Asterion Forlonge, Notebook, Epatente and Benie Des Dieux are all well-fancied, short-priced contenders that could get the Festival off to a flying start for punters.
The main race of a day is a very weak Champion Hurdle. No previous winner is fit to compete in Tuesday’s feature race, paving the way for a new star to emerge. There are a limited number of pointers here, but the fact Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins have won eight of the last 11 renewals could steer punters in their direction.
Henderson’s leading entry Epatante (3/1) heads the market, but is generally considered the best of a bad bunch, which allows you to make a case for several other entries. He won by a handy margin in his last run at Kempton on Boxing Day in a race that has now been dismissed as relatively weak.
Sharjah will suit things if the race is run at a good gallop, but the official soft going and rain overnight will likely dampen his hopes. Cilaos Emery, Willie Mullins’ other top entry, has had a chaotic season and was a late entry here, but offers little to worry the field.
Coeur Sublime is an interesting shout and offers some good each-way value, which is a case you could make for a number of runners in what is a wide-open race. Take your pick.
Henderson’s Asterion Forlonge is the top of the pile in a very competitive Supreme Novices’ Hurdle that kicks off the Festival, but, while Asterion Forlonge is thought to be one of the best novices in this division, the top-trainer has had just one winner in this race since 1993. If that puts you off then Fiddlerontheroof should be where your next thoughts are turned to. His form has been very progressive and is at his happiest running on testing ground. Shishkin and Abacadabras are short in the betting, but the latter offers the most interest after finishing second to the hugely-talented Envoi Allen in early December.
Mullins has been bringing over enormous teams for over 20 years, but he recently admitted he’s not worked with a mare as good as Bennie Des Dieux, who, by all accounts is the banker of the week. Henry De Bromhead’s Honeysuckle is her biggest challenger, but the imperious nine-year-old, donning the famous pink and green colours so often seen in the winners’ enclosure at Cheltenham, will take some beating.
In the Arkle, it’s a fairly open contest between Notebook, Fakir D’oudairies and Brewin’upastorm. Notebook has been in stunning form this season and has four wins from his last four starts chasing, taking to fences slightly better than his rival in the JP McManus colours, Fakir D’oudairies, whose connections have been coy on his chances. Brewin’upastorm is a popular horse to back and the much-loved, young trainer Olly Murphy is in a great place to claim his first Festival victory with this talented seven-year-old, who has been lightly campaigned this season with Cheltenham in mind. The winner here is likely to come from the top three in the market, but Rouge Vif or Cash Back may offer a good alternative or each-way interest.
1.30 – Fiddlerontheroof
2.10 – Notebook
2.50 – Discorama, Corgy ew
3.30 – Sharjah, Coeur Sublime ew
4.10 – Bennie Des Dieux
4.50 – Beakstown
5.30 – Ravenshill
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