A win and a 16/1 e/w selection for Kevin on Wednesday
Gaelic Warrior has the best form in Ballymore
British-trained handicapper have edge in Grand Annual
Warrior has the fight to be Mullins' number one
We're off and running. The first blows have been struck, our blood is up. Let's get stuck into day two of the Cheltenham Festival.
The Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (13:30) has the looks of another red-hot Grade 1 novice hurdle at this meeting.
Impaire Et Passe has been the horse more so than any other that has had his reputation inflated on the Cheltenham preview circuit and his price has shortened as a result. Mind, while I think Willie Mullins will win the race, I think he'll do so with Gaelic Warrior rather than Impaire Et Passe.
Gaelic Warrior will go down as one of the worst bad beats of the Cheltenham Festival of recent years thanks to his defeat in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at last year's meeting.
Widely perceived to be very well handicapped off a mark of 129 and sent off at 13/8 on what was his first start for Mullins, he harmed his chance by jumping right throughout and doing so to an even greater degree in the closing stages. Despite that, he still looked the likeliest winner for much of the race until getting nailed on the line by Brazil.
Those that took the view he was very well handicapped have been thoroughly vindicated this season.
He bolted up in two minor events around right-handed tracks, but his most notable performance came back at a left-handed track in a highly-competitive handicap hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.
Traditionally one of the most competitive handicap hurdles in the Irish racing calendar, Gaelic Warrior turned it into a procession off a mark of 143. Significantly, his jumping was quite straight in the main, particularly when he had a horse on his outside. It was only when he had quickened to the lead approaching the final flight that he jumped right to a notable extent.
For me, that effort makes him the form pick in this race. It is very unusual for Willie Mullins to be responsible for a horse with the best form in the race and for it not to be the favourite, but that is the case here.
The longer trip is a change of variable, but it isn't one that unduly concerns me. I expect him to be tucked in behind the leaders, ideally keeping a horse on his outside for as long as possible, and be unleashed in the straight.
For all the chat about Impaire Et Passe, he'll need to step up a long way to beat an on-song Gaelic Warrior.
Global can make a bold bid to defend his crown
The Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase (16:50) offers an opportunity to exploit an angle that I'm keen to lean into this week.
Since the weights for the handicaps at last year's Cheltenham Festival came out, I have taken a view that British-trained runners are strongly favoured over Irish-trained runners in British handicap chases.
It is a combination of a policy change that has seen the home team being dropped much faster in the ratings and the Irish horses being treated more harshly than in previous years that has led to this situation.
While four races is a very small sample of which to judge a situation, the view very much played out as anticipated last season, with just two Irish-trained runners finishing in the first five in the four handicap chases at the Cheltenham Festival.
I am expecting more of the same this year and while my ante-post fancy Rouge Vif was balloted out, I'm more than happy to side with another British-trained performer in his place in the shape of Global Citizen.
The 11-year-old illustrated this British-trained handicap chaser angle in living colour last year, exploiting some extremely generous handicapping to win this race in authoritative style from Andy Dufresne who had been backed as if defeat was out of the question.
Global Citizen has had a largely similar preparation to what he had last year and has again benefited from some eye-catchingly generous handicapping which has left him just 3lb higher than when winning this race last year.
While he is a year older, one significant difference is that his trainer Ben Pauling has been absolutely blasting in the winners this season from his new yard whereas this time last year he was just tipping along at a below-average win rate.
One can be all-but sure that Global Citizen's campaign has revolved around this race and with him having the go-forward style that so suits it, he is likely to make a bold bid to defend his crown.
Racing... Only Bettor. Day 2 at Cheltenham. Watch below.