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Apple's Jade has all the core qualities

Sweet spot: Jack Kennedy riding Apple’s Jade to Irish Champion Hurdle victory
Sweet spot: Jack Kennedy riding Apple’s Jade to Irish Champion Hurdle victory
Al Dancer

By Wayne Bailey

The American writer and philosopher Elbert Hubbard once said that "the only man who makes money following the races is one who does it with a broom and shovel".

It's a good quip, and probably holds true for most people, but there are occasions such as Cheltenham that the punter can actually manage to come out on top.

The racing is high-class, the form stands up, and with many bookmakers offering loss-leading offers to get custom, it's one of the few times that the serious punter has a decent chance of beating the old enemy.

So it's not all doom and gloom but remember, the bookmakers will happily let you win money at Cheltenham - as they can assume that once you have opened an account with their firm, you will stick with them thereafter and eventually lose it all, and more.

So shop around, take advantage, and don't give it back to them on a wet Wednesday at Wolverhampton if you manage to come out on top this week.

In some ways, the build-up to today is the best part, as there are so many possibilities.

Come Friday evening, half of us will be weary, cynical, perhaps broke, and claiming it's all a fix. But for now, there's that innocent air of anticipation.

The aforementioned Hubbard, who doesn't sound like the type of bloke who'd be much fun at a racing festival, also said that "if pleasures are greatest in anticipation, just remember that this is also true of trouble".

I suppose we should take that on board and remember that it's not the end of the world if you have a bad day.

Just don't overdo it with the stakes, especially early on.

Indeed, one race where punters are often caught out early is the opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle (1.30pm), where a number of hotpots have been beaten down through the years.

That makes me slightly wary of backing the favourite here, although none are too strong in the betting with Al Dancer and Angels Breath both 4/1 at the time of writing, and Klassical Dream not far behind at 9/2.

Of those, Al Dancer ticks the right boxes. Unbeaten in four starts over hurdles, he looked at home here winning a handicap hurdle in December.

I've abandoned Buveur d'Air in favour of Apple's Jade in the Champion Hurdle (3.30pm).

It could be one of those occasions where I'll be left pulling my hair out having switched allegiance, but Apple's Jade has been superb this season, particularly in the Irish Champion Hurdle, and that 7lb mares' allowance will be highly advantageous indeed.

In the closing National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders' Novices' Chase (5.30pm), OK Corral should appreciate the longer trip here, and he put in a lovely round of jumping at Warwick last time.

Day 1 race by race guide

1.30pm

The Supreme Novices' Hurdle always goes off at a frantic pace and some horses can find it unsettling. It's best to back a horse with a bit of speed that can jump well, and keeps something in the tank. Al Dancer fits the bill and odds of 4/1 seem fair.

2.10pm

The Arkle has been punter friendly in recent times with six winning short-priced favourites in the last seven years, but it's wide open this time. A good case could be made for at least six horses here, but Gordon Elliott's Hardline has Grade One winning experience and gets the nod around 11/2.

2.50pm

A large-field competitive handicap, it's not a race for heavy punting - but Big River catches the eye each way at a big price. Available at 33/1 yesterday, he's a good stayer which is very important in this contest.

3.30pm

Having followed Buveur d'Air all along, I'll be kicking myself if he wins - but the threat from Apple's Jade is just too great, especially with a useful 7lb mares' allowance. She let down punters at 1/2 last year in the mares' race but she's been sublime this season. Laurina will ensure it's not a two-horse race.

4.10pm

Willie Mullins made the mares' race his own with the brilliant Quevega which won it six years in a row, and it's hard to see past last year's winner Benie Des Dieux, which has won all five of her races since arriving from France.

4.50pm

Get the pin out for this one. Philip Hobbs' Springtown Lake gets a tentative each way vote around 14/1 dropping back down from an unsuitable three-mile trip last time.

5.30pm

Those up near the top of the ratings do well in this race for amateur riders, and OK Corral is a worthy favourite for Nicky Henderson around 11/4. Derek O'Connor, who was successful on the gelding in a Listed chase last time, gets the ride again.

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