Jury to gain Festival verdict

Steve Hughes previews day one of the Cheltenham Festival

The Festival is back and on ground that will be the heaviest this century. As usual this year there are quite a few short priced favourites, but one thing is for sure, they won’t all win. I have selections for the first two and last two races on the card. We had a winning nap to lead us into the big meeting through Regal Flow (4/1).

Cheltenham 1.30: Kalashnikov & Slate House

I am happy to take on the favourite in the opener with Getabird never having run left handed under rules and described as fragile by the Mullins yard. Also given all the bookies special offers surrounding the opening contest it is worth taking a chance.

That said the most likely alternative is the second favourite Kalashnikov. He did this column a favour when landing the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on rain softened ground, thus confirming his ability to handle a big field and testing conditions. He would ideally prefer better going, but his class and determination was there to see that day. Previous smooth wins in novice company suggest the talent is there.

At a much bigger price Slate House is worth another chance to follow up two early season wins over course and distance. A pricey buy last spring, Colin Tizzard’s gelding looked set to justify the price tag when winning a Grade 2 at the November meeting, handling the soft ground well. He might also be better suited by a strongly run 2m, something he did not get when disappointing at Ascot. He then cruised through his last race at this track over 2m4f, only to stop quickly in the straight. The Tizzard horses were off colour at the time, but the return to the minimum trip will help.

Cheltenham 2.30: Footpad

I have rarely seen a novice jump as impressively as Footpad and as his temperament looks very sound he is a confident pick for this small field Arkle.

He seemed to put the flighty Petit Mouchoir in his place at Leopardstown last month having already romped to wide margin wins at the same track and at Navan. His past form suggest today’s going will be no issues and he was a fine fourth in the Champion Hurdle last season, so this track should not be a problem either.

Both Saint Calvados and Petit Mouchoir are keen goers that are likely to get on with it, so Ruby Walsh can afford just to track them through and let Footpad’s ability bring him through later on.

Cheltenham 4.50: Jury Duty

Trainer Gordon Elliott has a really strong hand later on day one and Jury Duty can finally land a big prize in the four miler.

The 7yo was strongly fancied to land the Pertemps last season, but had to settle for third behind Presenting Percy. However stamina is his strong suit, he was running well over 3m two seasons ago.

His novice chase season has been characterised by some very solid jumping and he landed a grade 2 prize in the autumn at Punchestown. I can see him jumping and travelling away in behind the leaders and he has no better man on board than Jamie Codd to time his effort to perfection. He was probably left in front too soon by the late fall of Mossback last time out, but expect to see Codd leaving it late today.

Cheltenham 5.30: De Plotting Shed & Mister Whitaker

Elliott has big claims in the last too with De Plotting Shed and getting his mark down low enough to get into this race has been a feat in itself.

Rated 150 over hurdles after some fine efforts in top company (he was fourth to Unowhatimeanharry at the Punchestown Festival last spring), he has somehow come down to 143 despite a string of fine efforts over the bigger obstacles. Whilst it is true he hasn’t won, what he has done is jump and travel well, both of which are big attributes in a race like this. Since finishing second to Presenting Percy in the autumn over 2m6f, he has been kept to shorter distances, but this stiff 2m4f should be ideal.

Mister Whitaker has to be included as well after winning on Trials day here in similar conditions. He too jumps and travels well and whilst on breeding he ought to prefer drier going, he coped well enough in January. He was value for more than the winning margin having idled on the run-in and does excel on stiffer tracks, his other win coming at Carlisle.

Recommended bets:

1pt win – Kalashnikov – 1.30 Cheltenham – 11/2 William Hill (double you winnings up to £100)

0.5pts each-way – Slate House – 1.30 Cheltenham – 25/1 Paddy Power (money back if fav wins)

2pts win – Footpad – 2.10 Cheltenham – Evens general

1pt each-way – Jury Duty – 4.50 Cheltenham – 6/1 general

1pt win – De Plotting Shed – 5.30 Cheltenham – 7/1 Paddy Power, Boylesports

0.75pts each-way – Mister Whitaker – 5.30 Cheltenham – 8/1 general

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