Ahead of the opening day's action, here are John Duggan's own Cheltenham tips for the races ahead.
Apple's Jade (Nap) can win a first Champion Hurdle (3.30) for Gigginstown House Stud on day one of the Cheltenham Festival this afternoon. The Gordon Elliott trained mare has performed brilliantly all season. She's unbeaten, has won over varying distances and her combined winning margin in the quartet of contests has been 73 lengths. Her detractors say she performs better away from Cheltenham, but she won the Mares' Hurdle here and was a good second in an excellent renewal of the Triumph Hurdle as a four year old. Buveur D'Air's run at Kempton over Christmas was a concern and he only scrambled home in this race 12 months ago, so he's not for me. Laurina may win, but she's an unknown quantity. The Gavin Cromwell trained Espoir d'Allen could outrun his odds, despite being younger than a regular winner of this race.
Benie des Dieux has carried significant confidence from the Willie Mullins stable into her bid for a repeat victory in the Mares' Hurdle (4.10). She goes well fresh and on ratings, will be hard to beat.
The opening Supreme Novices Hurdle (1.30) is a competitive contest and Angels Breath has leading claims. However, the one I have selected each way is Vision d'Honneur, who should enjoy this softer ground and is well regarded by last year's leading Festival trainer, Gordon Elliott.
Duc des Genievres was a decent hurdle horse who appeared on the scene as a contender for the Arkle Chase (2.10) with an impressive win at Gowran Park last time out. If positive tactics are used, the Willie Mullins trained horse has the ability to make the frame.
Minella Rocco is thrown in at the weights in the 3 mile handicap chase (2.50), based on his Gold Cup second of 2017, but his well being needs to be taken on trust. At a price, Royal Vacation, who took advantage of a fall of Might Bite to win a decent Novices Chase at Kempton a couple of years ago, could be worth chancing. He is a course winner that possesses a touch of class if on song.
Trainer Joseph O'Brien is unlikely to return from Cheltenham empty handed this year, and his Shady Operator might be the answer to a competitive Novices' Handicap Chase (4.50). This horse was decent over hurdles and boasts Ballyward as a victim over fences.
As for Ballyward, he holds a leading chance in the 4 mile amateur chase (5.30) for last year's winning rider Patrick Mullins. I am ducking him as I believe his odds are skinny in an 18 runner race, so I am siding each way with decent jumper Atlanta Ablaze, whose trainer, Henry Daly, knows the time of day with old fashioned chasers.
€500 Charity Bet with thanks to Betfair:
3.30: €125 win on Apple's Jade at 15/8
4.10: €75 win on Benie des Dieux at 11/10
1.30: €30 each way on Vision d'Honneur at 11/1
2.10: €30 each way on Duc des Genievres at 7/1
2.50: €30 each way on Royal Vacation at 35/1
4.50: €30 each way on Shady Operator at 14/1
5.30: €30 each way on Atlanta Ablaze at 18/1
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