Cheltenham Festival 2018 Racing Tips: All the best big-priced selections for Day 1

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We're all set for the first day of the Cheltenham Festival where Tony Calvin is looking for some big-price winners
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The 2018 Cheltenham Festival is finally upon us with the famous roar set to be heard at 13:30 on Tuesday afternoon, and here with his big-price selections is our top tipster Tony Calvin...

"He looks well treated off just a 7lb higher mark here, Lizzie Kelly takes 3lb off too, and his excellent Festival-placed efforts in the Fred Winter and Martin Pipe confirm this place suits him well."

Back Coo Star Sivola 6/1, five places, each way with Betfair Sportsbook in 14:50 AND/OR [7.0] or bigger on exchange

I have copped some ridicule in recent years for going for outsiders in the Supreme - the race is traditionally dominated by those towards the top of the market, I grant you - but a bit of abuse has never deterred me for looking beyond the obvious.

I did get a bit "unlucky" last year when going for Pingshou, only for him to finish 10th and then win the Grade 1 at Aintree at 16/1 on his next start (without a penny of my money on him), though my Holly Bush Henry three-figure punt in Altior's eye-wateringly good renewal a year before is imminently more forgettable.

Paloma can shine in Festival curtain-raiser

Still, working on the basis of "whoever has never made three mistakes has never made anything", I make no apology for suggesting the most speculative of punts on Dame Rose in the opener at 13:30.

We will come to her in a moment but I will start on safer ground with my main bet in the race, Paloma Blue. However, he is one of my Tuesday selections for which I am hoping the ground - and it will be fresh ground, at least - rides far better than I am fearing.

He has long been the apple of Henry De Bromhead's eye and ran to a very smart level of bumper form in two starts, beating a decent sort on his debut and then finishing second to the Cheltenham winner Fayonagh in the Grade 1 at Punchestown.

He took a fair while to get the hang of things over hurdles, when beaten in his first two starts in maiden hurdles, but it all clicked for this strong traveller when he beat the smart subsequent winner and Grade 2 runner-up Impact Factor at Leopardstown on Boxing Day.

A feature of his races to date has been that he can be too keen in his races and that was again in evidence when he was beaten over 9 lengths into third behind Samcro in the Deloitte.

But go back and watch that race - he travelled like a dream for most of it - and Davy Russell looked after him once Samcro swept by, and I get the strong impression that a big field and a stronger pace will allow him to settle much better and take a big step forward.

He rates a bet at [16.0] or bigger, and he is the kind of horse who could easily go short in the run, too, if you wanted a trade. I just hope the ground doesn't blunt him.

I have been blunted a few times, I can tell you, so back to the ridicule and back to Dame Rose.

Now, this mare probably ideally needs better ground, as well but she has won in heavy and I just don't see her as being a three-figure chance here. So back her at [150.0] or bigger, and at [14.0] upwards in Betfair's FOUR-places market.

She proved a smart bumper horse last season, beating Maria's Benefit at Doncaster and winning a Grade 2 at Aintree, and she really looked a tool and a half when making all and blitzing Cap Soleil in a good time at Newbury in December.

She blew out in bad ground over 2m4f+ in the Challow next time but I thought she shaped well from off the pace at Doncaster last time, again in a race which impressed on the clock.

She is rated 140, so 14lb inferior to Kalashnikov and 10lb and more to others like Getabird, but she is the only mare in the line-up getting 7lb and maybe there is improvement to come from her now she sports a first-time tongue-tie.

She has far more talent than her price suggests. Well, that's my story and I am sticking to it.

Back Sivola to Star in Handicap Chase

We can despatch the Arkle at 14:10 on the basis that there are four realistic winners in the five-strong field and all are priced pretty much as you would expect.

I do detect a lot of confidence in the outsider of that quartet though, Brain Power, as he has apparently turned a corner after having a wind op. He is probably a fair 10/1+ shot but he does meet three potential top-notchers here.

It is staggering that not one Irish trainer is represented in the Ultima at 14:50 and quite frankly it looks a race which has surprisingly little depth for a Festival handicap.

So, while I am loathe to tip favourites, the claims of Coo Star Sivola do rather leap out at you, even at [7.4] on the exchange.

He is a fair win-only bet but perhaps the better way to get with him is Betfair Sportsbook's 6/1 each way, five places.

