The roar will go up at 1.30 as the first race of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival gets under way and we begin this year’s jamboree with the Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle. Willie Mullins is going to feature very strongly over the week and he has the favourite in the opener with Asterion Forlonge, an unbeaten grey who has won both his races over obstacles by ten lengths each time. The other big name trainer coming over from Ireland is Gordon Elliott and he has Abacadabras in the lineup. A winner of three of his five starts in his own country, I think he needs to be more fluent over his fences in this company. The British contingent is also pretty strong and none more so than Nicky Henderson who has the head of the market with Shishkin. He is a massive gelding who crashed out at Newbury in December but has bounced back winning his last two. But I like another Henderson gelding, Chantry House, who has won over both his outings this season including one here at Cheltenham.
At 2.10 it’s the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices Chase and Henry de Bromhead sends his star chaser, Notebook, into the fray. He has carried all before him after a restful summer winning his last four races at Leopardstown and Punchestown beating some of Ireland’s top class chasers on the way including Fakir D’Oudairies and Cash Back who reoppose here. My preference is for Olly Murphy’s Brewin’upastorm who is a dual winner this season including a race at Carlisle where he had to show his battling qualities to go on under pressure and win by a head.
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The Ultima Handicap Chase is at 2.50 and it can be a prep race for the Grand National. Sue Smith’s Vintage Clouds goes here prior to Aintree and he has already won at Haydock this year over this distance. Kildisart is well fancied but Ben Pauling’s gelding was unable to catch Mister Malarky last time at Kempton but the winner, trained by Colin Tizzard, will need good ground to continue that form. Course and distance winner, The Conditional is my idea of the winner, David Bridgewater has had this race in mind since he won here in October, on his latest outing at Warwick he was eased after an error at the 16th and has been kept back since.
One of the Blue Riband races is at 3.30 the Unibet Champion Hurdle and I don’t consider we have one of the strongest fields in the races history, that said it is still very competitive and Henderson’s Epatante has been marked up as favourite by the bookies. But although he beat several of the rivals he will meet here at Kempton on Boxing Day, his run here at Cheltenham last March was poor and I don’t think the course suits him. Cilaos Emery has been supplemented by Willie Mullins for this after hammering a good field at Gowran Park but as a chaser reverting to hurdling he may get run off his feet. I like the look of another Mullins horse, Sharjah, who was unluckily brought down in this race last year. He has had a fine prep season running only three times and winning once at Leopardstown in December, in his latest run he was eased after making a mistake two out and then kept back for this, he can make amends for last year’s disappointment.
Tuesday Lucky 15
1.30 Chantry House
2.50 The Conditional