Betfair Ambassador Gordon Elliott gives us his exclusive thoughts on his 11 runners on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival, and looks forward what could be 'one of the races of the season'...
"This looks like a hell of a race but I wouldn't swap my mare for anything and I've no concerns about the fact that she's been beaten twice at Cheltenham. It should be remembered that she did produce a terrific effort to win the Mares Hurdle here two years ago."
Gordon Elliott on Apple's Jade
At long last the Cheltenham Festival is about to kick off and hopefully it will be an exciting four days. Over the last couple of years it has been an incredibly lucky meeting for us and hopefully that luck will continue but you take absolutely nothing for granted at a meeting like this and to get one winner on the board here is just amazing.
Over the last week the final preparations for our horses have gone well and they've arrived over in good shape so I'd hope that we have some strong contenders to look forward to each day.
The meeting gets off to a busy start on Tuesday as we've got 11 runners headed by Apple's Jade - who I rate as my best chance of a winner - in the Champion Hurdle. I couldn't be any happier with how her preparations have gone and I think if Apple's Jade, Laurina and Buveur D'air turn up at their best this will be one of the races of the season.
Front runner should give good account
13:30 - Felix Desjy
It was always the hope that Felix Desjy would end up back here after his decent run in the bumper last year. He is a free going type who likes to get on with things and I think we made a mistake trying to restrain him in a couple of runs earlier this season. Since he's gone back to making the pace he has looked much happier and I was delighted with his Grade 2 win at Punchestown a couple of months ago.
As he can be hard on himself we wanted to come straight here with him and he's in fine shape. It's a big ask to try and make all in a race like this but I think he will love this test and he should give a good account of himself.
Rain set to suit novice of considerable potential
13:30 - Vision D'honneur
Vision D'honneur is a horse that shows quite a lot at home and we saw a glimpse of that when he won his maiden at Punchestown. He wasn't as good at Grade 1 level next time but I'm happy to draw a line through that run as I don't think he enjoyed the very quick ground at Leopardstown that day. For me this horse remains a novice of considerable potential and I think that he could run a big race here. Any rain that falls will work in his favour and he is a horse we should here a lot more of in the future.
Good round of jumping the key to holding a solid chance
14:10 - Hardline
He won his Grade 1 over just short of two and a half miles and he was placed at Grade 1 level over two miles five furlongs next time but I think he will handle this shorter trip. He was very good over two miles at Navan in December when he easily beat Us And Them and that looks like strong form and his proven stamina should be an asset in a race like this.
Last time out at Leopardstown his jumping was careful early on which meant that he got behind but I'm not sure he was enjoying the quick ground that day and I was delighted with how he finished out his race. He's been in very good form since then and I think if things fall into place for him here and he produces a solid round of jumping he will be right there at the finish of what looks a very open race.
Course lover can show up well again
14:50 - Noble Endeavor
Noble Endeavor was a very good third in this race two years ago off a 4lbs higher mark and he has run a big race each time we have brought him to Cheltenham. He hasn't been that well suited by the dry winter as we've only been able to get one run into him and that came in the Becher Chase in December where I thought he ran well for a horse who had been off for a long time.
Ideally I'd have preferred to have gotten another run or two into him before this but he is in good heart, we know he likes the track and the easing in the ground will help him too. I wouldn't be surprised to see him show up well.
Good prize beckons for well-weighted Principle
14:50 - General Principle
General Principle is a very smart horse on his day as he showed when winning last season's Irish National. This season he has been working his way into form and I was very pleased with his third in a good handicap at Punchestown last time. Any ground seems fine for him and he's effective from three miles up to at least three and a half so he should be well suited to this test. I would also say that I think he is weighted to win another good prize over fences.
Wouldn't swap my mare for anything
15:30 Champion Hurdle - Apple's Jade
She is our big hope for a championship race victory this week and her preparations have gone well. She is working nicely and showing all the right signs at home and she has obviously had a great season already having won three Grade 1s.
Last year we made a mistake not running her between Christmas and Cheltenham so I think the run at Leopardstown early last month will stand to her. She was also very impressive that day and her victory over Supasundae showed that we had to go down the two mile route and give her a shot at the Champion Hurdle.
This looks like a hell of a race but I wouldn't swap my mare for anything and I've no concerns about the fact that she's been beaten twice at Cheltenham. It should be remembered that she did produce a terrific effort to win the Mares Hurdle here two years ago.
She's also shown that she is tactically versatile as when she won the Hatton's Grace Hurdle in December she was more than happy to get a lead for much of the race. Hopefully the race lives up its billing and hopefully we come out the right side at the finish!
Tough task but recent signs are positive
16:10 Lackaneen Leader
This season hasn't quite gone to plan for this mare. She progressed very well as a novice hurdler last season and did finish second to Laurina in a Grade 1 at Fairyhouse but she hasn't reached those heights this season. She didn't seem to take to fences although I'm not sure if she was herself on either of those runs.
Last time out she was well held by Laurina but I thought she showed more that day than she had on her previous few runs. She's still got to find plenty of improvement to play a part here and she will need a career best to feature but I'm happy with the signs she's been showing since she returned to hurdles.
Good run expected but worried about easing ground
16:50 - Cubomania
Cubomania has had a great first season over fences and he has shown some quality form in handicaps such as when placed over two miles at Leopardstown in December and Fairyhouse the following month. I think the longer trip of this race will suit him very well and this race has been his target for the last few months. He probably wouldn't want the ground to ease too much as he does enjoy a sound surface but I'm still expecting a good run from him and he looks overpriced. I know he has joint top weight to carry but that isn't a concern in a compressed handicap like this one.
Nice jumping rhythm pivotal to his chances
16:50 - Ben Dundee
Ben Dundee's jumping has caused him a few problems this season but he's been schooling well and going nicely at home lately. Also he does tend to go well fresh so a two month break between his last run and this race will suit him. It is also worth remembering that he looked a very smart recruit to fences on his first two runs this season and he could be very dangerous if he gets back to that form. I just hope he gets into a nice jumping rhythm early on as that will be important for his chance.
Chances at best but he's unpredictable
16:50 - Roaring Bull
Roaring Bull isn't the most reliable but he has plenty of ability. As a hurdler he was useful and he has reached a similar level over fences without looking totally convincing. However, he did win a Naas handicap chase in great style last month when Jack (Kennedy) gave him a masterful ride and if he turns up in that sort of form he could run well but he just isn't the easiest to predict.
Place claims for sound jumper
17:30 - Gun Digger
He runs in the National Hunt Chase and I'm hoping he could show up well. He was shaping up very well earlier in the season when he followed a second to the subsequent graded winner Chris's Dream with a beginner's chase win at Leopardstown. He was disappointing at Punchestown last time out but I think he found the two and a half mile trip in graded company too sharp around there and he had been busy enough heading into the race so I'd say he was a bit flat.
I have to admit to being disappointed by that last run but in hindsight he did have a couple of valid excuses and if he bounces back to form here he will run well as he is a good jumper who should relish every yard of this trip. He's got an each-way chance.