We have the runners and start times for Cheltenham on Tuesday, it will see dual winner Buveur D’Air is among 14 six-day acceptors for the £450,000 G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle (3.30pm), the feature race at Cheltenham on the first day of The Festival™ presented by Bulmers, Champion Day, Tuesday, March 12.
Buveur D’Air (Nicky Henderson) has landed the two most recent renewals of the two-mile hurdling championship and, if successful next week, the eight-year-old would become the first three-time winner since Istabraq (1998, 1999 & 2000) and the sixth in all.
Nicky Henderson is the most successful trainer in the history of the Unibet Champion Hurdle, with seven victories, and his team is bolstered further by Verdana Blue, who edged out Buveur D’Air in the G1 Unibet Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day, and G2 Unibet International Hurdle scorer Brain Power.
Henderson said: “This year’s Unibet Champion Hurdle is a better contest than last year. I don’t think Buveur D’Air was at his best last year. He probably ran around 10lb below his rating in last year’s Champion Hurdle but still managed to win which was down more to his own toughness.
“This year, he has a couple of really talented mares to take on in Apple’s Jade and Laurina. He has to give them both 7lb and that is going to be tough. However, we are really pleased with him and Barry Geraghty rode him over the weekend and was very happy with him, so if he is happy with him, I am happy with him.
“Verdana Blue did well to beat Buveur D’Air at Kempton, but that is unlikely to be repeated. The ground at Cheltenham will start on good to soft and that will be a real difference to the good ground at Kempton.
“A very sharp easy two miles around Kempton on fast ground will be a different ball game to Cheltenham. It will be hard for her to confirm that form, but we have enjoyed a brilliant season with her and she is definitely capable of being placed in the race.
“In terms of the standard of the British runners in the Champion Hurdle, Brain Power is probably second after Buveur D’Air. He was good at Cheltenham in the International and the better the ground, the better it will be for him.
“The International was not one of the strongest renewal, but it was one of the better British Champion Hurdle trials.
“Buveur D’Air is of course the standout but both Verdana Blue and Brain Power go there with a real chance of making the frame.”
The strong Irish challenge is led by hugely exciting mares Apple’s Jade (Gordon Elliott) and Laurina. Apple’s Jade has been imperious in four starts this season, winning three G1 contests over different distances against the geldings by an aggregate of 62 lengths, while Laurina, an 18-length winner at The Festival in 2018, has yet to taste defeat in six starts for Willie Mullins.
Mullins, who sent out Annie Power to win the Unibet Champion Hurdle in 2016, is also likely to run last year’s runner-up Melon and the much-improved Sharjah, who has landed G1 contests at Punchestown and Leopardstown this season.
Other interesting contenders include Espoir D’Allen (Gavin Cromwell), successful in seven of his eight starts over hurdles in Ireland, and G2 The New One Unibet Hurdle victor Global Citizen (Ben Pauling).
Unibet Champion Hurdle – Unibet prices: 15/8 Buveur D’Air; 9/4 Apple’s Jade; 4/1 Laurina; 10/1 Sharjah; 14/1 Melon; 16/1 Brain Power, Espoir D’Allen, Verdana Blue; 20/1 Supasundae; 33/1 Global Citizen; 40/1 Petit Mouchoir, Silver Streak; 50/1 Vision Des Flos; 100/1 Farclas
1.30pm £125,000 G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, 2m 87y (MAX 22 runners)
Sky Bet’s 3/1 favourite Al Dancer (Nigel Twiston-Davies), unbeaten in four starts over hurdles, is among 28 contenders going forward for the G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Nicky Henderson has two leading contenders in Angels Breath, who like Al Dancer carries the colours of Dai Walters, and G2 Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle victor Mister Fisher.
The Irish challenge is led by Fakir D’Oudairies (Joseph O’Brien), who is aiming to become the first four-year-old winner of the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle since Hors La Loi in 1999, plus the Willie Mullins-trained pair of Aramon and Klassical Dream.
G1 Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle victor Elixir De Nutz (Colin Tizzard), twice a winner at Cheltenham this season, and Grand Sancy (Paul Nicholls), successful against more experienced rivals in the G2 Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton, also remain.
Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – Sky Bet prices: 3/1 Al Dancer; 9/2 Fakir D’Oudairies; 5/1 Angels Breath; 7/1 Elixir De Nutz; 9/1 Mister Fisher; 10/1 Aramon, Klassical Dream; 12/1 Grand Sancy; 16/1 Felix Desjy, Vision D’Honneur; 20/1 Thomas Darby; 25/1 bar
Michael Shinners, Racing PR Manager at Sky Bet, said: “We look set for an outstanding renewal of the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle to get The Festival underway.
