1.30 Diamond Jubilee National Hunt Chase: ALMOST EVERYTHING written about the longest race at the festival this year has concerned the Willie Mullins duo Soll and Allee Garde. Both appear to be thorough stayers but has their form been good enough to win the opener on day?
Possibly not. Soll won a pretty moderate beginners' chase at Down Royal and before that he was unable to see off Son Amix at Punchestown. Given how hard Tom Cooper's grey finds it to win races, it was slightly surprising that Soll couldn't get his measure after the last. Allee Garde has been competing in graded company all season and, on a line through Son Amix, he appears to be the better of the Mullins pair. But that may not be good enough. There have been plenty of whispers about Harry The Viking who hails from the all-conquering Paul Nicholls' yard and the fact that he is owned by Sir Alex Ferguson could see him go off a shorter price than he deserves to be. Of far more interest is ALFIE SPINNER who ran a cracker in the Reynoldstown when third to Invictus and Bobs Worth. He cut out much of the running there and looked sure to be swallowed up leaving the back straight. But he plugged on in gutsy fashion and left the impression that step-up to four miles is exactly what he needs. The same applies to Teaforthree who outstayed the useful Golden Chieftain last time at Chepstow and looks tailor-made for the stamina-sapping test.
Selection: ALFIE SPINNER Danger: Teaforthree
2.05 Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle
BOTH SIMONSIG and Boston Bob have entries elsewhere but this is where they are most likely to end up and what a mouth-watering prospect it would be if they clashed. The defection of Fingal Bay has taken some of the gloss off the contest and if Boston Bob goes down the Albert Bartlett route, it would rob the race of another star. At this stage Willie Mullins probably doesn't know what he'll do, never mind us, but no matter where he turns up he will be a real force. But he appears more of a stayer in my eyes whereas Simonsig looks all about speed. The way in which he travelled up to the quarters of Fingal Bay was visually impressive and, while he didn't go by, Phillip Hobbs' novice is a stout stayer and would have been more in love with the testing underfoot conditions. With the ground likely to be on the lively side, Simonsig should be able to use his turn of foot and I don't see the trip being a problem. Barry Geraghty was quick to suggest the Neptune was the best option after his Kelso stroll so that in itself told you all you needed to know about him staying. Simonsig could be very good and I don't expect his reputation to be tarnished here. Monksland has done nothing wrong in three starts to date but this represents a steep step up in class and he may not be up to it.
Selection: SIMONSIG Danger: Boston Bob
2.40 RSA Chase
EVERYBODY SEEMS to have their own opinion about what David Pipe should do with Grands Crus. Some say he can only run in a novice championship race once, others say he'd be mad not to tackle one of the least competitive Gold Cups in recent years. The news about Kauto Star is likely to sway Pipe towards the big one and it's worth taking the chance that he won't show up here. If he doesn't, it won't be a vintage RSA and Bobs Worth may be good enough to pick up the pieces. He began his chasing career in style at Newbury when gunning down Cue Card close home and his Feltham run wasn't as poor as it appeared afterwards. He then had a wind operation and the fact that Henderson and Geraghty were over the moon with his last effort in the Reynoldstown suggests that there is plenty of improvement in him. His jumping has left a little to be desired but it should improve from his three experiences to date. Davy Russell wasn't overly excited about the chances of First Lieutenant at a recent Cheltenham Preview night and the impression he created was that he would prefer to ride Sir Des Champs if the pair ended up in the same race. Mullins is believed to favour the RSA over the Jewson at this stage and the way he quickened up to beat Hidden Cyclone last time, left the impression that three miles will be the making of him. He's a
course winner too, like Bobs Worth, and they may fight out the finish.
Selection: BOBS WORTH Danger: Sir Des Champs
3.20 Sportingbet.com Queen Mother Champion Chase
OF ALL the championship races at this year's festival, the Queen Mother appears to be the least competitive with only three of the field less than 16-1 in the betting. Had Henrietta Knight decided to bring Somersby here instead of the Ryanair, he would certainly have been the value call given his performance when beating FINIAN'S RAINBOW in the Victor Chandler at Ascot. He's still 12-1 and if Knight does a u-turn, an each-way wager would be advised. But in the likelihood that Somersby won't show up, it may be worth backing Finian's Rainbow each-way at around the 5-1 mark. He hasn't progressed as may have been expected this season but jumped brilliantly at Ascot and looked the likeliest winner turning for home. Nicky Henderson is convinced that he's a more laid-back horse this term and if he doesn't run with the choke out, he should get up the hill better than he did last year. Sizing Europe is the most likely winner. He won the race last year and could hardly have been more impressive when battering Big Zeb in the Tied Cottage at Punchestown. He'll get his ground and he loves Cheltenham but he could be odds-on and there isn't that much of a gap between him and his two biggest rivals. If Wishfull Thinking came back to form, he could be dangerous but he's been poor on all four starts this term and I'm not convinced that 2m is what he needs. Finian's Rainbow jumps well and travels with exuberance so it's hard not to see him on the bridle turning for home. What happens from there on in is anyone's guess but even if he doesn't see out the 2m, it's hard not to see him being placed at worst.
