The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle gets the 2015 Cheltenham Festival up and running, and the Willie Mullins-trained Shaneshill looks a value option against favourite and stable companion Douvan, writes Tommy Lyons.
The latter has looked a real class act in two runs over hurdles to date, and could prove a cut above his rivals, but offers below 2-1 look a shade skinny.
Shaneshill, however, ran very well at this track last year, when runner-up in the bumper, and reversed form with the winner when they met at Punchestown. Although he was beaten last time, and comes here off a break, he was most impressive on his hurdling debut and can be forgiven his that defeat by No More Heroes. With so much potential, he could be real value at 12-1.
The gap between value and likely winner is glaringly apparent in the Arkle Chase, where Un De Sceaux looks a real class act but punters must question whether or not they're willing to go well below even-money to back a novice chaser in a top race at the Cheltenham Festival.
His sole defeat, in a 12-race career to date, came when he was a long way clear and in total control until falling at the third last fence on his chasing debut at Thurles. Since then he has been almost flawless, and his no-nonsense attitude can get his rivals out of their comfort zone early. If he jumps with fluency, it'll take a big performance to lower his colours.
For value hunters, Sgt Reckless and Clarcam are likely to be held up early, and that could reap some reward. Those who go in chase of Un De Sceaux may suffer in the closing stages, and the patiently ridden horses may pick up the pieces.
The Willie Mullins stable can secure a seventh successive victory in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle, with Annie Power. Runner-up in the 2014 World Hurdle, an early setback has resulted in her coming back to Cheltenham without a prep run. However, if ever there was a trainer to do it and a race in which it can be done, this combination ticks all the boxes.
Mullins managed to bring Quevega straight here, year on year, and stable companion Annie Power is all but her equal in terms of ability. This isn't a bad renewal, but she's well ahead of the opposition on official ratings and, with positive reports of her well-being, can make a winning seasonal debut.
The danger may come from stablemate Glens Melody, who was runner-up last year and looked better than ever when winning at Warwick last time.
In the four-mile National Hunt Chase, the return to Cheltenham can bring out the best in Very Wood. Winner of the 2014 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle, he beat one of today's rivals, The Job Is Right, on his chasing debut at Galway, but lost his form in his next two outings. However, he returned to winning ways last time and, while this is tougher, can follow up.
He stepped up considerably on previous hurdling form when winning here last year, and that gives rise to the notion he can do something similar over fences. The Albert Bartlett, run on the new course, is a stamina-sapping race, and the manner of his victory suggests the extreme distance of this race will play to his strengths. He has solid claims.
Alan King excels with staying chasers, and his Sego Success is respected. The concern is he can be quite keen in his races, and also has a tendency to make a mistake. The Job Is Right was moral runner-up in the Thyestes, and promises to stay this trip.
Barrakilla, who ran so well in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at this track, has an eye-catching mark in the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase. A strong sort, he's thoroughly unexposed over fences, will appreciate the better ground, and the step up in trip could prompt improvement.
The finale in a handicap for novice chasers and it's predictably wide open. Thomas Crapper reserves his best for this track and looks well treated. He's a big player, but the likes of Knock House, at 20-1, and Cocktails At Dawn at 16s, provide value alternatives. The last-named is narrowly preferred.
THE IRISH FIELD
Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Always a good place to start for loyal punters, with nine Irish-trained winners since 2000. Trainer Willie Mullins, responsible for three of those, has a strong hand, headed by Douvan. Tremendously impressive when casting aside Alpha Des Obeaux at Punchestown, he's a leading fancy.
Stable companions Shaneshill, Alvisio Ville and Tell Us More shouldn't be dismissed lightly, with the first named particularly interesting back at this track.
Best of the Irish: Douvan
Un De Sceaux fell on his chasing debut, at Thurles, but has been flawless in two runs since. If the occasion doesn't get to him and his jumping holds up, he'll be very hard to catch. Clarcam has some top-class form and could go well for Gordon Elliott.
Best of the Irish: Un De Sceaux
Ultima Business Solutions Handicap
Gallant Oscar is not without a chance in a red-hot handicap. Tony Martin's charge was sent off favourite for the Thyestes but, after travelling well for a long way, failed to land a blow at the leaders. He's quite lightly raced over fences, and open to improvement. Henry de Bromhead's Grand Jesture was well beaten in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown, but less testing conditions shouldn't be a problem. He's also open to improvement.
Best of the Irish: Gallant Oscar
Alternative: Grand Jesture
Faugheen is a hot favourite to maintain his unbeaten record and, while there are minor concerns about his jumping, he was quite brilliant winning last season's Neptune Novices' Hurdle and has superstar potential.
Stable companion Hurricane Fly won this race twice and the 11-year-old has been almost as good as ever this year. The five-time Irish Champion would appreciate some cut in the ground. Reigning champ Jezki has had a rear view of Hurricane Fly all season, but had that rival behind in this race in 2014. On likely better ground and with a faster pace, he should put up a bold defence of his title. Kitten Rock is progressive but this may be a step too far at this stage of his development.
Best of the Irish: Faugheen
OLBG Mares' Hurdle
Quevega may have retired, after six consecutive victories in this race, but the trophy looks destined to return to Closutton, with Willie Mullins' Annie Power a short-priced favourite to pick up where her stable companion left off.
Runner-up in the World Hurdle last year, she suffered a setback earlier in the season but is reportedly going well at home. On figures, she has a ton in hand.
Stable companion Glens Melody is respected. Runner-up to Quevega here last year, she showed her well-being with a bloodless victory at Warwick.
Best of the Irish: Annie Power
Alternative: Glens Melody
National Hunt Chase
Very Wood, winner of the 2014 Albert Bartlett, is unexposed over fences and the extreme distance here should suit.
The Job Is Right was set to take second place behind Djakadam until unshipping his rider at the last in the Thyestes. The trip could prompt improvement. Thunder And Roses is officially the highest rated horse in the race but has quite a bit to find with Very Wood on their recent meeting. Cause Of Causes has Festival form, but has been below par in three runs this season.
Best of the Irish: Very Wood
Alternative: The Job Is Right
Chaps Restaurant Barbados Novices' Handicap
Dromnea has picked up plenty of experience over fences and represents Mouse Morris, who is adept at bringing his runners to a peak at this meeting. Robert Tyner's Leap Dearg has been in great form recently, rattling off a hat-trick. The son of Beneficial is up in the handicap, and the prospect of better ground raises question marks.
Best of the Irish: Dromnea
Alternative: Leap Dearg
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