betting.