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Cheltenham Festival 2011 

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By Marc Owen-Banks ValueChecker

AntePost Cheltenham - Stan James Supreme Novices Hurdle

It's the traditional curtain opener; the first race on the card on the first day of the Festival and the one where the big cheer signals the start of the weeks festivities at Prestbury Park at the foot of Cleeve Hill. It never fails to send a shiver down the spine of those present in anticipation of the four days to come.

Cue Card

Cue Card

This year we again have a clear favourite in the market in Cue Card. Last years Bumper winner from the yard of Colin Tizzard will be looking to better the effort of the previous years Bumper champion Dunguib who went off odds on favourite for this race, but managed only third place.

Cue Card's preparation for this race has been much lighter than that of the Irish raider with the bumper being his final race of last season before coming back to win events at Aintree and confirming his liking for Cheltenham by winning here in November and although improving yet again when back at the track in December for the International Hurdle he found Menorah just too good on the day. His profile looks much better suited to this course than that of Dunguib and his favouritism at this stage looks justified.

But what of the challengers? The Irish always have a strong challenge at the festival and will be looking to get off to the perfect start in the form of Willie Mullins Zaidpour. Three runs to date have all come in Ireland and he was only beaten a neck in his final outing at Leopardstown by First Lieutenant. He will certainly have to have more to offer come Tuesday if he wants to figure, but even so, is second favourite in the market available at a best price 8/1 with William Hill for now.

Hidden Universe, also represents Ireland and this time Dermot Weld. Well down the field in last years bumper he has done little wrong since, in winning a further brace of bumpers including Punchestown in April. He then reappeared last October on the flat at Navan finishing fourth, but on his first go over hurdles scored a very easy win at Leopardstown, but in fairness did no more than he would have been expected to do should he be considered for this race. 12/1 generally available at this stage

Nicky Henderson is again having a wonderful season in National Hunt and has Minella Class as his main representative in this race. Certainly one that has caught the eye with a good win at Newbury before a commanding victory at Sandown in heavy ground. My only concern would be that all three of his wins have come on level tracks, certainly something he won't experience on his Cheltenham bow. Paddy Power go as big as 16/1 for this one, which is much bigger than other firms.

Day Of A Lifetime finished plum last in the bumper last year, pulling very hard early on, he never had a chance and Paddy Mullins gave him an easy time round the track. I'm not reading too much into that as he has since come out at Leopardstown and impressed over hurdles. Another Willie Mullins entry not to be dismissed, he will have to find something much better to figure in this and 20/1 odds with Ladbrokes and Stan James support that.

Rock on Ruby
© Grossick Racing Photography

Rock on Ruby
Rock on Ruby is entered for this and for the Neptune Novices on Wednesday where he is currently favourite. How much closer he would have got to Bobs Worth in the Neptune Investment Novice event here in January had Harry Skelton not dropped his whip is anyone's guess, but what the run did do is confirm that he has no problem stamina wise coming up the hill over 2m4f. That runner up spot was his first defeat over hurdles and bearing in mind he had Backspin, below par or not, 10 lengths behind is no mean feat. He has options having now proven himself over this trip, but he has also done nothing wrong over a 2m trip in preparation. Paul Nichols will have him spot on for the day, and with Bet365 going as low as 10/1 on him whilst and Paddy Power go double that at 20/1 he could be worth some ante-post EW money if you can get a money back offer.

Cue Card can be compared Dunguib in only what they did in the previous year's bumper. The result of this race could be quite a different outcome however, with Tizzards charge looking by far the best option for this race. It certainly doesn't look as strong a race as last years and with Cue Card's subsequent performances on the track only adding to confidence, it will be a removal of normal service for me by backing a favourite in the opening race of the week. It's unlikely, given what he did here at the end of January, but if Rock on Ruby is to turn up in this race, odds of 20/1 for an EW tickle are big. Non runner No Bet Ante Post markets are screaming out for Paul Nichols charge to be backed.

Recommendation: CUE CARD (Win) - ROCK ON RUBY (EW Non Runner No Bet)


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