Selection: FINIAN'S RAINBOW Danger: Sizing Europe
4.00 Coral Cup
GORDON ELLIOTT took this race last year with Carlito Brigante and TONER D'OUDARIES comes into this year's renewal with a similar profile. He travelled like the best horse in the race in the Pertemps Qualifier at Leopardstown over Christmas and traded at odds-on in-running but just failed to see out the 3m trip. The step back down to 2m5f will be right up his street and the British handicapper has only raised him 7lb. Elliott wasn't too disappointed with the rise and felt it was fairly standard which suggests to me that he has a bit up his sleeve. He jumps well and, while he may prefer softer ground, he should be travel fluently through the race which is something that is paramount in festival handicaps. The value may have gone with him now but you can still get doubles figures. As for dangers, there are likely to be 27 of them but the one that stands out is Sweet My Lord who ran a cracker in the Boylesprts.com Handicap Hurdle over an inadequate trip. His mark of 148 is on the high side but he has the class to get involved if he appears here rather than the Pertemps Final.
Selection: TONOR D'OUDARIES Danger: Sweet My Lord
4.40 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
HAVING AN ante-post punt in the Fred Winter isn't usually the cleverest idea. First of all, you don't know what's running in the race. Second, the horse you back might end up in the Triumph Hurdle instead. And thirdly, the weights could rise significantly in the weeks leading up to the race and your fancy could end up carrying a stone more that you expected. But this year I'm making an exception as potentially one of the best bets of the entire Cheltenham Festival could be in this race on Wednesday. Alan King holds most of the aces in the juvenile hurdle division with Grumeti, Balder Success, Fire Fighter and Ardlui all winning decent contests in the grade but it's another resident of Barbury Castle that has me buzzing. VENDOR came over from France with a lofty reputation and was sent off at 4-5 for his British debut at Newbury - a race won previously by Celestial Halo and Grandouet. A big, powerful grey with a giant stride, Vendor cruised through the race and Wayne Hutchinson was at pains to try and settle him for the first mile. He wanted to go faster. He was still hard on the bridle coming down to the final flight but he met it all wrong and had three lengths to find with the talented Tango De Juilley. But the way he quickened up inside the final furlong to win snugly by a length and a half was impressive. I had him pencilled in as a genuine Triumph Hurdle contender on the back of that display but the handicapper gave him a rating of just 122 which prompted King to go down the Fred Winter route. In an interview last week on Attheraces, King spoke about how Grumeti and Balder Success would both have at least one more run before the festival but stressed that Vendor wouldn't. 'Vendor won't run again and will head straight for the Fred Winter. I'm happy with his mark,' he said. In last year's renewal, King's Kumbeshwar, rated 133, was beaten a neck by What A Charm. Vendor is believed to be 11lb inferior to Kumbeshwar but I'm convinced he is a far classier animal and I think King thinks so too.
Selection: VENDOR Danger: Ranjaan
5.15 Weatherbys Champion Bumper
IT WASN'T too long ago that the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham was more Irish than tucking into Denny sausages on a Sunday morning to try cure a hangover. But the Mullins monopoly has gone bankrupt in recent years and so has the Irish challenge. Cue Card and Cheltenian have won the last two renewals and NEW YEAR'S EVE may be able to complete the hat-trick for the home team. John Ferguson is having a fantastic year across the water. Indeed, his 40% strike-rate is better than any other trainer in Britain. He's already had six bumper winners but the best of the bunch is New Year's Eve, who has won both his starts impressively at Ludlow and Market Rasen. His latest success prompted Ferguson to say the following: 'He's a horse I'm very excited about. We're already thinking of next season and going over hurdles and he's already schooled well over hurdles. But my inclination is to bring him to Cheltenham and Population, another horse I love, will go to Aintree.' That suggests that New Year's Eve is held in higher regard than Population who has won a brace of hot bumpers at Ascot. It was hard not to be taken with the way he quickened up to beat Swinging Sultan, an impressive Sedgefield winner on his previous start. He won by eight lengths but was value for a lot more. Irish pair Moscow Mannon and Champagne Fever head the betting at present but both want further in my eyes and may lack the acceleration of New Year's Eve who should be shorter than 12-1. Selection: NEW YEAR'S EVE Danger: Champagne Fever