Cheltenham Festival: Day One (Champion Day) Preview & Betting Tips - 12th March 2013

Day one at the Cheltenham Festival is Champion Day, and while the Champion Hurdle is the most hotly anticipated of the races on the card, it is by no means the only one that will get the punters’ blood rushing.

So read on for the lowdown on all the races on the day one card, with our suggestions for the horses we think will steal the show, along with a few long-odds betting tips on outsiders who might have what it takes to sneak a place or better.

1:30 – William Hill Supreme Novices´ Hurdle – Grade 1, 2m110y

We start the day, and the Festival, with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. This Grade 1 curtain-raiser is going to be hotly contested so who are the horses in with a decent shout of being first past the post?

Leading the ante post betting is the Irish six-year-old, My Tent Or Yours, available at 6/4 with BetVictor. The Nicky Henderson-trained gelding carried the favourite’s tag with aplomb last time out when victorious in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, and that was on the back of another win on January at Huntingdon. A worthy favourite in this one, but this is a class field and it will be tough for him to assert authority.

A horse to watch as the market moves and shakes as the big day approaches is Melodic Rendezvous. The seven-year-old has been out at odds as large as 14/1, but is now available at some bookies at just 8/1 after winning three novices’ hurdles in consecutive months from December. Available at 9/1 with Totesport, he’s one to watch. As is French five-year-old Un Atout, who has won each of his three rules races in fine style. Though he hasn’t been tested in a field of this calibre, he could have the legs to take the win at 7/1 with Ladbrokes.

Offers On This Race:

  • Place a £10 bet on the Supreme Novices Hurdle and Coral will give you a £10 bet to use on whatever you like, completely free. Details.
  • BetVictor will refund any net losses you may incur from this race as a free bet worth up to £50. Details.
  • Back a winner at odds of 4/1 or more and get a free bet to use on the Arkle Challenge at 2:05. Details.

2:05 – Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase – Grade 1, 2m

The most highly regarded minimum distance chase in the calendar, the Arkle – named after the legendary three-time Gold Cup winner – sees the best novice chasers around bid for glory. The Nicky Henderson-trained Sprinter Sacre – the odds-on favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase on day two of the festival– won this race last year when the 8/11 favourite. Henderson has a new super-horse in the making that is leading the betting here, seven-year-old grey, Simonsig.

Now backed in to become the 4/6 favourite (with Bet365), Simonsig has won seven of his eight rules races to date, and came second in the other. He won the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Festival and won both his novices’ chases with ease at Ascot and Kempton (both late December). The horse has class and you will oppose him at your peril.

Of course, favourites don’t win every time, and there are plenty of fine runners to take up the running if Simonsig has an off day. The pick of them is the Irish nine-year- old, Overturn, currently the 11/4 second-favourite with Stan James. He has won each of his three chases to date, including the Scottish Arkle at Musselburgh last time out. Realistically he is the only one likely to offer anything resembling a challenge to Simonsig.

Offers On This Race:

  • Back a winner at odds of 4/1 or more and get a free bet to use on the Handicap Chase at 2:40. Details.

2:40 – JLT Specialty Handicap Chase – Grade 3, 3m110y

The Festival Trophy – as it is commonly dubbed – is a handicap that offers good opportunities for each-way value. We’ll highlight a couple of runners who could be in with a chance here, but bear in mind there has been only one winner in the last 13 renewals who has carried a weight of more than 11 stones, so we’ve looked most closely at those with lighter loads.

Fruity O’Rooney – available at odds of 10/1 more or less across the board – ran in second in impressive fashion in the Murphy Group Chase at Cheltenham in January. He was also second in this race last year when carrying a weight of 10-11, so with just a pound more in this renewal he looks to be in with a great chance.

It is the favourite, Our Mick, who could be the one to beat though. He came third in the JLT Speciality Handicap Chase at last year’s Festival and could well go two better here at odds of 6/1 with BetVictor.

Offers On This Race:

  • Get your money back as a free bet if your horse finishes second to 'Our Mick'. Full details on the Coral website.
  • Back a winner at odds of 4/1 or more and get a free bet to use on the Champion Hurdle at 3:20. Details.

3:20 – Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy – Grade 1, 2m110y

The feature race of the day, the Champion Hurdle is often run at one hell of a gallop as the best two-mile hurdles run their hearts out for glory. Rock On Ruby was last year’s winner and aims to be the first horse since Hardy Eustace (in 2004 and 2005) to win back-to-back renewals. He is currently priced at 9/2 with Betfred to do the business, though we think he’ll be up against it.

The most likely one to spoil his party is the 2011 winner, Hurricane Fly. While Rock On Ruby has won just once since this time last year, Hurricane Fly has won four out of four, and also won the seven races before his third place behind Rock on Ruby and Overturn. In other words, we feel Hurricane Fly had an off day. He is certainly the one the bookies think will romp home, priced as the 2/1 favourite with Coral and he offers good value even at that price.

Of course, there are plenty of other quality horses in the field, with Zarkander (7/2 with Ladbrokes), Grandouet (8/1 with Coral) and Cinders and Ashes (12/1 with Stan James) all in with a decent shout in our eyes, but Hurricane Fly is a class above is our opinion.

Offers On This Race:

  • Back a winner at odds of 4/1 or more and get a free bet to use on the Handicap Chase at 4:00. Details.

4:00 – Glenfarclas Handicap Chase (Cross Country Chase) – 3m7f

Please note: This race has been postponed until 5:15 on Day Three (14th March 2013). Head over to our Day Three preview to read our updated tips.

4:40 – OLBG Mares´ Hurdle (Registered as David Nicholson Mares´ Hurdle) – Grade 2, 2m4f

Only having been run since 2008, this Grade 2 race has been won by the Willie Mullins-trained Quevega – with Ruby Walsh in the saddle – in all but the first year. The French nine-year-old has run just two races in each of her last three seasons: this race and the World Series Hurdle at Punchestown – and has won each and every one.

And with second-favourite Unaccompanied having pulled out of this one after pulling a muscle, there’s only really one horse in it. Currently available at a best price of 1/2, she’s a short price, but – along with Sprinter Sacre on the second day – as close to a dead cert as you’ll get this year.

5:15 – Pulteney Land Investments Novices´ Handicap Chase (Listed Race) – 2m4f110y

The final race of the day is a tough one to call. One thing that is worth pointing out is that six of the eight renewals since its 2005 introduction to the festival have been won by seven-year-olds. One horse who falls into that category and is favoured by the bookies the Irish gelding, Colour Squadron.

On his only previous trip to Cheltenham, however, Colour Squadron managed just 13th place in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Given that he is almost top weight here with 11-11 on his back, we fancy the favourite’s tag and odds of just 6/1 with Bet365 and others are a bit hasty.

Our other favoured option is the Irish seven-year-old Carlito Brigante. He has had a tough time of things in recent races, but he has history at the Festival, winning the Coral Cup in 2011 and placing fourth in the Triumph hurdle the year before. We think he’s certainly in with a decent shout here as he attempts to rediscover his Cheltenham magic. Available to back at 7/1 with Ladbrokes, we think he is an altogether more worthy prospect than Colour Squadron.

Individual Race Previews & Betting Tips

In addition to the highlights found above, we also go into a bit more detail for the feature races of the day. You can find these by clicking on the relevant races heading or by choosing from the list below: