Not so much a welcome to the Festival as a reminder of what can go wrong. In the last three years there have been two winners at 25-1 and another at 50-1. Another shock is very possible, but this should also provide a valuable clue to the respective merits of Irish and British form. If Finnegan's Hollow (Aidan O'Brien) goes in, formlines with Istabraq and I'm Supposin will suggest that the visitors are in for another profitable week. Shadow Leader and Queen Of Spades will lead the batting for the Brits.
Betting (Liam Cashman): 5-2 Finnegan's Hollow, 9-2 Shadow Leader, 8-1 Humbel, 10-1 Graphic Equaliser, Queen Of Spades, Wade Road.
2.35 ARKLE TROPHY CHASE
Mulligan is most people's idea of the meeting's British banker, which cynics might say is a good reason to oppose him. He has done little wrong, but all manner of things can go wrong in the Festival maelstrom and where short-priced favourites in novice chases are concerned, they generally do - half of the 16 starters for this race failed to complete last year. Won by Ireland for the last two years, but this year's challenge is weak and Celibate could profit from any mishap.
Betting (Wm Hill): 11-10 Mulligan, 4-1 Or Royal, 5-1 Squire Silk, 8-1 Celibate, 10-1 Flying Instructor, Lightening Lad, 16-1 Elzoba.
3.55 ASTEC BUZZ SHOP H'CAP CHASE
Formerly the Ritz Club, but now saddled with the ugliest name of the meeting. If any punters discover what an Astec Buzz Shop actually is, they should remember this fact and keep walking. Often an informative Grand National trial (Seagram and Rough Quest are recent winners) and could be again with General Command (25-1 for Aintree) the favourite in the early betting.
Betting (Wm Hill): 7-2 General Command, 6-1 Kadi, Maamur, 7-1 As Du Trefle, Mudahim, 8-1 Eudipe, 10-1 Call It A Day, River Mandate, 12-1 Cherrynut, 16-1 Flyers Nap, Hill Of Tullow, Yorkshire Gale, 20-1 Bavard Dieu, Romany Creek.
4.30 F WALWYN/K MUIR H'CAP CHASE
One where you want to back the jockey, not the horse, since the already wide ability range among amateur riders seems to grow even larger when Festival adrenalin begins to pump through the Corinthian veins. The Irish riders are often a good place to start - Ken Whelan won last year, Adrian Maguire in 1991 - while Marcus Armytage is still among the best of the British.
Betting (Liam Cashman): 5-2 Time For A Run, 4-1 King Lucifer, 8-1 Camelot Knight, Christmas Gorse, Mely Moss, 12-1 Run Up The Flag.
5.05 GOLD CARD HANDICAP HURDLE
The bookmakers can generally afford Havanas, not Hamlets, after this fiercely competitive stayers' race. The last three runnings have been decided by a neck or less, and the Irish have won two of the last five. Small yards seem to do well, perhaps because they find it easier to hide their horses from the handicapper. Smoke if you must, but a serious interest in this race is a risk too far.
Betting (Coral): 9-2 Miltonfield, 5-1 Yahmi, 7-1 Freddie Muck, Haile Derring, Henrietta Howard, 8-1 Allegation, Erzadjan, 10-1 Anzum, Pharanear, 14-1 Linton Rocks.
2.00 ROYAL SUNALLIANCE NOV H'DLE
There will be a run on the racecourse branches of the Irish banks as wallets are replenished if Istabraq does not live up to expectations. Aidan O'Brien filled the Irish pockets with Urubande in this race last year, and his latest representative, with three wins from four races, will start at very cramped odds. A good event for favourites in recent years, but Red Blazer and Agistment should give Istabraq's backers a few anxious moments at the very least.
Betting (Liam Cashman): 13-8 Istabraq, 7-1 Red Blazer, 8-1 Agistment, 9-1 Royaltino, 10-1 Forest Ivory, 12-1 Mentmore Towers.
