It won’t come as a galloping shock should Cheltenham produce results this week that are impossible to explain.
It wouldn’t be Cheltenham if there weren’t surprises, but the lead-in to this festival has been so much different to many that have gone before.
Most of the trial races have been run on good, or faster, ground and the surface has been like that literally throughout the campaign.
If the forecasters have got it right then there is going to be plenty of rain prior to racing this afternoon, which means the four days will kick away on soft ground. All that provides the perfect cocktail to give bookmakers the sort of outcomes about which they can only dream.
Undaunted, however, we will press on and the first priority is to find three selections that are going to revel in the likely conditions.
If Willie Mullins is to have one great afternoon this week then it will be today, because he has a seriously strong hand through the card.
I have long believed his
represents excellent each-way value and she is the choice to land the Unibet Champion Hurdle.
This renewal is best described as a complete three-hand reel, because solid cases can only be made for the progressive six-year-old, the dual winner, Buveur D’Air, and the remarkable Apple’s Jade.
Of course, Laurina has plenty to prove on form and that is why she is the outsider of the trio. The question to answer is whether she is as good as has shaped in lesser company and can she make a giant leap forward?
Laurina has never tasted defeat since arriving from France to be trained by Willie Mullins, taking all six of her races.
She won here a year ago, landing the Grade 2 Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices Hurdle by a massive 18 lengths.
But that was a weak contest and a stroll in the park, compared to the quality of the opposition she will be taking on now.
The daughter of Spanish Moon has built on that success, however, and came home to win in a canter at Fairyhouse in April, admittedly only taking on her own sex again.
This season she is two from two, beating a solitary rival by 48 lengths at Sandown in early January and then toying with stable companion, Stormy Ireland, at Punchestown last month.
She stays well beyond two miles, the softer the ground the better and, hopefully, supporting her each-way will prove a wager to nothing.
It can only work in her favour as well to have Ruby Walsh aboard. The master tactician is especially brilliant at Cheltenham and the fact is the leading rider at the festival, with a whopping 58 winners, speaks for itself.
I fear Apple’s Jade more than Buveur D’Air. All the evidence through last season was that she was on a downward spiral, but has come back better than ever.
She is unbeaten in four races this season, twice at two and a half miles and once at three miles, before a jaw-dropping display at two miles in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on her latest appearance.
Apple’s Jade galloped the opposition silly to score by 16 lengths and simply could not have been more impressive.
Not for the first time, though, she did show a tendency to edge to her right at most flights, so it will be interesting to see just how straight she jumps now.
Today will reveal if Buveur D’Air has won two bad Champion Hurdles, or has just been totally underestimated by some of us.
He was 1-4 when beaten a short head by stable companion, Verdana Blue, at Kempton at Christmas, before the wheels came back on when justifying odds of 1-5 at Sandown next time. He faces a stiff task, conceding the two mares 7lbs.
, also for the deadly Mullins-Walsh duo, is another each-way choice in the opening Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
This shapes as a wide-open start to the meeting and, the same as Laurina, Klassical Dream has improvement to find.
But he’s a tough customer who won’t lack for experience, having had six pops over flights, two in Ireland and four in his native France.
His latest run saw him scramble to a head victory over fellow Mullins inmate, Aramon, in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown on February 3.
There is certainly nothing earth-shattering about that effort, but it came on good ground and all the word out of Mullins’ is that Klassical Dream needs soft to be seen in the most favourable light.
Benie Des Diueux
is obviously hard to oppose for Mullins and Walsh in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle.
Successful in the race a year ago, she is making a belated seasonal debut but has been flying at home and rates the bet of the day.