Cheltenham: Can Min sweep in under the radar
You could have got long odds on it happening a few months ago, but the dream Champion Chase is finally upon us.
Two horses with big reputations put their credentials on the line as the Festival's most successful trainers, Nicky Henderson (59 winners) and Willie Mullins (57), cross swords with Altior and Douvan.
Last year's Arkle winner Altior was foot perfect on his seasonal debut and looks to have overcome a scare on Monday, with Henderson declaring him "perfectly sound" yesterday morning as he bids to become the fifth Seven Barrows winner of the 2m showpiece.
Douvan's participation also looked unlikely at various stages over the past four months after initially being ruled out for the season, but with Ruby Walsh opting for him over Min, it would suggest the eight-year-old is impressing.
There will also be huge Irish focus on the opener as Gordon Elliott's Samcro - one of the most hyped horses in recent memory - bids to get punters off to a flyer in the hands of Kerry teenager Jack Kennedy.
1.30 GRADE ONE BALLYMORE NOVICES' HURDLE 2M 5F 26YDS
THE debate about what Festival engagement Samcro will take up is over and the time has come for Elliott's superstar to deliver the goods when it matters most; in one of the most eagerly-anticipated races of the week.
Not since Dunguib's colossal reversal in the Supreme nine years ago, when carrying the weight of a nation, will there be such expectancy surrounding a novice hurdler.
Unbeaten in seven career starts and outstanding at the Dublin Racing Festival last month, Gigginstown's brilliant six-year-old has the jumping world at his feet with talk of contesting Gold Cups in future.
He may well be a good thing but at odds-on in a competitive heat, in testing going, value is sought elsewhere with Mullins saddling Next Destination against the hotpot.
Next Destination has oozed class in his three hurdle wins and has been put away since winning a Grade One at Naas in January.
Preference is for Black Op, however, with Tom George's charge ruing a final-hurdle mistake on his last run when looking set to hand Albert Bartlett fancy Santini a defeat in a Cheltenham Grade Two.
Verdict: Black Op (e/w) to provide value against Samcro.
2.10 GRADE ONE RSA INSURANCE NOVICES' CHASE 3M 80YDS
A FASCINATING renewal is in store with Irish raiders Presenting Percy and Monalee heading the betting while the exploits of the remarkable Black Corton and jockey Bryony Frost have been one of the stories of this year's National Hunt season.
Paul Nicholls' seven-year-old would be a hugely popular winner but it looks like a battle between the top two with last year's Albert Bartlett Hurdle second Monalee bouncing back from a Christmas spill to score at Leopardstown last time out.
There is no better form on offer than Presenting Percy's last run when a length second to Irish Grand National winner Our Duke, a leading fancy for Friday's Gold Cup, and last year's Pertemps Final winner looks a tough nut to crack.
Verdict: Presenting Percy is the stand-out choice.
2.50 GRADE THREE CORAL CUP HANDICAP HURDLE 2M 5F 26YDS
WALSH has never won the Coral Cup and describes the 36-horse cavalry charge as the most competitive race of the meeting
Favourite backers have had their fingers severely burnt with just two winning favourites in the last 25 runnings.
It's not often that a horse finishing sixth in the Melbourne Cup is next seen at Cheltenham but that's the case with the well-handicapped Max Dynamite who bids to give Mullins and Walsh their first winner in this race.
It would be a fairytale should Ruth Jefferson follow in her late father Malcolm's footsteps and secure a Festival winner with Mount Mews, but 2016 winner Diamond King may hold the key.
Racing off four pounds higher than his mark from two years ago, Elliott's 10-year-old was last seen when chasing home Killultagh Vic on New Year's Eve and looks primed.
Verdict: The 2016 winner Diamond King can score again for Elliott and Davy Russell.
3.30 GRADE ONE BETWAY QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE 1M 7F 199YDS
QUESTIONS are hanging over the participants of today's main course with Altior a doubtful runner just 24 hours ago, although he has since been given the green light.
Undefeated in nearly three years and bidding for his 13th consecutive win, Henderson's two-time Festival winner would have been considered banker material before that setback.
What a race is in store should Douvan return to his best but he has not been seen since coming home lame in this race 12 months ago, when 2/9 favourite.
At his best, Douvan would push Altior to the limit but with doubts lingering about that pair, Min may pick up the pieces in the hands of Paul Townend. Min is almost the forgotten horse but took the Grade Two Dublin Chase in fine style at Leopardstown.
verdict: With doubts over Altior and Douvan, Min has the class to take full advantage.
4.10 GLENFARCLAS CROSS COUNTRY CHASE 3M 6F 37YDS
NINA Carberry is usually the one to follow over the cross-country fences with four wins and it would be another feather in her cap if she can come back from missing last year's Festival - to give birth to her first child - to take this on 2016 winner Josies Orders.
Elliott could also hold the key here, however, with last year's winner Cause Of Causes bidding for an astonishing fourth straight Festival win under Jamie Codd. Preference is for his stable-mate Tiger Roll.
Verdict: Tiger Roll to take his third Festival victory.
4.50 GRADE THREE BOODLES FRED WINTER JUVENILE HANDICAP HURDLE 2M 87YDS
NO favourite has prevailed in the last seven runnings, so a chance is taken on Knight Destroyer.
Jonjo O'Neill is no stranger to Festival success with 26 winners.
Verdict: Knight Destroyer is fresh.
5.30 GRADE ONE WEATHERBYS CHAMPION BUMPER 2M 87YDS
JUST seven of the 24 runners are Irish-trained but quality trumps quantity with the three market principles trained by Mullins (two) and Elliott.
Favourite Blackbow galloped into the picture for Mullins with back-to-back wins at Leopardstown but the best of the Irish may prove to be Elliott's Felix Desjy.
All the vibes from Cullentra suggest that this hooded Gigginstown runner has improved since scoring at Down Royal.
Verdict: Felix Desjy can leave Irish eyes smiling in the last.