Send your daughters – and your money


It’s a great place to send your daughter for a match, but the Cheltenham Festival can also bear some cash rewards if you stick to Stephen Devine’s tips

It’s that time of year again – when everyone becomes an expert on horses, and sales of the Racing Post go through the roof. The Cheltenham Festival has captured the hearts of Irish racing fans for decades, and its success in recent times has simply increased the popularity.

This year the quality is as good as ever, with world-class racing every day, and high Irish hopes in many of the major races. The horse seen by most to be a banker for the festival is Dunguib. The Philip Fenton-trained novice will most likely start as the shortest-priced favourite in the history of the Supreme Novice Hurdle, and jockey Brian O’Connell’s only worries after the horse’s win in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown will have been the seven-year-old’s jumping, which was far from perfect. A repeat of his display will make it much harder for Fenton’s charge in the highlight of day one. The best value going on the Irish raider is 20/21 on Betfair.

The mention of Cheltenham in recent years has almost always been accompanied with talk of Kauto Star. Last year saw the Paul Nicholls-trained ten-year-old become the first horse in Cheltenham history to regain the Gold Cup with his victory in the race. He will once again renew his rivalry with his stablemate Denman, this year partnered by Champion jockey Tony McCoy.

Denman’s preparations for the festival haven’t gone exactly to plan, however, as McCoy found himself unseated in the Aon Chase at Newbury at the start of February. Race-goers will hope that the sheer experience of a jockey like McCoy will boost the horse’s chances of claiming a second victory in the prestigious race.

Nicholls has been bullish about Kauto Star’s chances for a historic third Gold Cup, telling the press last week that Kauto “is going to Cheltenham in the form of his life. As far as his chance are concerned, there doesn’t appear to be any chinks in his armour – he looks bombproof.” The bookies seem to agree, making him an almost unbackable 8/11 favourite to claim back-to-back victories in the race.

Nicholls also trains the odds-on favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase in the form of Masterminded. The winner of the race in the last two years had seemed off the pace earlier this season, and was diagnosed as suffering from a rib injury during his final preparation for the festival. Masterminded, however, ended impressively in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury, and the current 8/11 favourite may start even shorter on the day.

Punters looking for value at the festival could do worse than the Jessica Harrington-trained Summit Meeting, who has been cut from 33/1 to 20/1 after being tipped by racing guru Tom Segal to give the Dermot Weld-trained Rite of Passage a run for its money in the Neptune Investments Novice Hurdle on St Patrick’s Day. The well-bred five-year-old has already turned over hot favourite Arvika Legionnaire at Fairyhouse in February and all eyes will be on how well he can hold up with a top-class field.

This year’s line-up looks as good as ever, and with a good chance of Irish horses claiming eight or more victories, it would be wise not to bet against Ruby Walsh being crowned the leading jockey come Friday evening.

Best Bets:
3 points win, Dunguib at 20/21 (Betfair)
1 point each-way, Summit Meeting at 20/1 (Paddy Power)