He was actually still 25/1 in a place immediately after winning at Exeter last time - the first occasion he attempted 3m - but those odds soon began to tumble and it is easy to see why.

He looks well treated off just a 7lb higher mark here, Lizzie Kelly takes 3lb off too, and his excellent Festival-placed efforts in the Fred Winter and Martin Pipe confirm this place suits him well.

He jumps really well in the main, and Exeter's win in soft ground suggests conditions here won't be a problem. He really does have a first-class profile and chance in a race in which it is hard to fancy too many.

Brave run expected from Wicklow in Champion Hurdle

I have been banging on about Wicklow Brave for the Champion Hurdle for a while now - I put him up at 20/1 each way and 12/1 each way without Buveur D'Air in an ante-post column - and I am not deserting him now, for all this moody sort could easily throw away his chance with a tardy (or worse) start.

I'll quickly summarise why I think he is still an each-way bet at the current prices, but I won't put him up again as a fresh recommendation.

He is the third highest-rated horse in the race, and has won a County Hurdle here on soft going. He lost a lot of ground at the start in this contest last season but still traded at 3/1 in the run when rounding the home turn there, before his run petered away tamely.

However, I am told he injured a suspensory that day, hence the weak finish, and he showed what a talented hurdler he is when beating My Tent Or Yours in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle afterwards.

He wore first-time blinkers there and they are back on here after being left off for his last six Flat starts. His absence since the Melbourne Cup doesn't worry me, and nor does the ground especially.

I definitely think he would prefer better ground, make no mistake, but the fact of the matter is that he is four from four on heavy ground. He is the bet in the race, at the prices, if you haven't already played, for all he is a rogue.

Jade to repeat Mares win and Mossback for the four-miler

Apple's Jade isn't a favourite I am keen to take on, even at around 4/6, in the Mares Hurdle. Mind you, she is only rated 158, just 4lb superior to La Bague Au Roi, so maybe we shouldn't get too carried away.

There are obvious each-way angles against last year's winner, possibly chief among them Jers Girl, but we can afford to miss the odd race out at Cheltenham.

Take a breather when this race is being run, though I am recommending over an hour off as I can't find an angle into the four-miler either at 16:50.

I think 5/1 the field accurately sums this race up. If I were going to throw a score at the race it may be Mossback, representing the owner, trainer and jockey combination successful with Tiger Roll in this race last year, as his odds of around 7/1 are fair.

I like the fact that he had the "pace" to beat Snow Falcon over 2m3f earlier in the season and has shaped as though this trip could suit over 3m since, but I am sure there will be more attractive betting races throughout the week.

Don't run your race too early, ladies and gents.

Two to back against the Irish buzz horses

The Irish may not be represented in the Ultima, but they have been lining up the Close Brothers handicap at 17:30 for a while it seems, as De Plotting Shed and Any Second Now have been the buzz horses for this race in the past fortnight. And expect them to be bang on the premises now they are stepped up to a more realistic trip.

However, the one that interests me most is Mister Whitaker at [13.0] or bigger.

He has just crept in as the last horse in the weights and connections would have been delighted as his course and distance defeat of Theatre Territory, a good third next time out in that valuable Kempton 3m handicap, reads really well to my eyes.

They pulled 15 lengths clear of National Hunt Chase hope Sizing Tennessee there, so an 8lb rise could be lenient, and, anyway, he looks a real progressive type.

He is on a real upward trajectory over fences and there could be plenty to more to come from this lightly-raced chaser, having just his 10th career start. His jockey reports that he was idling in front here last time, so expect Brian Hughes to play him late.

I am also quite keen on Testify and Report To Base in the race though.

Report To Base is still raw and far from the finished article but I liked what he did at Hereford last time - though, let's face it, as a 4/11 shot he should have won easily - and he is fairly treated on his earlier Exeter second to West Approach. He also ran really well on his only start here, when second to Coo Star Sivola in a Neptune trial in 2017.

However, his stable form puts me off, even at 25/1+, and Testify looks far more solid at [14.0].

He has taken to fences really well and his defeat of subsequent winner Lake View Lad at Haydock last time was a very solid effort.

He is yet to do it in a big field - indeed, he has only faced a pitiful seven opponents in three runs this season - but his assured jumping (you know what happens now) will stand him in good stead and testing ground will hold no fears for him.

He may lack the "plot" potential of some of these, but it isn't hard to see him going well off top weight.

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