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Ibet: Each Way Alternatives To The Favourites In Cheltenham Curtain Raiser

Gareth Purnell

154416845 c7f1e91edf o Ibet: Each Way Alternatives To The Favourites In Cheltenham Curtain RaiserSkyBet Supreme Novices Hurdle, Cheltenham, 1.30pm

Picking Cheltenham winners is the minefield at the best of times, but with horses having run on soft ground for months, and the underfoot conditions now changing to good, we should tread even more carefully as there’s a chance of recent form going out of the window. Certainly we should look carefully at the time of tomorrow’s first race, the SkyBet Supreme Novices Hurdle. If it’s run in under four minutes, it’s time to put a line through horses that like a lot of give. The vibe is that with no rain forecast, it’s going to suit those that prefer a firmer surface, but that there is no way clerk of the course Simon Claisse will let it become good to firm.

Ireland has an excellent record in the Supreme (1.30) with 12 wins in the last 23 runnings. Trends to look out for include that eight of the last ten winners were victorious last time out, and that all but one of the last ten winners were aged five or six years old. Willie Mullins is a very warm order to take the trainer’s title at 4/9 (BetVictor) and he heads into the opener with a very strong hand, with second and third favourites Vautour (7/2) and Wicklow Brave (15/2), plus Valseur Lido, who can still be backed at 18/1 (Stan James). Vautour is the highest rated of the three having won all three races impressively since coming over to Ireland from France, with his hurdling especially eye-catching. However, he will not be able to boss things in the same way here. Wicklow Brave lacks the graded race experience of Vautour, but he’s won five on the spin and the form is working our really well. Valseur Lido is the lowest rated, but is an unknown quantity as he’s yet to come off the bridle in two facile wins this season and both of his winning jockeys, Paul Townend and Davy Russell, have stated how electric he is at his obstacles whether going long or short.

In a championship race like this, that is an asset which cannot be undersold. Paul Nicholls’ Irving leads the English challenge and it looks like he will go off the favourite at around 11/4. Nicholls says that Irving is ‘all about speed’ and indeed he missed the Betfair Hurdle because of heavy going, so you have to think he will love the drying ground. But he can jump a little sketchily over hurdles and that could find him out in the straight when he’s tiring. One outsider not to completely discount is Wilde Blue Yonder, who is available at 28/1. Alan King’s charge has fallen on his last two starts – which is hardly going to breed confidence coming here. However, he won his previous two races and in both he fell late on while looking the winner, in the latter case at Ascot in a race that has produced a couple of multiple winners. His jumping looked sound enough prior to those errors and while it’s a long shot this is a race in which favourites have a poor record (last favourite to win was in 2004) and he could feasible be better than the form books suggest and worth a small each way bet. For the record my colleagues at easyodds.com highlight the chances of Valseur Lido and The Liquidator (20/1) each way.

Advices

Nicky Henderson is the 5/4 favourite to be top festival trainer without Willie Mullins. He’s 11/0 to win one of the big championship races, 4/1 to win two, 28/1 to win three and 250/1 to win all four. Among a whole host of festival specials, Boylesports are offering money back if the horse you back comes second to one ridden by AP McCoy. Paddy Power go 5/4 that over 230,000 pints of Guinness will be sold over the four days.

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