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Cheltenham Festival: Willie Mullins to thrive

By Mark Walsh

With a broken arm and ankle injury, I'll be comfortably, if enviously, watching the action from Cheltenham from the comfort of the couch.

One of the horses I was most looking forward to riding was Kitten Rock in the Champion Hurdle for Edward O'Grady.

He's done absolutely nothing wrong all season. We still don't know how good he is, at 33/1 he is a decent each-way bet.

There has been talk that he might be deployed as a pacemaker for Jezki but I don't think so, personally. It's not his style, he likes to get a lead.

Jezki is the reigning champion and he has almost become the forgotten horse of the race and by all account the Harrington camp is delighted with him and AP rates him as his best ride of the week.

It's a serious race, Faugheen is the pretender to the crown but for me The New One, who was finishing like a train last year after being hampered by the fall of Our Conor, is the most likely winner.

He loves it around Cheltenham and I think his turn of foot might give him a slight edge.

When you look at the Supreme Novice Hurdle, Douvan for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh is the horse everyone is talking about.

He'll tackle a Grade One for the first time today and that's a concern but he has been massively impressive in his two runs in Ireland.

It's a different ball game now, he's been winning on soft ground here and it will be a lot different today. He will be hard to beat but it's a big step up.

John Ferguson's horse Qewy was a fine horse on the flat for John Oxx and at 14/1, he has a live each-way shout.

Alvisio Ville was disappointing the last day in Leopardstown. Shaneshill, who won the champion bumper at Punchestown last year, has to be in the fray if he can rediscover his best form.

In the Arkle, Un De Sceaux rightly dominates the betting market, he's simply the best horse in the race by a country mile.

If he boils over, he can sometimes be a highly-strung horse, there may be a problem but he has an incredible horseman on his back in Ruby Walsh.

All going well, he will win with a clear round. I'm sure they'll do everything as quietly they can around him.

Gordon Elliott's Clarcam jumps his fences very impressively and I think he'll be the one chasing Un De Sceaux home.

Annie Power is almost a bigger banker than Un De Sceaux in the OLBG Mare's Hurdle despite the fact that she hasn't run in quite a while.

I think if she had a run under her belt, we'd we watching her in the World Hurdle on Thursday and Glen's Melody would be the favourite for this.

The 2m4f will be a little easier on her and given that this race is now a Grade One, it looks like a no-brainer.

Annie Power can be a bit keen and you would have to have a slight concern over the fact that it is her first run but Willie Mullins proved he was the master with Quevega for years when it comes to preparing a horse after a layoff.

In the four-mile Toby Balding National Hunt Chase for amateur riders, I fancy Michael Hourigan's The Job Is Right.

He fell when chasing home Djakadam in the Thyestes in Gowran and if the vibes from Closutton are true then that is a massive run.

His pipe-opener over hurdles at Navan will have boosted his confidence and he looks primed for a big race.

Derek O'Connor has loads of experience at the track and this is a big positive.

Very Wood won at the festival last year and can't be discounted while the boss has Cause of Causes in the race. He would have to make a big improvement on his two appearances this season but was a runner-up at the festival last year.

The two handicaps of the day are lotteries. In the last race, the CHAPS Restaurants Barbados Novices' Handicap Chase, there is only six pounds between the top weight and the bottom weight.

There is a horse called Thomas Crapper in it and he carries 11st4lbs. He's been running well this season for Robin Dickin.

He was second behind Don Poli in the Martin Pipe at the festival last year and is a course and distance winner.

 

Selections:

 

1.30 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle Race:

 

Selection: Douvan                       Each-way bet: Qewy

 

2.05 Racing Post Arkle

 

Selection: Un De Sceaux             Each-way bet: Clarcam

 

2.40 Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase

 

Selection: Ned Stark                   Each-way bet: Pendra

 

3.20 Stan James Champion Hurdle

 

Selection: The New One                Each-way bet: Jezki

 

4.00 OLBG Mares' Hurdle

 

Selection: Annie Power              Each-way bet: Glen's Melody

 

4.40 Toby Balding National Hunt Chase

 

Selection: The Job Is Right                Each-way bet: Very Wood

 

5.15 CHAPS Restaurants Barbados Novices' Handicap Chase

 

Selection: Thomas Crapper               Each-way bet: Leap Dearg

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