THIS afternoon’s Cheltenham Festival will start on the softest ground for 20 years, with plenty of recent rain leaving the track heavy, soft in places, with more set to fall.
The Willie Mullins/Ruby Walsh/Rich Ricci trio teamed up to win the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (1.30pm) three years on the bounce from 2013, and will hope that hot favourite Getabird can get them back on track after two relatively quiet years.
The six-year-old is unbeaten in all four starts under rules and will take plenty of beating as he has loads of stamina and has won on heavy ground.
With only two runs over hurdles, he does line up here without much experience and there is a niggling worry about his ability to race left-handed.
He has only been campaigned on right-handed tracks to date and the only time he raced left-handed in his point-to-point days he ran out.
There is no getting away from the fact he was super impressive at Punchestown last time and he will be tough to beat, but at as short as 11/8, I’m prepared to give him a miss.
The one I like is Amy Murphy’s KALASHNIKOV at 5/1 with Betfair. Regular followers of this column will remember he did us a massive favour by landing the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last month.
If he was trained by either Mullins or Nicky Henderson, he’d be challenging Getabird for favouritism.
That performance means he now has a mark of 154, which is the highest official mark on display here and is just 1lb below the marks Vautour and Douvan lined up in this contest with.
He is proven on soft ground and with four runs over hurdles already he has plenty of experience.
The only defeat in those four starts came at the hands of SUMMERVILLE BOY on heavy ground in the Tolworth Hurdle and the Sandown winner was one I recommended supporting a few weeks ago.
Tom George’s runner is another overlooked in the market and still looks each-way value at 8/1 with the sponsors.
If the rain continues to fall, it will only enhance his chances and will also play to the strengths of First Flow who has been really well-supported in recent weeks.
Connections had no real intention of running this confirmed mudlark at the Festival, but the recent rain has forced a change of heart.
He bolted up on heavy ground at Haydock in January and will be at home if the ground turns that way.
Looking elsewhere, it’s not impossible to envisage a good run from Mengli Khan for last year’s winning trainer Gordon Elliott.
However, he is definitely a little quirky and I’m not sure the bad ground and the Cheltenham hill will play to his strengths.
At a much bigger price, it would be no surprise to see the favourite’s stablemate Sharjah run better than his 20/1 price tag suggests. You have to forgive him his last run, but prior to that he had a Grade One in the bag when tipping up at the last at Leopardstown.
For those betting in-running on Betfair, your best strategy in this and other races this week may be using the lay button late on as plenty will travel well turning in and won’t get home.
Kalashnikov 1.30pm Cheltenham
Summerville Boy e/w (Already advised) 12/1 1.30pm Cheltenham