Extending Cheltenham to four days has seriously diluted what’s on offer and it is very much illustrated by this afternoon’s Racing Post Arkle Trophy.
Nicky Henderson’s Altior is set to go off at very tight odds, for a race over fences, but the opposition shapes as woefully weak and those who lay the horse will surely be banking on him being brought down or falling, because there should only be one winner on all known form.
Ideally, of course, one would have loved to see Yorkhill taking him on, but he has been rerouted to Thursday’s JLT Novices’ Chase, a relatively new addition to the festival.
Likewise, the imperious Douvan is expected to enjoy his usual lap of honour in the two-mile Champion Chase tomorrow with, arguably, his biggest danger, Un De Sceaux, waiting for Thursday’s Ryanair Chase.
Gordon Elliott’s Apple’s Jade is a strong each-way fancy for the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle today.
This is a contest that has long been a Willie Mullins benefit and he has a powerful hand with the first and second favourites, Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag respectively, going to war for him.
Vroum Vroum Mag won the race a year ago and is quite brilliant, when on song. But her latest effort, at Doncaster at the end of January, was most disappointing.
She actually won that day, but never travelled in the manner we have come to expect and literally fell in by a head from Midnight Jazz.
Add in the fact she has now been discarded by her long-time ally, Ruby Walsh, and a watching brief seems the wisest course of action.
In theory, Limini has to cope with Apple’s Jade. They clashed at Punchestown last month, with Limini beating her rival by a comfortable two lengths.
That was Limini’s first appearance since the Punchestown festival in April and she is entitled to come on a bundle for the outing.
Mullins’ charge did win a modest heat here a year ago, but had her limitations exposed subsequently at both Aintree and Punchestown.
Apple’s Jade then, to my way of thinking, is the value in this Grade 1. When Limini beat her at Punchestown, she made a lot of the running and one would expect at least a little more restraint to be exercised on this occasion.
What is most encouraging, however, is the manner in which she thrived towards the end of last season.
A creditable runner-up behind Ivanovich Gorbatov in the Triumph Hurdle a year ago, Apple’s Jade then went on record impressive victories at Aintree and Punchestown.
The Stan James Champion Hurdle is a moderate renewal and we can say with some certainty there is no Faugheen or Annie Power lurking in the field.
The vote goes to Alan King’s Yanworth, who is far from bombproof, but possesses an uncanny knack of knowing exactly where the winning post is.
He is sometimes not the greatest of jumpers and there is a real possibility will look in trouble at least once through the race.
But he has enjoyed the ideal preparation and is unbeaten in three outings this campaign, at Ascot, Kempton and Wincanton.
Brain Power seems to be an improving handicapper, but was put in his place at last year’s Punchestown festival and is not for me.
Buveur d’Air, like Brain Power, trained by Nicky Henderson, has been chasing and is only heading in this direction, you’d imagine, because of the absence of Faugheen and Annie Power.
He was a 1-4 shot when easily landing a nothing race over flights at Sandown last time.
The New One has the engine to be competitive, but has failed too often in the Champion Hurdle in the post and has always had a tendency to jump to his right.
Henry de Bromhead’s Petit Mouchoir is probably best of a weak Irish challenge and since front-running tactics were adopted has looked a far better horse.
He has won his last two races, at Leopardstown, in fine style, but this is an unforgiving course and you have to think at least one or two will prove too good for him in the closing stages. Yanworth is likely to get down and dirty when it matters most and is the choice.
The Joseph O’Brien-trained Edwulf can land the four-mile J T McNamara National Hunt Chase. Since being launched over fences, he has been somewhat held back by a tendency to throw in the odd silly leap.
Edwulf is essentially a good jumper and, hopefully, today is the day when he will put it all together, the day that counts the most.
He fell at Navan on February 19 and, with that no way to head to Cheltenham, O’Brien asked him to race again a week later, at Naas.
Beautifully handled by Robbie Power, the eight-year-old produced a flawless round of fencing to take a handicap by eight lengths. That should have done his confidence the world of good.
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