THE BLOG

Insight Into Cheltenham Festival - Day One

12/03/2013 09:22 GMT | Updated 12/05/2013 10:12 BST

The waiting is almost over for what is the best week in the sporting calendar; by the weekend we will know if Barcelona, our biggest loser in the Champions League, will make it through to the last eight of this season's competition, we will know if England have gained their first Six Nations Grand Slam since 2003 but, more importantly, we will know who were the equine and human stars of Cheltenham 2013.

I am flying into Britain this afternoon and all weekend I have been pacing the boards like an expectant father; I received a text from the excellent trainer David Pipe last week suggesting that Zaynar, the horse I own in partnership with some old friends, is considered ready to make his belated seasonal reappearance in the Byrne Group Plate on Thursday.

Is it really four years since the grey won the Triumph Hurdle? It was a good job that success came on the final day of the Festival as the celebrations went on long into the night; if, and it is a big if, Zaynar can repeat the feat then Friday may have to be cancelled. Cheltenham does that to you.

That is for later in the week; but what of Tuesday?

The feature race on the opening day is the Champion Hurdle with favourite Hurricane Fly (3.20) bidding to become the first horse since Comedy Of Errors in 1975 to regain the crown having first landed the prize in 2011.

Nine go to post and The Fly remains the one to beat having landed three Grade 1's in Ireland for Willie Mullins so far this term; some of the reports of his recent homework have been less than favourable and Channel 4 pundit Mick Fitzgerald, at a recent Festival preview evening I attended, suggested he didn't look at his best when beaten in the corresponding race last year and recommended we hold-fire until we see how well he looks in the parade ring tomorrow.

We don't have such a luxury but the Irish horse remains the most likely winner; Grandouet is reported to have worked poorly and won't like the forecast soft ground, last year's winner Rock On Ruby wears blinkers for the first time which could sharpen him up but also suggests he isn't exactly working the house down and the danger is surely Zarkandar who is a grinder, unbeaten in three starts this season and must surely make it a true test of stamina.

Only 12 to post for the opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle and remember our opening day offer from BetVictor; we will refund all losses on the Festival curtain-raiser as a free bet up to £50. Thus if you back My Tent Or Yours and it wins happy days; if not you get your money back to use at Cheltenham in the next 26 races!

Champion jockey AP McCoy insists My Tent Or Yours is banker material but I'm not so sure and I have thrown a few quid on Champagne Fever (1.30) (7/1 at BetVictor) who will surely make sure there is no hanging around with Ruby Walsh back in the plate; the grey worked the house down on Friday and although Jezki had his measure at Fairyhouse earlier in the year I think we might get the first Irish-trained winner of the race since Go Native in 2009. Note the winner of the Supreme is likely to be made favourite for the 2014 Champion Hurdle and we are betting Non Runner Free Bet on the 2014 Festival with immediate effect!

Jezki is the forgotten horse of the race; my good friend the fearless Irish punter JP McManus bought the horse after his win in the Future Champions event over Xmas at Leopardstown and one could argue he has the best form in the race despite My Tent Or Yours' Newbury win last month. Has AP chosen the right one?

Simonsig (2.05) is 4/7 with ourselves at BetVictor but cannot be opposed in the Arkle; I spoke to Donald McCain at Chepstow on Saturday and he was concerned with the forecast soft ground for many of his Festival hopes including Overturn who is likely to set the race up nicely for the Henderson runner.

As ever the JLT Chase looks a tough nut to crack; favourite Our Mick may struggle to get home on what is sure to be testing ground and an new chance is taken on Tullamore Dew (2.40) (33/1 at www.betvictor.com) near the foot of the weights; the selection hasn't won for over two years but looks well handicapped and can go well at a big price for Nick Gifford.

Quevega (4.40) is bidding for her fifth win in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle and although she is making her seasonal reappearance she is in a different class to her rivals on all known form.

I am a big Shangani (5.15) (7/1 at BetVictor) fan and hope he can maintain his recent progressive profile although he is 10lb higher than when scoring at Catterick last time; many believe we will see the real Colour Squadron this afternoon and he is a massive danger. He has been placed with this race in mind all season and he and Vulcanite give JP (McManus) a strong hand in the race.

For all your Festival odds, check out www.betvictor.com

Be lucky,

Victor