3.15 CORAL CUP HANDICAP HURDLE
One hesitates to use words such as "cheat", but it is fair to assume that many runners in arguably the most competitive race of the meeting will leave their previous form this season well behind now that their moment of truth has arrived. Small stakes and large prayers are the correct approach in a race which has seen two Irish wins in its four-year history.
Betting (Coral): 7-1 Supreme Lady, Tullymurry Toff, 12-1 Blast Freeze, Copper Boy, Ela Mata, Henrietta Howard, Rawy.
3.55 ROYAL SUNALLIANCE CHASE
Djeddah (Francois Doumen) is joint favourite as he attempts to buck the trend which has seen no winner of Ascot's Reynoldstown Chase follow up at the Festival since 1973. A notoriously tough race, but one which rarely sees a significant upset, and the first half-dozen in the betting are the ones to focus on. Eudipe and Hanakham head the home team.
Betting (Coral): 4-1 Djeddah, Eudipe, 7-1 Hanakham, 8-1 Berude Not To, Buckhouse Boy, Corket, 10-1 Indian Tracker, 12-1 Around The Gale, Bell Staffboy, Glitter Isle.
4.30 NATIONAL HUNT CHASE
Amateurs again, and this time with four miles to travel and thus even more scope for upsets. Once considered one of the season's highlights, but these days an average renewal would not look out of place at Fakenham in December, and there are far better things to be wasting the betting bank on. If you must, ensure that if nothing else, your jockey knows what a winning post looks like. Vol Par Nuit (Francois Doumen, with son Thierry expected to ride) is an intriguing entry from France.
Betting (Liam Cashman): 5-1 General Pongo, 6-1 Vol Par Nuit, Random Harvest, Slideofhill.
5.05 MILDMAY OF FLETE H'CAP CHASE
The stats - no winning favourite since 1986, and three winners at 33- 1 or more since - advise caution, but while market leaders fare badly, the 10-1 and under range is the one on which to concentrate. Golden Spinner, trained by Festival specialist Nick Henderson, is one to catch the eye.
Betting (Wm Hill): 4-1 As Du Trefle, 7-1 Destiny Calls, Noyan, 8-1 Air Shot, Golden Spinner, Konvekta King, 10-1 New Co, 12-1 All The Aces, Major Bell, Terao.
5.40 FESTIVAL BUMPER
They take bumpers very seriously in Ireland, and Irish yards have provided four of the five winners - and filled most of the places - in its short history. Florida Pearl and All The Colours are among the well-fancied raiders this time. If the Irish have banked a few winners already at the meeting, look no further, but if not, Jim Old's Dawn Leader is the most obvious British candidate.
Betting (Cashman): 2-1 Florida Pearl, 5-1 Dawn Leader, 6-1 All The Colours, Samuel Wilderspin.
2.00 TRIUMPH HURDLE
Now sponsored by Elite Racing rather than the Daily Express, which may have decided that the race's numerous body-blows to punters and the paper's declining sales might somehow be related. There have been winners at 25- 1, 33-1, 40-1 and 66-1 in the last 10 years, while 12 months ago, the favourite fell at the first. You have been warned.
Betting (Coral): 5-1 White Sea, 11-2 Shooting Light, 6-1 Kerawi, 7-1 L'Opera, 8-1 Commanche Court, 14-1 Stylish Allure, 16-1 King's Witness, 20-1 Serenus, 25-1 Marlonette, No More Hassle.
2.35 STAYERS' HURDLE
Has become a quick follow-up event for Champion Hurdle also-rans, with Mysilv only narrowly beaten 12 months ago, and Large Action is an intended runner in both races. Would be a popular success for one of the best horses of recent years without a Festival win, but Urubande, another member of the Aidan O'Brien team of which so much is expected, will be a tough opponent.
Betting (Wm Hill): 3-1 Large Action, 7-2 Escartefigue, 7-1 Ocean Hawk, 9-1 Urubande, What A Question, 12-1 Conquering Leader, Trainglot, 14-1 Moonax, 16-1 Antapoura, Pharanear, Pridwell.
