The Open is one of Cheltenham’s biggest meetings after The Festival, many of the racing population see it as the true start to the National Hunt season and it can often shape the rest of the campaign in terms of the horses and trainers that should be followed.
It also offers a great opportunity, from a punter’s point of view, at finding some value prices with so many questions yet to be answered this early on. I’m hoping to get my jumping tips off the ground here now that the flat is over and the obstacles have my undiverted attention.
This Cheltenham – The Open preview is intended as a guide to the weekend ahead and some of the horses that I’ll be looking out for. The runners in bold are likely to be my tips in those races but look out for these tips and others being put up on the bettingtools.co.uk TipsterTable closer to the weekend when declarations are confirmed and more betting markets open up.
Three days of top class National Hunt racing starts on Friday with the feature race being the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase. This three-mile and seven-furlong steeplechase around Cheltenham’s stunningly beautiful cross country course is a marathon for runners, riders and spectators alike.
If you find your adrenal glands get pumping while watching a five-furlong dash on the flat, then trying to stay calm while watching your selection tackle thirty-one obstacles such as the cheese wedge and Aintree fence over just as many furlongs for around eight minutes is truly exhausting!
BALTHAZAR KING, my favourite horse, looks set to be justifiable favourite again after reversing form with two-time winner Uncle Junior to win this in 2013 before going on to win over course and distance at The Festival. Except for falling on his last run when 4/5 favourite, King was near faultless last season, his form reads 11112F, and that second place finish was merely the Crabbie’s Grand National.
Three of those wins came at Cheltenham and if the ground remains good he should win, after showing he’s still got it when scoring in France on his first run back in September. I’ll be backing him blind even if he opened at 1/5f, but any early price around 5/2 or bigger would be a nice bet to start the proceedings.
In terms of bigger-priced value in the race Hobbs’ other runner Duke Of Lucca is hard to fancy on his recent form but has an each-way squeak on last year’s fourth place finish in this. Irish trained runners have a phenomenal record around Cheltenham’s Cross Country Course and Willie Mullins runs UNCLE JUNIOR again, the oldest horse in the race but winner in 2011, 2012 and runner-up last year. He may well be sent off at double figures after not showing much since his run here, but he can’t be discounted.
Other interesting runners on the first day include BROADWAY BUFFALO in the opener Opus Energy Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase. This David Pipe trained six-year-old hasn’t really transferred the promise he showed into higher classes since his five race unbeaten run from debut. He has been dropped to a reasonable mark here and the good-to-soft ground on the standard course needs to take on a little more rain to suit but the longer distance should be in his favour. (He also has an entry on the Saturday in the Murphy Group Handicap Chase.)
The feature race of today and the biggest race of the whole meeting is the Paddy Power Gold Cup Chase but it also comes with a fantastic supporting card. I had already tipped up Menorah with the concern that he wouldn’t be running and he was left out of the five day declarations.
There is a lot to dislike about the favourite Present View knowing he has had to come back from an injury. If you are looking for a jolly then it might pay to go with Johns Spirit, he won this last year and he has to be one of the main contenders after winning around here on his comeback run in October.
At the prices though I like the look of the runner up in that race, PERSIAN SNOW, should he run he would have to be thereabouts with only a length to find. Colour Squadron is another one in form for Hobbs and he is confident about his runner’s chances. Others of interest are Rajdhani Express for Henderson who was jumping well before unseating his jockey on his last outing. Uxizandre finished behind EDGARDO SOL on their return in October and preference is for the latter to maintain that form at a big price with no change in the weights.
Other chances I’ll be looking out for on the Saturday will be in the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Hurdle (Listed Race). Big Easy will be near the top of the betting after his Cesarewitch win, less obvious choices would be The Fighter Jet who is taking a big step up in grade but has been very consistent over hurdles. I’ll have a look at THE ITALIAN YOB, who I tipped up earlier in the month when the booking of A P McCoy caught the eye, but he was non-runner. Same reasons apply for selecting him here now he has reverting to hurdles and could run well at big odds.
The StanJames.com Greatwood Hurdle is Sunday’s feature and two horses interest me. GOODWOOD MIRAGE had his form franked when Lightening Rod bolted up next time out, and Jonjo O’Neill’s four-year-old has plenty of scope for improvement stepping back up in class. EAGLE ROCK could be the value here, currently 33/1. His second place finish last month, on his first hurdles run for over two-years, still saw him finish a length to the good of Garde La Victoire who is near the top of the betting for victory here.
Enjoy the racing and good-luck.