Racing

Winners hard to find on good first day for the bookies at Cheltenham

Punters were left searching for winners on a tricky first day of the Cheltenham Festival Picture: PA

Any day which starts with a win from a total dodgepot who has refused to race on three of his last four outings is going to be a hard one for punters.

Winners were hard to find all day, Apples Jade the only redemption, and most of the horses I backed ran as if they had lead in their legs rather than their saddles.

Still, onwards and upwards.

Today is the best day's racing of the year and the headline act, Douvan, will not disappoint.

Rated the best horse he has trained, Douvan, has been causing Willie Mullins sleepless nights as well as costing his owner Rich Ricci (seriously) a fortune in cotton wool, but he will start as one of the shortest-priced Festival favourites in years.

The only dangers to him are the track and fences as he could give the equine opposition a fence start and still beat them, such is his superiority.

Watch and marvel but if you feel compelled to have a bet then look no further than God's Own without the imperious Douvan.

The card starts with the Neptune which is usually the best novice hurdle of the year and usually won by an Irish-trained horse.

Not this year however, as Neon Wolf, trained in England by Harry Fry, looks to be an absolute certainty.

His run last time when he beat the very smart Elgin at Haydock is the best novice form of the season. I do not usually tip up shorties like him but I think he is exceptional.

The RSA also seems destined to be won by a home-trained horse.

Nicky Henderson has the favourite here in Might Bite and also runs Whisper and it is the latter that I fancy. He has a great Cheltenham record, winning four times, including a Festival success in the 2014 Coral Cup.

He will be ridden by Davy Russell, who apart from Ruby Walsh has ridden a winner at more consecutive Festivals than any other jockey riding this week.

Davy has been quite disparaging about Might Bite in the many previews he was at in the past few weeks, and he took a horrible fall at Kempton at Christmas and may not relish the hill.

The best handicap hurdle of the season, the Coral Cup, will probably be won again by Gordon Elliott who has claimed it twice before. The question is which of his two entries – Tombstone or Automated – will prevail.

A case can be made for both and my fancy is for the outsider of his entries, Automated, due to be ridden by Jack Kennedy who won on the aforementioned Labaik yesterday.

Tombstone appears well handicapped and Gordon was thinking of supplementing him for the Champion Hurdle but probably didn't fancy asking owner Michael O'Leary for the £20,000 needed to do it. He could well have afforded it after his two winners yesterday mind you.

One of my main fancies of the week, Divin Bere, runs in the Fred Winter handicap at 4.50. Don't worry about him carrying top weight as there is no strength in depth in the race.

Tony Martin's Long Call is probably the main danger and he will be played late. This horse may have been named with Cheltenham in mind as there will be many long calls made this week, but most of those will involve sending over more money.

The Cross Country is usually a benefit for Enda Bolger and he has the favourite again today with Cantlow, but the main feature of this has been the massive punt on Gordon Elliott's Cause of Causes who has won at the last two Festivals but has not yet run over this unique course.

He has obviously been well schooled and this yard rarely leave their money in the bookies' bags, so take the hint and include him in your multiples and placepots.

There is a 1980s American soap opera theme to the bumper which closes the card.

The favourite, Carter McKay, is named after a character in Dallas who managed to get one over JR Ewing.

The horse he beat at Naas last time out, West Coast Time, is owned by Coolmore partner Michael Tabor who had a big interest in National Hunt racing before joining Coolmore. He owned the dam of West Coast Time, Refinement, who was second in this race in 2004 and in turn Refinement's dam, Maneree, who was third in the first bumper ran here. A bit of a Dynasty.

Talking about dynasties, there was good word around last week for Debuchet who is due to be ridden by Danny Mullins for his trainer mother, Mags.

I will have a few quid each-way on both West Coast Time and Debuchet.

Thought for the day. Gordon Elliott is here to stay at the top of the training tree. Three winners on day one and his nap of the meeting, Death Duty, is not due to run until Friday. What price will he start?

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