Willie Mullins has built up far and away the most powerful jumps stable in Ireland, and is expected to have a big say on the opening day of the meeting. But first blood can go to an old friend and rival, who can cause a shock in the William Hill Supreme Novices' Hurdle – one of the few Festival races, as it happens, in which Noel Meade has ever enjoyed a bit of luck.
It is not hard to see why Dylan Ross (1.30, nap) should be 33-1. He has found one to beat him after travelling best in each of his last four starts, and flashes his tail under pressure. But this will be a totally different assignment, with a big field hurtling over spring ground at a strong gallop. Dylan Ross is all about speed and watch for the ice-cool Paul Carberry producing him fast and late.
It can pay to stick to a more obvious solution to the Racing Post Arkle Chase. Some say Sprinter Sacre (2.05) consumes too much fuel, outjumping his rivals, to last up the hill – but they are using a gauge from smaller engines.
His stablemate, Quantitativeeasing, has evidently been laid out for the JLT Specialty Handicap Chase. At a difference of 26lb, however, his owner's second colours could yet upset the plan. Having failed to fulfil early promise over fences, Alfie Sherrin (2.40) showed his first signs of renewal since joining Jonjo O'Neill in a spin over hurdles last month and is now tried in cheekpieces.
The stage is then set for Mullins. After saddling Hurricane Fly (3.20) in the big one, he hoists his son, Patrick, into the saddle on Scotsirish (4.00) in the Glenfarclas Handicap. This is a classier type than tends to be found in these cross-country races, as has soon become transparent in two wins at Punchestown and a luckless reconnaissance here in December.
As in the last two of her three consecutive wins, Quevega (4.40) makes her first appearance of the campaign in the OLBG David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle. She has been in a different league hitherto and, demonstrably in the safest hands for so nerveless a preparation, that should remain the case today.
If the big guns misfire, punters will not find it easy to get out of trouble in the Pulteney Land Investments Novices' Handicap Chase. But White Star Line (5.15, next best) has not shown his hand over fences as yet and his strong-travelling style looks ideal.
Names and numbers
What's in a name?
Character, played by Dominic Chianese, in the gangster TV series The Sopranos, dementia-suffering uncle of mob boss Tony Soprano.
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Winner No 40
With 39 winners at the Cheltenham Festival, Nicky Henderson is just one short of training legend Fulke Walwyn's all-time record at the meeting.
Winner No 1
Trainers Nick Williams and Tim Vaughan are both Festival winners' circle virgins. Sue montgomeryReuse content