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So the Cheltenham Festival returns, and with it comes our ever-popular racing tipster “The Ferret”. Here is his preview for day one, if you get lost in the waffle, his tips are at the bottom…

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The Olympics crowned a tremendous sporting year for 2012. Bringing to our green and pleasant lands the finest human sport stars from the world over for a feast of dream-making. Once in a lifetime moments. However the magic of the Olympics was down to the nature of these ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences; we will all be very grey the next time they grace our lands.

As such, the magic was not so much in the sport itself, but the spectacle. The fact that one had the opportunity to see it there and then, with one’s own eyes, in one’s own city. This was tremendous at the time, but if I had the option to see world class skulling on Eton Dorney every summer, or to watch some waxed bloke in speedos jumping into a pool from a flimsy board every 12 months, it would soon lose any appeal. I had a great time watching a couple of dozen chaps throwing a ball around in a metal cage, but can’t for the life of me remember much more about it than that.

Some things are special because they’re different, unusual and unrepeatable. On the other hand some things are great because they come around just when you need them, giving you the feeling that this year is better than any before it. They are great because the arrival feels like the crest of a wave, arriving and breaking in the nick of time. Contrary to the cherished rarity of the Olympics, this is more of a drug, needed to fuel us on.

That feeling nurtures through February, as Britain begins to thaw, anticipation warming what previously was only reached by hot water bottles. The middle of March and the Cheltenham Festival, an annual sporting bonanza, always promising to be the best yet.

With biting North-Easterly winds and sub-zero temperatures, the climate seems more suited to Eskimos than the civilised English racegoers. However flock to the bosom of Cleeve Hill we will, to see a feast of sumptuous sporting action and to warm our cockles with a good old cheer and a slug of slow gin – an English way to warm up, time-honoured and very necessary, year in year out.

In 2012 we were graced with sporting legends, such as the Miracle at Medina and Super Saturday in Stratford. These were truly once in a lifetime moments; the Cheltenham Festival promises to give and give again, and I guarantee you we will witness enough surging climaxes up the home straight at Prestbury Park to make Ron Jeremy blush. Welcome to March. Welcome to the Cheltenham Festival.

Sadly, only the horse on the left is running this year...

Sadly, only the horse on the left is running this year…

Although two stalwarts who shaped a generation have been put out to grass, the wake of Kauto Star and Denman leaves much to be excited about. In Sprinter Sacre, favourite for Wednesday’s Queen Mother Champion Chase, we will have the shortest priced favourite to run at the Festival since the legendary Arkle. Sprinter Sacre in his own right deserves four days of attention. He is undoubtedly the star of the show, but every race has its story, it’s dream and will have its gladiatorial duel up the gruelling hill. Sit tight.

Day One has seven excellent races. If you are hoping that this will be the week to win some money, pay off the mortgage and retire to sunny climates, you might as well go back to hibernation – you will not enjoy the next 4 days. The quality of the racing gives much to be excited about. It is also an early pitched excuse as to why my tips, less reliable than Gazza’s liver, may be desperately unlucky* and not deliver, even when so well supported with Holmes-esq rationale (Sherlock, not Kelly).

The day kicks off with the customary cheer of the crowd as the horses set off for the 1.30, the Supreme Novices Hurdle over two miles. A gifted ensemble of the fastest and most talented young hurdlers, the race is fiercely competitive and a case can be made for a number of the runners. My Tent Or Yours, representing the ever-powerful Nicky Henderson yard, is a worthy favourite having already shown significant ability. The race is however notoriously a graveyard for short priced favourites, and with the quality in the field and the churlish 6/4 on offer for the favourite, the advice is to look elsewhere. Jezki should offer more value and a great chance of a win (9/2), or for those looking for an each way punt try River Maigue (12/1). At more appetising prices, and with a handsome dash of luck, they could really get the week off to a flyer.

