CHRIS Graham (@chrisgraham79) gets us up and running with a look at Race 1, the Supreme Novices Hurdle.
Cheltenham 13:30 | Supreme Novices Hurdle | ITV1
So here we are…it’s Cheltenham Festival time again. Four days of frenetic action as jump racing’s finest turn up to the Cotswolds full of hope. It might be lacking in quality this year, but there’s no doubt the excitement and stories will follow over the next four days.
We start as always with the Supreme Novices Hurdle and once again it’s a Willie Mullins hotpot heading the betting. Champagne Fever, Vautour and Douvan did the business earlier in the decade, but the run ended last year as Min was beaten by Altior.
The mystery of Melon
This year’s horse is Melon and he looks to have the oddest profile of the aforementioned triumvirate above. Incredibly he’s raced just once over hurdles yet comes into this as the likely favourite. He may indeed be a superstar, but I can’t seriously back him at those cramped odds.
Former Festival winner
Instead I’ll turn to the second favourite, Ballyandy. This fella has been around the block a bit more than Melon and arrives here with something special next to his name – he’s a former Festival winner.
Yes, the Nigel Twiston Davies trained horse won the Champion Bumper last season and course form for me is integral. If you know your selection loves Cheltenham, you’re halfway there.
Ballyandy failed to win any of his first three hurdle runs, but to be fair he was coming up against some fearsome rivals. Moon Racer beat him twice and he’s been transferred to the Champion Hurdle, and Messire Des Obeaux got the better of him at Sandown in December.
His last run though gave us hope as he won the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. That race connects well with this as it’s a fair replication of conditions with a clutch of young runners scrapping it out in a big field.
He battled that day at Newbury and if he puts up a similar performance on Tuesday he’ll have a massive shout. When it comes to experience, he’s miles clear of Melon.
I’ll also have a small each way poke on Elgin who looks big at 22/1. The Alan King horse hasn’t really run a bad race this season and won at Newcastle and Kempton at the end of 2016.
His two runs since then have seen him finish second. First he was thrashed by the exciting Neon Wolf at Haydock and then lost to River Wylde in the Dovecote.
Elgin was giving River Wylde weight that day and that won’t be the case on Tuesday. River Wylde is 8/1 to win while Elgin is three times that price. It feels too big.