BUVEUR D’AIR cannot sensibly be opposed in the Unibet Champion Hurdle (3.30), but ELGIN is an each-way option.
Reigning title-holder – and hot favourite – Buveur D’Air is unbeaten since his four-and-a-half-length supremacy from Nicky Henderson stablemate My Tent Or Yours in the opening-day feature.
Rounding off the campaign with a five-length romp at Aintree, Barry Geraghty’s mount hasn’t broken sweat to score at Newcastle
(Fighting Fifth Hurdle), Kempton (Christmas Hurdle) and Sandown (Contenders Hurdle).
Buveur D’Air, seeking to give Seven Barrows a record seventh Champion Hurdle triumph, is head and shoulders above the rest.
There aren’t too many in the field who are still on the up, but Elgin still has his best days to come.
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Alan King has supplemented the six-year-old, the winner of two big handicaps in November, after his success in the Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton last time, and Elgin can make the podium.
Another returning incumbent, APPLE’S JADE, looks better than ever and has the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (4.10) at his mercy.
Much more interesting from a betting point of view is the Close Brother Novices’ Handicap Chase (5.30), in which the progressive BARNEY DWAN still looks ahead of the British Horseracing Authority assessor.
Here’s our man Newsboy’s full lookahead to Tuesday’s action…
1.30 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
- SLATE HOUSE
Kalashnikov should have the ammunition to deal with favourite Getabird.
Saddled by Britain’s youngest trainer, 25-year-old Amy Murphy, the son of Kalanisi impressed with hurdles scores at Wetherby and Doncaster in the first half of the winter.
Murphy then aimed Kalashnikov at the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle, and Jack Quinlan’s mount ran a creditable second to Summerville.
But Murphy reported her five-year-old to have learned plenty from that experience, and that view was borne out when Kalashnikov progressed past a mark of 141 for a four-and-a-half-length margin in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last time out.
That performance proved my selection’s ability to handle soft ground, and Kalashnikov can gain his revenge on Summerville to give Murphy the biggest win of her flourishing career.
The unbeaten Getabird, representing five-time victors Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, will justifiably be popular, while it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise to see Slate House reach the podium.
2.10 Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)
- SAINT CALVADOS
- PETIT MOUCHOIR
Footpad is one of the most exciting novice chasers seen in recent seasons, and is strongly fancied to remain unbeaten over the larger obstacles.
He was no star over timber – Willie Mullins’ French native finished behind Petit Mouchoir three times, including when the pair returned third and fourth in the Champion Hurdle, last season – but he has gone to the top level in his new discipline.
An 11-length scorer at Navan in November on his chase debut, the six-year-old landed a Grade 1 at Leopardstown by the same margin over Christmas.
And his five-length defeat of Petit Mouchoir when the pair met in the Arkle Novice Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival in February – his cause once more aided by rapier speed over the birch – marked Footpad as the stand-out two-mile rookie.
Petit Mouchoir, who had an troubled build-up to Leopardstown last time, may narrow the gap but will struggle to erase it altogether, while Saint Calvados is a young chaser of great promise and the prevailing underfoot conditions are a boost to his chance.
2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
- COO STAR SIVOLA
Coo Star Sivola is a going-places, well-handicapped chaser who deserves his place at the head of the market.
The six-year-old, trained by his rider Lizzie Kelly’s stepfather Nick Williams, signed off his career over hurdles with a fine fourth in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle last March.
After three runs in novice chases – two giving valuable match practice at Cheltenham – Coo Star Sivola ran fourth to Frodon over in handicap company two miles and five furlongs on the track’s Trials card in January.
But he stepped up on that run at Exeter when returning to three miles on his most recent outing, travelling well within himself throughout before extending to humble Ice Cool Champs by an easy 14 lengths.
The handicapper’s reaction – a 7lb rise – looks lenient and, with more to come, Coo Star Sivola can give Kelly a first Cheltenham Festival win.
