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Tent pitch

Ed previews the first two days of the Cheltenham Festival

Ed Chamberlin - Ed Chamberlin Posted 7th March 2013 view comments

What a sensational start to the meeting: one of the best Supreme Novices' Hurdle renewals I can remember and a potential superstar set to get the Festival off to a flying start...

Day One

AP McCoy described My Tent Or Yours as a 'machine' in this column at the start of the season, yet has been surprised by how good he has turned out to be; in my interview with the champion jockey for sportinglife.com last week, his enthusiasm and confidence in the horse was infectious.

Yours truly: AP McCoy is confident about his horse's Cheltenham chances, says Ed

Yours truly: AP McCoy is confident about his horse's Cheltenham chances, says Ed

My only concern is how My Tent Or Yours will handle the occasion as he's quite highly strung so if you're going to back him, wait until the horses are at the start, and if he is settled and AP has kept a lid on his enthusiasm, then I think he will win.

How often does a horse capable of winning a Champion Hurdle that year run in the Supreme? I also think it will get the meeting off to a brilliant opening with a star of the future winning for JP McManus.

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I backed Un Atout at Christmas time at a similar price to what he is now! Long term he will be very good as well and is my idea of next season's Arkle winner, but doubt whether he's physically ready or experienced enough to beat My Tent Or Yours.

The Champion Hurdle revolves around one horse - Hurricane Fly. You're either in the camp that is prepared to forget last year and thinks an on-form Fly is in a different league to the rest. Or you are a doubter who thought he was found out last year and this season has just been beating up the same horses in soft ground and small fields in Ireland.

I'm unsure who is right and certainly wouldn't want to guess at around 6/4. The key difference could be that last year he arrived after one race and his trainer wasn't happy with him, while this season his preparation seems to have gone like clockwork.

Check out the latest Festival odds at Sky Bet

For weeks I've been saying the contenders all look much of a muchness and could beat each other on different days. Defending champion Rock On Ruby and Zarkandar are rock solid and sure to run well but the two I thought had an x-factor were Darlan and Grandouet.

Darlan was the apple of AP McCoy's eye and it's tragic that he never got to realise his potential, while there's now guesswork involved with Grandouet who apparently disappointed his trainer in a gallop on Tuesday.

Barry Geraghty said he worked okay but needed it. That worries me a week before the race. Grandouet's slick jumping, high cruising speed and turn of foot look tailor-made for the old course. I just can't back him after just one race in 15 months. All in all, the Champion Hurdle has got my head in a spin.

Two races on the first day I'm happy to sit back and enjoy. Simonsig against Overturn in the Arkle is a brilliant clash. Overturn is the hare but Simonsig is all class and likely to reel him in in the straight. I hope Quevega wins the Mares' race yet again.

The handicaps at the Festival are always a minefield but this year look even more impossible than normal. All the winter form has been on bottomless ground and now the form book will almost be meaningless as they look set to encounter a sounder surface. All the handicap races are over-subscribed, ferociously competitive and full of well handicapped horses.

However, I do fancy two in the last race on Tuesday. Malcolm Jefferson was the man of the moment last year and scooped two big Festival prizes with Cape Tribulation and Attaglance. Both are set to return, over fences this time, and it's the latter that catches my eye in the Rewards4Racing Novices Handicap Chase.

Attaglance won the Martin Pipe off 139 last year and then followed up at Aintree off 144. Assuming he gets in to the race on Day One, Attaglance will race off a mark of just 133. The drop in the ratings is because he's not pulled up any trees over fences yet but has been campaigned shrewdly in the north by the wily Jefferson in small fields on heavy ground.

Attaglance should be a different proposition back in the hurly-burly of a big field and back on the quicker ground he loves, plus we know he likes this track. He'll need to jump better but is worth chancing at 10/1 with Sky Bet.

Also keep an eye out for Kingsmere (33/1), who ran well for a long way in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at a time when his trainer was badly out of form. Henry Daly's horses are running well now and they think quite a bit of Kingsmere.

Day One selections:My Tent Or Yours, Attaglance, Kingsmere (e/w)

Day Two

Day Two is going to be fantastic. Jonjo O'Neill also has an interesting one in the four-miler that kicks off the day. I loved the way Merry King jumped and galloped at Haydock last time when he was touched off by course specialist Cannington Brook.

Merry King smacked of a future Grand National horse that day but this contest will suit him well at this stage of his career and his trainer is a master in the National Hunt Chase, having won it five times.

I've snapped up some of Sky Bet's 10/1 on Merry King as I expect him to start a lot shorter. My other long term ante-post bet, The New One, runs in the Neptune, which is shaping up like another high class contest. I have two major worries, though.

First, the bug that hit Nigel Twiston-Davies' yard last week and ruled out three of his horses from the Festival, is an obvious worry particularly for a yard that can be so hit and miss. Second, I have never heard Jonjo O'Neill so bullish about a horse's chance than he has been about Taquin de Seuil, while Ruby Walsh lights up every time he's asked about Pont Alexandre.

The latter could easily be different class but I loved the way The New One galloped at Warwick then showed a devastating burst of speed in the mud at Cheltenham. If Chatterbox runs here, he could also run well at a big price. He shows nothing at home but looks like a real professional on the track. Another Bobs Worth for connections?

The good thing of the meeting runs in the RSA (assuming David Pipe doesn't go for the Jewson!). I hope plenty of punters will oppose Dynaste off the back of Grands Crus' flop last year and all the stats that are against him. That will make him a price and Dynaste looks bomb proof.

His form is head and shoulders above the rest. Over the next few days you are going to hear a lot about how all 18 Feltham Chase winners have been beaten in the RSA. This has legs as Kempton is a completely different test to Cheltenham but Dynaste is an exception to this rule as we know he acts round Cheltenham and seems to have stamina in abundance. He's also a real athlete and jumps superbly.

I sense connections don't think Boston Bob is as good as they'd hoped 12 months ago, Dynaste holds Unioniste, Back In Focus is slow, while Hadrian's Approach needs to jump much better. I think Dynaste will win. Simple.

Next up we have Sprinter Sacre's exhibition in the Champion Chase that will have this website's editor and the racing purists purring. Having upset the panel on the Cheltenham podcast I shall say no more. Will Sprinter Sacre be on the back page of the newspapers? I doubt it.

The Coral Cup has happy memories for me, none better than the day Xenophon and Mick Fitz stormed up the hill to land an almighty touch. Tony Martin could repeat the trick this year if Edeymi is sent here.

Second in the Fred Winter last season, he had shown nothing this term until displaying his turn of foot at Dundalk and then catching the eye in sixth at Leopardstown last month. He looks on a decent mark and primed to bounce back to form, granted decent ground next week.

Day Two selections:Merry King, Chatterbox (e/w), Dynaste (NAP), Edeymi

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