BILL ESDAILE PREVIEWS THE REMAINING THREE RACES ON DAY ONE
AT 4.40pm this afternoon Quevega will attempt to become only the second horse to win a race five times at the Festival. Golden Miller did it in the Gold Cup in the Thirties and this remarkable mare will be many punter’s idea of the main banker on day one in the OLBG Mares Hurdle.
Willie Mullins has followed the same route as normal, bringing her to Cheltenham for her seasonal reappearance, and the fact that she’s a best-priced 4/6 with Coral shows how difficult it’s going to be to beat her.
However, she’s now a nine-year-old and is coming up against a serious rival in UNE ARTISTE, who I think is the best each-way bet of the first day.
Nicky Henderson’s five-year-old is hugely progressive, handles soft ground, and won the Fred Winter at last year’s Festival. Now, I’m not saying that I think she will definitely beat Quevega, far from it. But the current prices aren’t a true reflection of their chances. You can back Une Artiste at 6/1 each-way with Paddy Power and will make a profit if she finishes in the first three. I would be astonished if she didn’t get at least a place and if Quevega, for whatever reason, underperforms, you can be sure Barry Geraghty and Une Artiste will be waiting to pounce.
In all likelihood, Quevega will probably win, and it would be fantastic to see her do so, but Cheltenham has a habit of throwing up shocks and Une Artiste is the only one that I think can bother her.
Kentford Grey Lady was second last year, but Emma Lavelle’s yard is woefully out of form at present and I’m more than happy to oppose her.
Alasi has been here for the last three seasons and hasn’t done better than fourth, so she’s also passed over.
Swing Bowler is more interesting as she ran a stormer to finish third in the Betfair Hurdle last time and was unbeaten in five starts prior to that. However, she is unproven at the trip and I can’t see her finishing in front of Une Artiste.
A number of people will head to the bar when the Cross Country Chase is on at 4.00pm, but it’s been a relatively kind race for punters over the years.
The Irish suffered their first reverse in the race’s eight year history 12 months ago when Balthazar King just denied the 14-year-old A New Story. Unfortunately, Philip Hobbs’ runner won’t defend his crown as the ground has gone against him and it would be a big shock if Ireland don’t win it back this year.
Enda Bolger is the king of the cross country, winning four of the eight runnings, and I expect him to make it five with ARABELLA BOY.
The eight-year-old unseated Nina Carberry here back in December, but went on to win at Punchestown last month.
There is no doubt that this will have been the target all year and although my selection is yet to prove he stays this far, it shouldn’t be a problem and he will love the soft ground. Take the 9/2 available with Coral.
Vying for favouritism is Outlaw Pete and he would have to rate a big danger. He won the race over course and distance in December and is another who has been targeted at this contest. He’s gone up in the weights, though, which is why I favour Arabella Boy.
Bostons Angel, who won the 2011 RSA Chase, is another who has a chance, but he has always preferred better ground and conditions aren’t going to be ideal for him.
Uncle Junior has some decent form, although it’s hard to win this race off top weight and I think he will find one or two too good.
ARABELLA BOY 4.00pm Cheltenham
UNE ARTISTE e/w 4.40pm Cheltenham