Our three-man Racing Bets of the Day team combine to create one column during the Festival featuring their best back bet and each-way play. Here's where their money's going on the opening day...
"Those are two races you normally identify a stayer with anyway, but he does possess a bit of pace for a horse over this distance."
He's a star
14:50 Cheltenham - Back Coo Star Sivola each way
Last year's winner of the Ultima is back to defend his crown, and I've identified Coo Star Sivola as one of my handicap bets for the meeting.
He got the perfect ride in the race last year from Lizzie Kelly, and her 3lb claim brings him back down to 142 - the same mark he was successful in 12 months ago.
For a stayer, he can travel quite strongly and expect him to sit on the pace. He has a fine record at the Cheltenham Festival with placed efforts in the Martin Pipe and Fred Winter. Those are two races you normally identify a stayer with anyway, but he does possess a bit of pace for a horse over this distance.
He seems to come good at this time of year, and any soft or heavy conditions will play to his strengths.
Ok Corral can show stamina in the rainy conditions
17:30 Cheltenham - Back Ok Corral Best Bet
Perhaps the horse I have been most looking forward to seeing is Ok Corral, and I am keeping the faith with him over the new 4m distance.
The 9yo has always been a bit fragile in his career and has hardly any miles on the clock for his age, and chasing was always going to be his thing anyway. There was a sense of biding his time over hurdles, but he was still classy in that sphere as displayed by his second in the Albert Bartlett last term. His trainer Nicky Henderson once said he was "messing about over hurdles".
He wasn't stopping in the three-miler by the way.
That race was a real slog in the mud, so he showed the stamina there. He also displayed a bit more speed when winning last time at Warwick at Listed level. He bolted up there by six lengths on good ground to show his versatility, but he could be even better given rain and soft conditions.
Last year's 4m runner-up Ms Parfois also won that Warwick race, so I am looking for OK Corral to deliver as my best bet.
Hardline stamina will prove to much for his rivals
14:10 Cheltenham - Back Hardline (Best Bet)
With so many horses that made the running in their previous race and horses like Kalashnikov hurrying them up in behind I've a strong belief that this will be set up for a closer. As the ground looks set to be soft it means backing a closer with real stamina and the one which really catches my eye is Hardline trained by Gordon Elliott.
He's won over two miles three and half furlongs and has a great record on soft/heavy (5 wins, 3 places from 12 runs on those combined surfaces) which suggests to me that when the pace collapses like I think it will Hardline will be finishing strongly.
As regards class he has a Grade 1 novice to his name, which some may argue over whether or not he was going to collar Getabird before that rival succumbed to a huge mistake, whilst he was third to La Bague Au Roi in the Grade 1 at the Irish Racing Festival at Leopardstown back in February on his next and most recent start. The way he finished there suggested that the trip stretched him and indicated that a breakneck two miles around Cheltenham on soft ground at Grade 1 level would be his ideal race profile.
Throw in the fact that Davy Russell, a master around here as well as the best jockey to pull off these tactics, takes the ride and we have the ideal combination for a strong bet hence the Best Bet status.
Philip Hobbs charge will enjoy conditions today
16.50 Cheltenham - Back Springtown (Each Way)
The Hobbs stable has really turned a corner of late and his Springtown Lake has gone under the radar a little bit after his Kempton run that had me really excited for today's race. He carried 11 stone 10lbs in a Class 2 handicap chase at Kempton that was chock full with proven chasers at that level. The fact that this horse was pitched into that company after just three chase runs tells me how much the stable think of him.
He ended up eventually finishing fourth beaten around 12L but that doesn't tell the whole story as he tried to make all and jumped left all the way around and this added to the three mile trip eventually took its toll. Going back left handed will see him in a much better light as will the drop in trip. He has a win on heavy ground to his name so the ground won't be an issue whilst I think we'll see a Village Vic-esque ride from Richard Johnson as I'm not sure there'll be too much strong opposition for the lead.
Currently rated 141 I think he has at least 10lb in hand of the handicapper now he has his ideal conditions and if so he must go very close.
Al to deliver
13:30 Cheltenham - Al Dancer ( Best Bet)
Al Dancer should go close in this fascinating contest.
This talented performer is unbeaten in four starts this term. On his latest start in the Betfair hurdle at Ascot he was most impressive when beating Magic Dancer. Despite refusing to settle, he found plenty off the bridle, and won with plenty to spare. He is a course winner, and is still improving. I think he is sitting on a big effort and is fairly priced at [6.2] on the exchange.
Angels Breath has been heavily backed and is currently trading at [6.4] on the exchange. He was a little disappointing when finishing second to Southfield Stone in a Grade 2 at Ascot last month. He has only run twice over hurdles, and clearly has more to offer.
Sharjah to upset
I think Sharjah could run well at a big price in this mouthwatering contest.
This gelding has developed in to a pretty smart performer this season. Last time out at Leopardstown he beat Supasundae in the Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle. He swept to the front just before the final flight, and pulled well clear to win easily. I believe he is a legitimate contender and looks super Each-Way Edge value (5 places) at 7/1.
Buveur D'Air is a big danger. He is bidding to win this race for the third year running, and will be a tough nut to crack around here. At present he is trading at [3.75] on the exchange.
Alan Dudman's bets:
Back Coo Star Sivola E/W @ [11.0] in the 14:50 Ultima Handicap Chase
Back Ok Corral @ [5.3] in the 17:30 National Hunt Chase (best bet)
Alan Thompson's bets:
Back Hardline @ 5/1 in the Arkle Challenge Trophy (Best Bet)
Back Springtown Lake E/W @ 12/1 in the Close Brothers Handicap
Nick Shiambouros's bets:
Back Al Dancer at [6.2] in the 13:30 at Cheltenham (Best Bet)
Back Sharjah E/W Edge 5 places at 7/1 in the 15:30 at Cheltenham