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Grandouet to win Champion Hurdle, says Alex Hammond in her first Cheltenham blog

Alex Hammond Posted 6th March 2013 view comments

The meeting we've all been waiting for, the Cheltenham Festival, is now upon us after months of exciting build up.

Here is my race-by-race guide of Tuesday's racing. Let's hope for plenty of winners!

Supreme Novices Hurdle - 2m½f

There is one horse that AP McCoy will be hoping can get the meeting off to a great start. He rides the JP McManus owned My Tent Or Yours for Nicky Henderson in the curtain raiser. This horse was also given an entry for the Champion Hurdle after the sad demise of the owner's Darlan, but this is his race. He was a very easy winner of the Betfair Hurdle last time out, making light of his rating of 149. There will be plenty of long faces in the unsaddling enclosure if he doesn't win and I have to say I think he is my day one banker.

Trainer Nicky Henderson, pictured with Grandouet and Binocular

Trainer Nicky Henderson, pictured with Grandouet and Binocular

McManus also has Jezki mind you and this horse is well fancied by trainer Jessica Harrington. It's not misguided hope on her part either. He is four from four over hurdles, his last two coming in Grade 1 company and he is still improving. The better ground he will get here will suit too.

Davy Russell has some great rides for Gigginstown Stud this week and Un Atout is one of them. Willie Mullins trains and the horse is unbeaten in three. He was the very easy winner of a Novice Hurdle at Naas latest but he has only run on heavy so will appreciate any rain that falls before the meeting.

Grandouet made a very promising comeback in the International Hurdle where he was second to Zarkandar and I was impressed with how he ran there.

Alex Hammond
Quotes of the week

Dodging Bullets must be a strong each-way contender for Paul Nicholls and I feel he is somewhat the forgotten horse in this and he is certainly flying under the radar thanks to the top two in the market. This horse is two from three at Cheltenham and track form can be important. Nicholls has said that a breathing operation has helped him this season and he certainly seems a stronger horse this term. Melodic Rendezvous provided trainer Jeremy Scott with his first ever Grade 1 winner when he took the Tolworth on his penultimate start. He has won his last three, including beating below-par Puffin Billy at Exeter latest. River Maigue isn't a bad second string for Nicky Henderson. He is a point-to-point, bumper and novice hurdle winner.

SELECTION: My Tent or Yours (6/4), but I wouldn't put you off backing Dodging Bullets (7/1) each way.

Arkle Trophy - 2m

The big question on the first day is can anything beat Simonsig in the Arkle? Nicky Henderson can have a superb start to the meeting given his strong hand in the first and his flying grey is seven from eight in his career with his only defeat coming in a Sandown Novices' Hurdle to Fingal Bay. He is settling well over fences and has everything that you could wish for in a racehorse.

Having said that he isn't my kind of price and one horse I would love to own is Overturn. What a horse he has been for connections, he was high class on flat, he was very smart over hurdles too (second Champion last year), and he's three from three over fences. He is a clever, neat jumper and any errors from the favourite would see him capitalise. He could be taken on for the lead by the Willie Mullins trained Arvika Ligeonniere. However, his jumping worries me in this as he fell in the Irish Arkle on his last start having made a 'novicey' error.

SELECTION: At the prices I'm with Overturn (9/4).

JLT Chase - Handicap Chase 3m ½f

At the time of writing the final declarations have yet to be made but here are my thoughts on some of the entries in the three-mile handicap chase. Our Mick has 'previous' in this race, Donald McCain's horse was third in it last year when still a novice and he has had just the one start since, when unseating his jockey at this track in January. I don't think that will have done him any harm and he was in the process of running a good race at the time of his departure.

Katenko won that contest and he is very well regarded by Venetia Williams. Our Mick is only 1lb higher in the handicap this year he can make his presence felt once again at a track that suits him well.

Paul Webber's Cantlow has multiple entries at the meeting and wherever he runs he is of interest. This horse is owned by JP McManus and falls into the unexposed and improving category, always dangerous in a race like this. He has won his last two starts in novice chases and is two out of four over fences. He is a winner over this trip over hurdles so there are no stamina worries.

