Two-time Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air faces what looks the stiffest test of his career to date when he bids for three-in-row at Cheltenham this afternoon.
Nicky Henderson’s star scrambled home 12 months ago to hold off Melon and is 9/4 second-favourite with Betfred to become just the sixth three-time winner of the two-mile Championship.
In his path are two high-class mares in Apple’s Jade and Laurina. Both will be getting 7lb from the champ and it is the Irish Champion Hurdle winner that edges morning favouritism at 2/1.
The opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is as open as it has been for many a year, with Al Dancer, Angels Breath and Klassical Dream vying for favouritism.
The Betfair Hurdle winner Al Dancer bids to give local trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies and son Sam the perfect start to Cheltenham 2019 and is just about on course to start favourite following his last time our romp at Ascot. He’ll be hoping to avoid the fate of Kalashnikov, who won the same race last year before being collared on the line in the Supreme.
Kalashnikov meanwhile bids to go one better in the Arkle, though Amy Murphy’s charge has it all on to turn around Kingmaker form with the impressive Glen Forsa. Mick Channon’s charge has been popular for the Arkle since but might prove vulnerable if making the running.
The Gordon Elliott-trained Hardline boasts strong form and is coming in for sustained support while Willie Mullins chases a fourth Arkle success in five years and his Duc Des Genievres is 6/1 under Paul Townend.
One contest where Mullins’ record is even better is the Mares’ Hurdle and Benie Des Dieux will be attempting to follow ‘the Quevega route’ by winning that contest on her seasonal reappearance. Ruby Walsh suggests she is his best hope of a Cheltenham winner this week and she is the strong favourite to win at 1/1.
Day one has often proved to be fruitful for Ireland’s champion trainer in the past at this meeting and he also has the favourite in the concluding National Hunt Chase. Son Patrick Mullins can make history by becoming the first three-time winner of the four-mile contest for amateur riders should he be able to steer Ballyward to glory..
There are two tough handicaps for punters to assess on day one. Trainer Mick Channon could be seeking a double if Glen Forsa can land the Arkle and his course specialist Mister Whitaker is proving popular at 8/1 for the Ultima Handicap Chase (14:50). Top-weight Lake View Lad is an unbeaten improver this season and trades at 18/1 with Betfred to maintain his progress.
Later on, the Neil Mulholland-trained Walt could be one of the outsiders of note at 22/1 when he bids to back up his Kempton win in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (16:50). His extra stamina looks an asset given the forecast good-to-soft going could ease further by late afternoon.
Odds subject to change.