WE HAVE become accustomed to Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh dominating the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.
Although that didn’t happen this year, they also don’t have a bad record on the Thursday.
They won three races 12 months ago, including the opening JLT Novices’ Chase (1.30pm), and I expect them to take today’s first Group One prize for the fourth time in six years.
YORKHILL divides opinion. He was an outstanding winner of the Neptune at last year’s Festival, but he is undeniably quirky and often takes a very keen hold in his races.
He’s won both starts over fences, although he has shown a tendency to jump markedly to his left.
That was again apparent when schooling after racing at Leopardstown the week before last.
Given those concerns there will be plenty willing to take him on today at as short as even money with Paddy Power. But I’m not one of them.
I just feel he is well ahead of the rest of the field in this and can prove to be an absolute top notcher.
Talking of Top Notch, Nicky Henderson’s inmate is extremely likeable, winning four novice chases on the bounce.
Even though he is only a little horse, he has the heart of a lion and is certain to put it up to Yorkhill.
My main worry is that soft ground would suit him so much better. He’s just not going to get his ideal conditions.
Disko was an impressive winner of the Grade One Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown last month.
He jumped his rivals into submission that day, but is another who would probably prefer a bit more cut in the ground.
His trainer Noel Meade has also remarkably never won a chase at Cheltenham.
Paul Nicholls doesn’t have the same firepower he normally has in his yard at present.
In the run-up to the Festival he wasn’t expecting many winners, although he thought Politologue may well be his best chance.
This dashing grey is a fantastic jumper and has to be respected. I just don’t think he is in quite the same class as Yorkhill.
Henderson has a mildly interesting second string in the shape of Kilcrea Vale, although this is a big step up from races at Fontwell, Market Rasen and Ludlow.
Despite his quirks Yorkhill has to be the bet at 11/8 with Star Sports.
Gordon Elliott has already had a fantastic week and he will be hoping to win back-to-back renewals of the Kim Muir Handicap Chase (5.30pm), this time with Squouateur.
The JP McManus-owned six-year-old was one of the best backed horses of the week in the Martin Pipe Hurdle 12 months ago, but could only finish seventh.
He is certainly an interesting contender, although I’m more interested in MALL DINI, who won the Pertemps last year and has Katie Walsh in the saddle.
The key to Pat Kelly’s seven-year-old is a trip. He has been running mainly over 2m4f this season and I’m sure the step up to 3m2f will bring about some improvement.
Good ground is important to him and he is worth backing at 8/1 with Star Sports.
I also like the claims of Henderson’s HADRIAN’S APPROACH, who has had just the one start this campaign, finishing an excellent fourth behind Native River in the Hennessy in November.
He has been kept fresh for this and the yard is in flying form so 20/1 with Paddy Power looks a decent each-way bet.
Punters will be falling over themselves to back Mullins’ Let’s Dance in the Trull House Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (4.50pm).
She is unbeaten in four starts this season and wears the colours of last year’s winner Limini.
Although undoubtedly the most likely winner, I’m sure her future lies over further than two miles and she might just get done for speed.
Airlie Beach, from the same stable, is unbeaten in seven starts and must go close, although she’s been off the track since December.
Jessica Harrington’s FORGE MEADOW was very impressive in a Grade Two at Naas last month, beating some decent male opponents.
Back amongst her own sex, and on the sound surface that she craves, 8/1 with Sky Bet looks a more than fair each-way price.
Yorkhill 1.30pm Cheltenham
Forge Meadow e/w 4.50pm Cheltenham
Mall Dini e/w 5.30pm Cheltenham
Hadrians Approach e/w 5.30pm Cheltenham