3.55 FOXHUNTERS' CHASE
Foxes favourite race, since it means it is safe to stick nose out of burrow without a posse of countryfolk chasing them to a messy death. Expect unknown jockeys and embarrassing exits, but look out too for a pilot who knows what's what like Enda Bolger, who gave punters their only winning favourite of the meeting on Elegant Lord 12 months ago.
Betting (Liam Cashman): 4-1 What A Hand, Cab On Target, 6-1 Fantus, 7- 1 Tearaway King.
4.30 GRAND ANNUAL H'CAP CHASE
Katabatic, a future two-mile champion, won this seven years ago, and it remains a contest for unexposed runners, with novices having won twice in the 1990s. Strange but true: the last seven winners were beaten on their previous outing.
Betting (Wm Hill): 9-2 Certainly Strong, 7-1 Celibate, Manhattan Castle, 8-1 Elzoba, 10-1 Garolo.
5.05 CATHCART CHASE
Major stables treat this as a consolation event for their second-best novices, but Peter Bowen, with just 16 horses, cannot afford the luxury of second-strings and Stately Home, the winner of nine races this term, will be fit to run for his life.
Betting (Cashman): 3-1 Sparky Gayle, 7-2 Air Shot, 4-1 Around The Gale, 5-1 Double Symphony, 7-1 Manhattan Castle, 9-1 Stately Home.
5.40 COUNTY HANDICAP HURDLE
Even if the previous 19 favourites have gone in, the layers will still expect to repair the damage thanks to a contest in which the only "getting out" most punters can expect to manage is of the "even further out of their depth" variety. No winning favourite since 1986.
Betting (Coral): 7-1 Carlito Brigante, 10-1 Romancer, Doctoor, 12-1 Black Queen, Khayrawani, Penny A Day, Toast The Spreece.
3.15 CHAMPION HURDLE
The going will be vital, since Space Trucker and Make A Stand need it fast and most of their opponents like some cut. No champion has defended the title since See You Then completed his hat-trick a decade ago, and Collier Bay's chance has probably gone with the dry weather, no matter how much artificial water has been sprayed on to the track. Make A Stand will set his usual lightning pace, but expect Space Trucker to reel him in up the hill.
Betting (Coral): 100-30 Collier Bay, 9-2 Large Action, 5-1 Space Trucker, 6-1 Make A Stand, 7-1 I'm Supposin, 9-1 Boardroom Shuffle; (Ladbrokes): 100- 30 Collier Bay, 4-1 Large Action, Space Trucker, 6-1 Make A Stand, 7- 1 I'm Supposin, 9-1 Boardroom Shuffle; (Wm Hill): 100-30 Collier Bay, 4-1 Large Action, 5-1 Space Trucker, 6-1 Make A Stand, 7-1 I'm Supposin.
2.35 QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE
It seems as if Viking Flagship, twice the winner already, should by now be at least 15 years old, but he is only 10, and still apparently at the peak of his powers. Klairon Davis, who denied him a hat-trick 12 months ago, again has a huge chance, but the most interesting runner is Strong Promise. They said One Man was below his best when Strong Promise beat him at Ascot last time, but Geoff Hubbard's chaser may prove that there was no fluke involved.
Betting (William Hill): 2-1 Klairon Davis, 5-2 Viking Flagship, 4-1 Ask Tom, Strong Promise, 10-1 Martha's Son 20-1 Arctic Kinsman.
3.15 CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP
The course authorities are intent on preventing a repeat of the raucous scenes in the winners' enclosure which followed Imperial Call's success last year, but if Danoli, the most popular horse in Ireland, wins then even they may admit defeat rather than risk an ugly fracas. Three of the first four in the betting are from across the water, and Coome Hill, Britain's top hope, looks more of a National sort, so a move into Guinness shares may be the best investment.
Betting (Coral): 9-2 Imperial Call, 5-1 Coome Hill, 11-2 Danoli, 6-1 Dorans Pride, 8-1 One Man, Dublin Flyer; (Wm Hill): 9-2 Imperial Call, 11-2 Coome Hill, 7-1 Danoli, Dorans Pride, 8-1 One Man, 10-1 Dublin Flyer, The Grey Monk