Memories of Istabraq will be revived on day one of this Cheltenham Festivalas Buveur D’Air (3.30) can become the first horse since his day to win three Champion Hurdles. An Istabraq fan would say the only similarity is the colours worn by their riders, the green and gold of JP McManus, and plenty of those devotees would rather Buveur D’Air did not emulate his great forebear on Tuesday, but he may prove good enough in this field.
He has not always been at his best this winter and was mugged for lack of a turn of foot in the Christmas Hurdle, but that debacle ought not to be repeated around this more testing circuit and on rain-softened ground.
Apple’s Jade is a very dangerous opponent and if at her brilliant best she would be impossible to catch. But she has not yet shown the peak of her ability at Cheltenham and, while there may be excuses, the percentage call must be to take slightly better odds about the horse who has done this job before. After all, Buveur D’Air has not been as big as 11-4 for any race in the past two years.
If there was less morning rain than forecast, Sharjah would make some appeal for those seeking an upset result. Proper soft ground would probably blunt his pace, however.
1.30 Klassical Dream has made great progress in two runs for Willie Mullins since he came over from France and these conditions should allow him to step up on his narrow Grade One win at Leopardstown. Felix Desjy could outrun his odds.
2.10 The ground seems to have gone against Lalor while Glen Forsa is a poor price for what he has achieved. Gordon Elliott’s Hardline needs to improve but he has been showing promise and this return to two miles seems sure to help, especially in light of his third to La Bague Au Roi.
2.50 Having looked classy in the Rehearsal Chase of 2017, Beware The Bear got back to that level when blinkers were fitted at this track on New Year’s Day. He remains on an attractive rating if they are still as effective. Lake View Lad is likeable but carries a lot of weight. At big odds, Shantou Village could get into the argument.
4.10 Benie Des Dieux had two runs before scrambling home in this race last year and is a very short price for a reprise, having not run since April. Roksana might be the right alternative, bearing in mind she chased home the smart Santini at Aintree in April.
4.50 The third horse in Santini’s race was Tower Bridge, who has been quietly campaigned over fences this season. He gets in here on a very fair mark and may be good enough to hold off A Plus Tard.
5.30 Nicky Henderson’s modest record in marathon races is offputting with regard to the favourite, Ok Corral, and it may pay to look beyond the market leader. Ballyward would be a more plausible market-leader but Discoramacould be the bet, as it seemed he was about to go past that rival when he suffered a nasty late fall at Naas last time. Runner-up in last year’s Martin Pipe, he can go one better.