“Al Dancer remains our solid 3/1 market leader following his success at Ascot last month as he bids to give trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies a second success in the race, 25 years on from Arctic Kinsman in 1994.
“The Joseph O’Brien-trained Fakir D’Oudairies has also proved popular in Sky Bet’s ante-post market and will be a popular winner if he gets Ireland off to a flying start.”
2.10pm £183,285 G1 Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase, 1m 7f 199y (MAX 20 runners)
Lalor (Kayley Woollacott) and Defi Du Seuil (Philip Hobbs), who is ante-post favourite for the G1 JLT Novices’ Chase on St Patrick’s Thursday, are among 21 horse engaged for the Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase.
Glen Forsa (Mick Channon) marked himself down as leading fancy when dispatching Kalashnikov (Amy Murphy) by 19 lengths in the rearranged G2 Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Sandown Park last month.
Willie Mullins has won three of the last four editions of the Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase and Ireland’s champion Jump trainer is well-represented with impressive last time out winners Duc Des Genievres and Real Steel among his five going forward.
The Irish challenge also includes Limerick G1 scorer Hardline (Gordon Elliott) and front-runner Ornua (Henry De Bromhead), who has not raced since finishing second to Dynamite Dollars in the G1 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown Park in December.
Clondaw Castle (Tom George) has been supplemented at a cost £8,500 after wide margin victories in minor novice events at Leicester and Huntingdon.
2.50pm £110,000 G3 Ultima Handicap Chase, 3m 1f (MAX 24 runners)
The 157-rated Sub Lieutenant (Henry De Bromhead IRE) heads the weights on 11st 12lb in the G3 Ultima Handicap Chase, as 48 entries remain.
Ante-post favourite Give Me A Copper (Paul Nicholls, 11st), who is part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, and 2017 G1 Bulmers Cheltenham Gold Cup second Minella Rocco (Jonjo O’Neill, 11st 7lb) also go forward.
Last year’s Ultima Handicap Chase scorer Coo Star Sivola (Nick Williams, 11st) has the chance to become the first dual winner.
4.10pm £125,850 G1 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (reg as the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle), 2m 3f 200y (MAX 24 runners)
Last year’s winner Benie Des Dieux is aiming to continue Willie Mullins’ domination of the G1 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle – Mullins has won the race nine times since its inception in 2008.
The 22 contenders also feature high-class chaser Mia’s Storm (Alan King), Doncaster G2 scorer Lady Buttons (Phil Kirby) and promising novice Queenohearts (Stuart Edmunds).
Jester Jet (Tom Lacey) has been supplemented after capturing the Listed olbg.com Mares’ Hurdle at Haydock Park on February 16.
4.50pm £70,000 Listed Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (0-145), 2m 4f 63y (MAX 20 runners)
Highway One O One (Chris Gordon), Red Indian (Kelly Morgan) and Cubomania (Gordon Elliott IRE) are joint top-weights on 11st 12lb for the Listed Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase, for which 47 remain engaged.
Those guaranteed a run also include leading Irish hopes Rides Onthe Storm (Tom Taaffe) and A Plus Tard (Henry de Bromhead), who carries the colours of Cheveley Park Stud.
5.30pm £125,000 G2 National Hunt Chase, 3m 7f 166y (MAX 20 runners)
Ante-post favourite Ok Corral (Nicky Henderson), runner-up in last season’s G1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival, headlines 24 five-day acceptors for the G2 National Hunt Chase, the first of two races at The Festival restricted to amateur riders.
Willie Mullins and his son Patrick teamed up with Rathvinden to the land the spoils in 2018 and that pair have another leading chance with Ballyward, a dominant winner in G3 company at Naas in January.
The going at Cheltenham is currently: Good to Soft, Soft in places
Simon Claisse, Clerk of the Course at Cheltenham Racecourse and Director of Racing, Jockey Club Racecourse, South West Region, said today: “As anticipated, the rains have come.
“When we gave the last update a week ago, the temperature was around 16 or 17 degrees and the forecast was for plenty of rain over the next six or seven days. We have had that, with 27 millimetres falling up until Tuesday night into Wednesday (today).
“We are now Good to Soft, Soft in places on all five tracks (Chase & Hurdle courses on both Old & New Courses plus the Cross Country Course).
“The outlook is for the weather to remain unsettled, with plenty more rain to come.”