Drama. An overused word on most occasions but so appropriate when it comes to Cheltenham. Each race, each day, it is simply drama.
Yesterday had it all – again. Slashing rain early, stunning sunshine later, a rainbow in between. Two-time Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air fell at the third hurdle in this year’s Champion Hurdle. Arkle contender Glen Forsa lost young Jonathan Burke at the fourth, Kalashnikov was brought down when the reliable Ornua fell in front of him. Ruby, ah Ruby, was on his way to adding a second win on the day and another win to his impossible tally of Cheltenham winners when favorite Benie Des Dieux stood off like she should have, arched like she should have and surely landed the way she should have and then she fell, 10/11 favorite falling at the last, same jockey, same silks as Annie Power in 2015. Some game.
But don’t be mistaken, it’s not just the falls and the losses that provide the drama, so many elations and accomplishments yesterday as farrier-turned-trainer Gavin Cromwell trained his first Festival winner when Espoir D’Allen upset the Champion Hurdle. Yes, the Champion Hurdle. Willie Mullins won the first two and was surprised by both. Rachael Blackmore continued her climb to the top with another masterpiece aboard A Plus Tard. Jamie Codd muscled Le Breuil over Discorama in an attritional finale.
As for gambling, we enjoyed a lucrative day, backing winners Duc Des Genievres (5-1) and A Plus Tard (5-1) and unearthing Silver Streak (80-1) and Vintage Clouds (16-1) each way.
As for today…it’s Altior. The Racing Post declared, “In the Presence of Greatness.” Yes, we’ve been in his presence for three Festivals now, winning the Supreme, the Arkle and the Queen Mother. Undefeated over hurdles and fences, the 9-year-old returns for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Race 1. The Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. Grade 1. $160,000. 2 5/8 miles.
Battleoverdoyen is undefeated for Gordon Elliott, a chaser in the making, hurdling is simply a bonus in his career, he could find this too sharp for him. Or not. Champ rides a win streak for Nicky Henderson. Galvin is 5-for-5.
The Picks: Easy Game, Battleoverdoyen, Galvin.
Race 2. RSA Insurances Novices’ Chase. Grade 1. $224,000. 3 miles.
Gordon Elliott was blanked yesterday, he could win the first today and he will definitely win the second with Delta Work.
The Picks: Delta Work, Mister Malarky, Topofthegame.
Race 3. Coral Cup. Grade 3. $128,000. 2 5/8 miles.
The one and only Wicklow Brave comes back for more, the 14-time winner carries top weight against the likes of Pennsylvania-bred Lil Rockerfeller and my old friend Tully East.
The Picks: Tully East, Knight In Dubai, Uradel.
Race 4. The Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. Grade 1. $512,000. 2 miles.
Altior looked hopelessly beaten last year, he rallied. He’ll rally again.
The Picks: Altior, Min, Hell’s Kitchen.
Race 5. The Glenfarclas Chase. Cross Country. $83,000. 3 1/4 miles.
The legend of Tiger Roll continues. Last year’s Grand National winner aims at his fourth success at the Festival.
The Picks: Tiger Roll, Aubusson, Josies Orders.
Race 6. The Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. Grade 3. $102,500. 2 miles.
Twenty-four 4-year-olds line up here…and they don’t think we need a 4-year-old division at home. Another puzzler.
The Picks: Ciel De Neige, Band Of Outlaws, Oi The Club Oi’s.
Race 7. The Weatherbys Champion Bumper. $96,000. 2 miles.
Willie Mullins with just one bumper entry? What has the world come to?
One for the paddock. Where have you gone, Hairy Molly?
The Picks: Envoi Allen, Blue Sari, Flic Ou Voyou.