At 2.05 we have the Arkle Chase over the minimum trip of 2 miles. This promises to be run at a blistering pace over Cheltenham’s rock-sold fences with zero room for error, and as such be one of the greatest races of the week. Simonsig is odds on favourite to follow up his victory at last years Festival (4/6). Overturn would have been fancied to run him close, however the ground seems to have gone against him. If you’re brave enough to take on the dashing grey Simonsig and fancy a little more value try Arvika Ligeonniere at 8/1, a talented horse from Ireland who’s won all his completed starts.

The third race at 2.40 is a Handicap Chase and therefore a more competitive event. This allows greater potential returns due to some juicy odds; there is an obvious reason for this; it’s rather difficult to split the wheat from the chaff. Fruity O’Rooney is as tough as teak and should run a big race (9/1). Elsewhere Knockara Beau at 16/1 should run a good race at tasty weights.

The feature race of the day is the Champion Hurdle at 3.20. A fiercely competitive affair, the race is certainly worthy of its championship status. The best 2 mile hurdlers about will be tested inside and out with nowhere to hide. With 3 past winners in the line up, the class of 2013 is as strong as ever. Hurricane Fly, 1st in 2011 and 3rd in 2012, is apparently back to his best. At 9 years old he is no spring chicken, but he has been peerless this term. He is a short price at 9/4. Last years winner, Rock on Ruby (9/2), is as good as ever and will be giving all his heart up the home straight, equipped with first time blinkers. Khyber Kim could run a big race at a nice price for a place (40/1) after a pleasing comeback after a long lay off.

At 4.00 is the Cross Country race, a peculiar event over walls, banks, ditches and anything else a creative gardener can throw at the field. Enda Bolger is the master of this event and knows how to ready one better than anyone. His Arabella Boy will be popular (4/1). Form over the course and distance is a massive positive, and Uncle Junior boasts this with 2 recent victories (8/1). Even shouldering top weight he should be there or thereabouts when it matters.

The Mares Hurdle at 4.40 is an affair for the ladies only. Quevega has one the race for the past 4 years and there’s no reason to suggest this sequence will finish. As such her odds reflect this and it’s more interesting to look elsewhere (1/2). More value can be found in Swing Bowler, a classy mare on the up.

The final race on Day One is the Rewards4Racing Handicap Chase. This is an open affair with a case to be made for many of the runners. Carlito Brigante is a worthy favourite and appears to show value at an attractive price (7/1), having win off a lower mark at the Festival in 2011. An alternative would be Shangani (10/1) for the Venetia Williams yard, who are red hot at the moment, banging in winners left, right and centre.

In general, the ground will be very testing… Try and find a horse that has form on soft ground and will be able to battle it out as tiredness kicks in on the long drag up the hill.

All in all it promises to be a thoroughly excellent first day. We may have waited 361 days since the last festival, some 50-odd years less than the wait for a 2nd Olympics, but bye-jove how it’s been missed.

Go forth, faithful fans, and enjoy. Please, watch, hope, pray and believe. And remember as all good gamblers do, if the winner doesn’t come in , it’s all down to karma. Wait for the next race and double your stake. After all, we have 4 glorious days to win it all back**.

*Perhaps generous, could verge on thoroughly crap.

**According to the Book of Zen, not the author’s personal thoughts. Author cannot be held responsible for any direct or indirect repercussions from incorrect interpretations of advice.

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The Ferret’s Day 1 Tips:

RACE 1: Supreme Novices Hurdle (1:30) – River Maigue e/w @14/1

RACE 2: The Arkle Trophy Chase (2:05) – Simonsig to win @ 4/6

RACE 3: JLT Handicap Chase (2:40) – Fruity O’Rooney e/w @ 11/1

RACE 4: Champion Hurdle (3:20) – Rock on Ruby to win @ 5/1

RACE 5: Cross Country (4:00) – Uncle Junior e/w @ 8/1

RACE 6: The Mares Hurdle (4:40) – Swing Bowler e/w @7/1

RACE 7: Rewards4Racing Handicap Chase (5:15) – Carlito Brigante win @10/1

Odds supplied by Paddy Power, find updated odds here: http://www.paddypower.com/racing/daily-racing/cheltenham

 

The Cheltenham Festival

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