Rarely has the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival been dominated by one man, but that’s the case this year with Willie Mullins saddling four of the hottest favourites of the meeting.
Expect bookmakers to regale you with tales of a bloodbath should Douvan, Un De Sceaux, Faugheen and Annie Power give the most powerful trainer in Ireland or Britain, for that matter, a four-timer.
I’ll be taking on Douvan in the opening Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle as I don’t think he has achieved anywhere near as much as Mullins’ winners for the last two years (Champagne Fever and Vautour) yet he’s a much shorter price ante-post than they were on the day.
Jollyallan, who is going to love a strong pace and showed good battling qualities when second to the more experienced good handicap winner Garde La Victoire, looks an excellent each-way alternative.
Day two is all about one race, a fascinating Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase featuring a clash between the last two winners, Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy.
Both have something to prove after encountering different problems.
Nicky Henderson said the old Sprinter was “nearly there” after a recent workout, in which case he could be a good thing, but he has to prove it on the racecourse.
The old Sire De Grugy was definitely back at Chepstow when he slammed his field giving plenty of weight away, but was a race on heavy ground 17 days before the Champion a good idea?
My money will be on Champagne Fever, who I think has been crying out for a drop back to two miles. He’ll be a three-time festival winner over that trip if he is successful.
This year’s Ladbrokes World Hurdle may well take place without the first three of 2014, as winner More Of That has to prove his health after bursting a blood vessel on the gallops.
Runner-up Annie Power looks set to convert the penalty kick in the mares’ race on Tuesday and At Fishers Cross has completely lost his form. Zarkandar, a well-beaten fourth 12 months ago, looks a much happier horse this season and might well improve enough.
He is fancied more than Saphir De Rheu from the same stable as he might want soft ground. I don’t think Rock On Ruby will stay and the Irish form does not look strong enough.
If the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup were run at Kempton you could make a fair case for Silviniaco Conti being odds-on as the two-time King George winner stands head and shoulders above his rivals on pure form.
It’s not though and, in two previous Gold Cup runs at Cheltenham, Conti fell in 2013 and last year, he wandered around on the run-in and finished fourth having looked a sure-fire winner jumping the last.
Second favourite Road To Riches is the coming force in Ireland and has impressed in slamming Rocky Creek (a very easy winner under top weight of a big handicap at Kempton recently) by 11 lengths at Down Royal and then winning the Lexus. He has the perfect profile for a Gold Cup winner, goes on any ground and is the obvious alternative.