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And so the curtain raises on day one of the Cheltenham Festival. The 4 day feast of action testing all corners of the jumping sport has been the target, the hope, the raison d’etre for so many weather beaten stable hands, for so many plotting owners and trainers hungry for glory and heralds the arrival at the field of battle for lean, mean, jumping machines. It’s time to sit back, or stand up, jump around and scream for your horse until you too are hoarse, dream and enjoy, tell others of your ‘unbeatable’ bets and then reel off the ‘only ifs…’.

Seven races greet racing fans on day one. The author does win with bets, rarely, and is a jolly good sport (loser). Below is hopefully a little food for thought for you whilst plotting your way to hoarseness.

The first race will be greeted with the customary curtain-up cheer. Rather fitting too for a great race of young hurdlers, hugely competitive and with ability aplenty. Montbazon, trained by the big race specialist Alan King whose herd of hard hurdlers have been in great form all season, should go close and has the form to back him up. Generally at 15/2 his prices aren’t huge, but he should be there or thereabouts as they pass the post. For those more desperate to pay off parent/gambling/drug debts looking for the potential of greater winnings, Colour Squadron is put forward. At generally 14/1, he has good form, was going close when falling last time and, if confidence is intact, could go well.

Next is the Arkle. A race never failing to excite, it has a small select band of chasers who like to take their large obstacles at pace. Those who think they know something about gambling will tell you to back Sprinter Sacre. They’d be the sort if person who talk over you and have halitosis. Well done brains, he’s 10/11 and a worthy favourite. Those who really know their way around the nether regions of the betting ring will advise you to got to Paddy Power who are offering a refund on losing bets to Sprinter Sacre. With only 5 other runners an each way bet is a waste of time. Al Ferof should be second, Cue Card could be second. The suggestion is to back one of those two to win with Mr Power, the bookmaker for civilised people and the Irish, and if they come second to SS then at least you’ll get something back.

Race 3 is a handicap chase. It’s too complicated to explain what it is and then still too hard to pick a winner, therefore the suggestion is to go to the bar, get some fresh air from the overpowering air-freshened infused betting shop or make an overt effort to shout around your office and demand answers in a feeble attempt to con the superiors that you are working. If you’re bent on a bet, take the top horse, Quantitativeeasing, he’s won round Prestbury Park before.

Race four is the feature race of the day, the Champion Hurdle, and one of the most competitive races of the week. A particularly hot renewal, Hurricane Fly is backed to follow up a fantastic win last year, since which he has only got better. His career record shows 12 wins from 14 starts, you can’t argue with that. As his odds are so short, try an exacta (picking first and second in the right order) with Binocular to come second. They’ve both won the race before, are in cracking form and it’ll really give you something to brag about if it comes in.

The Fifth race is the Cross Country Chase, a unique race over unusual obstacles. Made famous to all in Newcastle by the toothless old man with Viagra in Ladbrokes and his favourite charge Spot Thedifference, the horses gallop for the best part of 4 miles and encounter hedges, banks and walls. Garde Champetre has won the race before, but is getting long in the tooth and looks like he is running out of time to pay back his colossal £535k price tag. Especially when the race is worth a shade more than £30k. Sizing Australia could win as he did last year, otherwise Maljimar, last years fourth, could run him close at more generous odds.

The penultimate race on the first day is for the mares (female horses). Quevega is a fantastic mare, impossible to beat in it and as such incredibly short odds. She should win, but it won’t make you any money and you’ll just look boring backing her on her own. With lots of runners, many who are moderate, there will be some each way value. Try Kentford Grey Lady, a young grey mare on the up, or Ixora, at larger odds, who won round Cheltenham on her last start.

The final race is another handicap chase. I’d tell you to look to race 3 for reasoning and then pick your dogs age (between 1 and 20, unless you’ve got an incredibly old dog, which is amazing, in which case contact Harry Harland so you can write an article on it). However, I have a little fancy here. Ferry Murphy invades every year from his northern base and attacks the handicaps with a fit animal a few pounds ahead of the handicapper. He’s always likely to win one this week, and it could be on day one this year, so the nudge is towards Going Wrong, a horse in form and high in confidence.

Remember though, gambling is for responsible adults, so please don’t chase me with any pitchforks as the suggested horses run like your 22 year old dog. Enjoy the racing and check back for the tips for Ladies Day tomorrow, where it’s not only the horses that get a little frisky.

Race 1: 1:30 – Montbazon (13) 15/2, Colour Squadron (5) 14/1

Race 2: 2:05 – Sprinter Sacre (6) 10/11, Al Ferof (1) 3/1, Cue Card (3) 7/1

Race 3: 2:40 – Quantitativeeasing (1) 13/2

Race 4: 3:20 – Hurricane Fly (4) & Binocular (1) STRAIGHT EXACTA

Race 5: 4:00 – Sizing Australia (4) 9/2, Maljimar (12) 11/1

Race 6: 4:40 – Kentford Grey Lady (16) 12/1, Ixora (15) 33/1

Race 7: 5:15 – Going Wrong (4) 11/1

 by Daniel Polak