Pay or lay - the big four
The Champion Hurdle - Annie Power
Willie Mullins has lost both Faugheen and Arctic Fire from the Champion Hurdle field but such is the strength and depth of his stable that another Closutton inmate, Annie Power, is now favourite for the opening day highlight.
The loss of her stablemates has led owner Rich Ricci to stump up the £20,000 supplement fee as she was not originally entered for the race and with just one run under her belt this season, she is readily opposable at cramped odds of 2/1. Nichols Canyon and Identity Thief will be primed to challenge for honours and the former, also trained by Mullins, took the scalp of none other than Faugheen when the pair met at Punchestown earlier this season. It's a fascinating renewal and Annie Power's supporters, who remember her last-flight exit with the 'Mares' race at her mercy in 2015, will be looking through their fingers if she rises to the last in front.
Recommendation: Lay Annie Power
The Queen Mother Champion Chase
Un De Sceaux
Last year's Arkle winner, Un De Sceaux, is odds-on favourite to back up that win with a victory against the division's elite. He is a horse of considerable talent and a joy to watch in full flight, but he does have some jumping frailties and there is no margin for error at the Festival. Un De Sceaux is a keen no-nonsense front-runner, but he may not get an uncontested lead, with the Henry De Bromhead-trained Special Tiara in the field. He also likes to bowl along at the head of affairs and there is a chance that they may neutralise each other by burning up valuable energy in a bid to dominate from the front. Sprinter Sacre, Sire De Grugy and Dodging Bullets, the last three winners of the race, are all set to face the starter and although each has had problems, they are all capable of running a big race. At odds-on, Un De Sceaux represents no value.
Recommendation: Lay Un De Sceaux
The World Hurdle
The Colin Tizzard-trained Thistlecrack has dominated the staying division in England and is a perfect three from three this season. He has made a smooth transition from novice to old pro and was ultra-impressive in landing the Cleeve Hurdle over course and distance back in January. Irish hopes rest on the Mouse Morris-trained Alpha Des Obeaux, who wasn't far off Thistlecrack as a novice, and with very few miles on the clock, he can show the improvement that would be required to win this race. Last year's winner, Cole Harden, has disappointed on both his outings this term but his astute handler will have the seven-year-old primed for another big run. But last year's race was not the best renewal and Cole Harden may struggle to cope with Thistlecrack. Tizzard's horse has been in exceptional form this season and will be very hard to beat.
Recommendation: Back Thistlecrack
The Gold Cup
Although last year's winner is absent through injury, this is still a vintage renewal of jump racing's blue riband event. Cue Card backed up his Betfair Chase victory in November with a gutsy display when just getting the better of Ruby Walsh and Vautour in the King George, but neither may be good enough to trouble the market principles. Don Poli's workmanlike performances have led to an unfair moniker 'Don Slowly' but he is a silent assassin who goes about his business in effective fashion. He won the RSA last year, and RSA Chase winners have won two of the last three renewals. Don Cossack has always been held in the highest regard by his trainer Gordon Elliott and he is a horse with considerable talent. He was beginning to get into contention when falling two out in the King George and although he has disappointed before at Cheltenham he is a dour stayer and the 3m 2f trip is set to bring out the best in him.
Recommendation: Back Don Cossack
Barry Orr is PR Manager for Betfair in the UK and Ireland
Sunday Indo Sport