Benie Des Dieux can be the punters’ pal

Hard to recall a Tuesday card at Cheltenham as difficult as today’s but Benie Des Dieux can be the punters’ pal on the opening day to the 2019 Festival by proving a class apart from her rivals in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle.

Benie Des Dieux can be the punters’ pal

Hard to recall a Tuesday card at Cheltenham as difficult as today’s but Benie Des Dieux can be the punters’ pal on the opening day to the 2019 Festival by proving a class apart from her rivals in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle.

On ratings she has very little in hand, but she has only had two runs over hurdles since joining Willie Mullins, the first of which was in this race last year.

She followed up with a more impressive display at the Punchestown festival and despite not being seen since there is no reason to believe she won’t be at her peak today.

The race is likely to be run at a fast pace, which should suit Rich Ricci’s mare and, as was the case last year, she can come through late to land the spoils and, in the process, give her trainer a tenth victory in 12 runnings of the race.

Roksana makes plenty of appeal as an each-way alternative and in the market without the favourite. The Dan Skelton-trained seven-year-old made her track debut at the end of the 2017 season but quickly developed into a very smart sort.

As a novice last season, she won a Grade 2 at Newbury and finished a close second behind Santini in a Grade 1 at the Aintree festival. She has run only once this season and was pitched in deep on that occasion. She was no match for Buveur D’air or Vision Des Flos but ran a promising race. That should have put her spot-on for the return to mares’ company and a big run can be expected.

Apple’s Jade can become the fifth mare to put her name on the Champion Hurdle trophy. Bidding to follow in the footsteps of African Sister, Dawn Run, Flakey Dove and Annie Power, the Gordon Elliott-trained mare has looked better than ever this year and can make the most of the 7lbs she receives from dual champion Buveur D’air.

She seems best going right-handed and it’s arguable that even her victory in the Mares’ Hurdle here in 2017 is not a fair reflection of her ability, but the form she has shown this season, winning a Grade 2 and three Grade 1s by an aggregate winning distance of 73 lengths, is a long way clear of her previous form.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if she got an easy lead and her jockey, Jack Kennedy, can wind up the pace from a long way out to make use of her stamina and to blunt the speed of Buveur D’Air.

The last-named was workmanlike in victory in 2018 and hasn’t impressed this season, though there have been mitigating circumstances. This looks a tougher test than last year or 2018 and he’ll need to be at his very best to pass it.

Laurina was brilliant here last year but this is, by a considerable margin, her toughest task to date. It would be no surprise were she to prove up to the task, but she seems more likely to come up a little shy.

Sharjah is hard to fault on this season’s form, though the anticipated rain won’t do anything for his chance. In contrast, Espoir D’Allen would appreciate prevailing conditions and a big run from him would be no shock.

Ok Corral and Ballyward look the two to concentrate on in the National Hunt Challenge Cup, with marginal preference for the former to confirm last year’s novice hurdle form with his old foe.

The pair contested last season’s Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle and the selection finished three lengths in front of Ballyward. The latter was given a patient ride and moved to join Ok Corral after the last but didn’t find as much in the final climb to the line.

Ok Corral comes from a family of strong stayers and has a sporting chance of getting the four-mile trip, the only concern being that he can race keenly.

But Derek O’Connor is the right man to have in the saddle and he should be able to keep a lid on his mount before delivering him late to mount what can be a winning run.

The Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle looks difficult, but should the rain arrive, as has been forecast, we could see an improved performance from Vision D’honneur, who makes each-way appeal at double-figure odds.

The Arkle Chase looks no easier though if there is a standout performer in the race it is likely to be Lalor, whose win here In December marks him out as the one to beat. He has disappointed since but has been given plenty of time and should be suited by the way the race will be run.

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