The race has its usual open look, with Singlefarmpayment , Vintage Clouds and Cogry all capable of having a say in proceedings.
3.30 Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1)
- BUVEUR D’AIR
- MY TENT OR YOURS
Buveir d’Air towers head and shoulders above the 12 opponents who stand between him a successful title defence.
There was an element of kismet about his victory in last year’s Champion Hurdle – trainer Nicky Henderson, unconvinced by his jumping technique in novice chases, elected to return Buveur D’Air to the smaller obstacles.
The revised plan resulted in a four-and-a-half-length supremacy – Henderson’s sixth in the Tuesday feature – and each of four runs since has seen JP McManus’s seven-year-old tighten his grip on the trophy.
Five lengths too good for three-time Champion Hurdle runner-up My Tent Or Yours at Aintree in April, Barry Geraghty’s mount is three from three this season – and how.
Buveur D’Air sauntered to success in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in December, brushing The New One aside for the top-level Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park 24 days later.
The incumbent warmed up for today with another facile score – from John Constable in the Listed Contenders Hurdle at Sandown Park last month – and it will be a turn-up he Buveur D’Air fails to justify favouritism.
As regards his opponents, 2015 Champion Hurdler Faugheen looks to be on the wane, while his Willie Mullins stablemates Yorkhill and Melon also have points to prove.
Of more interest is Elgin , supplemented at a cost of £20,000.
Alan King has wrought further improvement from the Elite Racing Club’s six-year-old this winter – and there should be more to come.
4.10 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Grand 1)
- APPLE’S JADE
- LA BAGUE AU ROI
- BENIE DES DIEUX
Apple’s Jade is better than ever and shouldn’t be opposed in her bid to back up her 2017 success.
Having beaten reigning champion Vroum Vroum Mag last March, Gordon Elliott’s redoubtable mare followed up at Punchestown the following month, and is unbeaten in three outings this winter.
After a pipe-clearer at Navan in November, Apple’s Jade proved too strong for the ill-fated Nichols Canyon, himself on the roll of honour for last year’s Festival thanks to his win in the Stayers’ Hurdle, in the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in December.
She again beat male opposition in the top-level Christmas hurdle at Leopardstown 25 days later, proving too strong for Supasundae, who landed the Irish Champion Hurdle on his next attempt.
Jack Kennedy’s mount has most to fear from the very likeable La Bague Au Roi ,with Benie Des Dieux fancied to claim the bronze medal.
4.50 National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase (Grade 2)
- KEEPER HILL
- MS PARFOIS
Mossback, whose connections won the amateurs’ four-miler last year, looks the type to thrive for this test.
Successful in a beginners’ chase at Naas in November, the Gordon Elliott trainee carried owner Michael O’Leary’s colours to a respectable fourth in a Punchestown Grade 3 event two months later.
Mossback looked the most likely winner when coming down at the last back at Naas 15 days on, as Moulin A Vent beat my selection’s stablemate Jury Duty.
5.30 Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed)
- BARNEY DWAN
- DE PLOTTING SHED
Barney Dwan is weighted to give a good account in a tricky Tuesday finale.
Last year, the Fergal O’Brien-trained son of Vinnie Roe found only Presenting Percy too strong in the three-mile Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle.
The eight-year-old hasn’t always looked a natural over fences – he made a costly error at Exeter in November on his return to the fray – but Barney Dwan is learning on the job, as evidenced by victories on his last two outings.
Having held Clondaw Clan by 15 lengths over three miles at Market Rasen 18
days before Christmas, my selection then stepped back to two and a half to beat Alzammaar by five lengths at Musselburgh at the beginning of last month.
Noel Fehily’s mount has the scope to progress past his rating of 143 – the perch from which he finished second 12 months ago.
The ‘short list’ is depressingly long, with the widely touted De Plotting Shed, Divine Spear and, at longer odds, Markov all warranting a second look.