Opening Batsman represents up-and-coming trainer Harry Fry who did a great job for his owners (and those who backed the horse) to win the Racing Plus Chase last time out. He is 8lbs higher here. It would be very dangerous to dismiss Midnight Chase despite the fact he is now 11 years old. Neil Mulholland's horse loves it round Prestbury Park and is looking very well handicapped nowadays. He would be my each way selection at the prices (he is 20s at the time of writing).

SELECTION: Our Mick (11/2) is my pick to give Donald McCain a winner with Midnight Chase the each way shout

Champion Hurdle - 2m ½f

Now to the Champion Hurdle and what a race this looks like being!

I am definitely keen to take Hurricane Fly on. He is plenty short enough in the market. I know he won this in 2011 and was third in 2012 and also looks to be back to his best this term. But, the fact remains he has had things all his own way in Ireland and this is a very different test. Taking nothing away from him, he has won 18 races and 14 of them have come at G1 level, but I'll be opposing him here.

Zarkandar represents Paul Nicholls and although he didn't set world alight at Wincanton latest, if he gets better ground it will aid his cause. Rock On Ruby is the reigning champ and now runs for Harry Fry, who was assistant for Paul Nicholls when he won this race last year. He will have come on for latest win Doncaster where he was a fortunate winner due to the fatal fall of Darlan.

Now to the horse I think can win the race, Grandouet. Nicky Henderson has another chance of top-flight success with this horse, who missed his prep due to testing ground. He galloped at Kempton recently which will have knocked the rusty spots off him. He made a very promising comeback in the International Hurdle where he was second to Zarkandar and I was impressed with how he ran there.

Henderson also saddles Binocular, who was third to Hurricane Fly in Irish Champion last time out. That was first run since fourth in last year's Champion Hurdle. Cinders And Ashes is expected to improve for better ground so Donald McCain will be hoping the track doesn't get too much rain before the start of the festival. Countrywide Flame represents John Quinn. He won the Fighting Fifth on testing ground and was second to Rock on Ruby Doncaster. He goes well at Cheltenham and won the Triumph last year.

SELECTION: Grandouet (6/1)

Cross Country Chase - 3m 7f

One horse who will appreciate all the rain that may fall is Arabella Boy who is my strong fancy in this race. His trainer Enda Bolger is a master of training horses to win these types of races and Nina Carberry is class too. This horse has won two of his last three starts in cross country races, although he unseated rider on his penultimate start at Cheltenham when making some progress. He looks one of the best horses in this division and won well at Punchestown latest.

Of his rivals Outlaw Pete, who is trained by John Halley in Ireland, won the Cheltenham cross country race that Arabella Boy and Uncle Junior unseated in but has been beaten in two chases since. Balthazar King won this last year and is fancied to go well again for Philip Hobbs. Uncle Junior is trained by Willie Mullins, the 12-year-old has top weight in this. He is incredibly smart in these races but lacks consistency.

SELECTION: Arabella Boy (5/1)

Mares' Hurdle - 2m 4f

The Mares' Hurdle can go to the Willie Mullins-trained Quevega for the fifth time. She has won this race for the last four years and had the option of World Hurdle. She looks on course for a five timer but isn't any sort of price. The best bet may be Kentford Grey Lady each way. Emma Lavelle's runner was second in this race last year and is fancied to run well again. Nicky Henderson will be hoping last year's Fred Winter-winner Une Artiste can run a big race too. She comes here having won two listed mares' races and is playing for minor honours here.

SELECTION: Quevega (1/2)

Novices' Handicap Chase - 2m 4½f

Now onto Tuesday's getting out stakes and it doesn't look easy so I've highlighted a couple of each way selections for you.

Firstly, The Druids Nephew, who is an improving six-year-old for Andy Turnell. He got off the mark over fences at the third time of asking at Wincanton in January and it's expected he will improve for some spring ground. This will be his first run in a handicap over fences and he races off a mark of 135. I also like Oliver Sherwood's representative here, Rouge et Blanc. He has been likened to Hunt Ball by his trainer and it's certainly the case that he is improving. It would be a similar rags-to-riches tale if he were to win as he was retired by connections having suffered from breathing problems. He has been raised 16lbs for his latest exploits but he could improve beyond that.

SELECTION: Rouge et Blanc each way (20/1)

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