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Cheltenham Day 1 Preview: Champion Hurdle early highlight

Tue, Mar 14, 10:50am by Senior Writer

The magnificent Cheltenham Festival kicks off on Tuesday (GMT), with the Champion Hurdle taking centre stage.

Cheltenham is one of the world’s great racing festivals with four days of elite jumps racing complimented by huge crowds and massive betting turnover.

The Stan James Champion Hurdle is the clear highlight of the opening day, with 10-time champion jockey Ruby Walsh shooting for his third consecutive win in the race aboard $19 shot Footpad.

But while Walsh will always attract plenty of support, Yanworth is the runner who has most of the support. He is $3.50 favourite having won seven of his eight jumps starts, with his sole defeat coming at last year’s festival when beaten in the Novices Hurdle.

That was his only career run over further than 4000m (2m 4f) and this race, over the 3300m (2m 1f) looks ideal for a horse of his class. The concern on him is that he’s not the cleanest jumper

Trainer Nicky Henderson, a five-time winner of this race, presents the main rivals to Yanworth in Brain Power ($8) and Buveur D’Air ($6.50).

Since running third at the Festival last year, Buveur D’Air has won four straight races but would have preferred a heavier track than the Good To Soft he’ll race on on Tuesday, while Brain Power will be happy in the ground having carried a big weight to victory at Ascot in December.

The other Henderson runner is My Tent or Yours, who has twice run second in this race and is

Wicklow Brave, last seen when well beaten after being heavily backed in last year’s Melbourne Cup, fronts up here as well. His currently $29 and ordinarily you couldn’t entertain him but trainer Willie Mullins has won this race four of the past six years, so can’t be completely ruled out.

The Arkle Chase will be a watch-rather-than-bet affair with Henderson’s Altior at $1.22 having won his past nine starts. He’s the next big star of jumps racing with his only threat likely to come from Charbel ($11) who chased him home at Sandown in December.

Mullins and Walsh are expected to kick off the festival with a win in the Supreme Novices Hurdle with Melon a drifting $3.75 favourite. Ballyandy may challenge him for favouritism ahead of the race on the strength of his win at Newbury last time out.

Limini shapes up as $2.50 favourite in the Grade 1 Mares Hurdle, again for Mullins and Walsh, while the remaining three races on day 1 have massive fields and no clear-cut favourites.

Suggested Bet: Back My Tent or Yours each way in the Champion Hurdle

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