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Cheltenham Friday tips – best bets for day one of the Paddy Power Festival

Racing returns to Cheltenham on Friday

Cheltenham

What are the best bets at Cheltenham on Friday?

Jumps fans rejoice; the three-day Cheltenham Paddy Power meeting is upon us and our resident tipster has run the rule over Friday’s six-race card.

1.05: Paddy Power Handicap Chase, 1m7f199yds
It’s no secret that the Pipe stable like to target this meeting and they will be hoping to get off to a flying start with French import La Vaticane. She was a prolific winner on her native soil, winning both her chase starts, and ran a very respectable second on her British/stable debut over hurdles at Kempton in March. David Pipe put her up as his ‘dark horse’ in a recent Stable Tour and she’s undoubtedly an exciting prospect, but I just wonder whether she might find today’s ground – they were calling it “good” on Thursday – a little on the quick side as all her wins have come on very soft/heavy –

At the current bet365 odds of just 7/2, she’s reluctantly swerved for the front-running PEARLS LEGEND, who wants good ground and will be a lot sharper for his reappearance second at Ascot; a race that was run in near record time. Jamie Moore, who won back-to-back races on him last term, is back on board today and the partnership represent a shade of value at 7/1 with the same firm. Should the forecast rain arrive and the word “soft” appears in the going description, I would have no hesitation switching back to the Pipe-trained favourite.

1.40: Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase, 2m4f78yds
David Pipe has won this with two subsequent Grade 1 winners, Dynaste and Grand Crus, in the last four years, so his Dell’ Arca has a lot to live up to. The six-year-old was a classy hurdler – won the 2013 Greatwood run here – and has made a fair start to his chasing career, winning at the third attempt when last seen out at Uttoxeter in May.

However, the 5lb penalty he picks up for that makes his task harder here and he has to give weight to some promising sorts, including 2013 World Hurdle winner More Of That. He is an exciting recruit to fences for sure, but this is his first run back after nearly a year off and he might prove vulnerable as a result. Certainly, I wouldn’t be taking current odds of 7/4 on him, but the 5/1 (Betfair) on offer for MIGHT BITE is too big to resist.

Nicky Henderson’s charge won his last two hurdle starts, including one at this track in April, in comfortable fashion and he’s reportedly schooled “extremely well” over fences. He’s a huge horse who is built for fences and with his stable going well, he can make a winning start.

2.15:Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (Registered As The Hyde Novices’ Hurdle) (Grade 2), 2m5f26yds
Just the four runners will go to post but it’s a fascinating renewal nonetheless. Penglai Pavilion was hugely impressive when winning over course and distance at the last meeting here, taking his hurdles record to 3-3, and this classy recruit from the flat – he finished fifth in the 2013 Arc behind Treve – deserves to be favourite on the prevailing good ground which seems to suit him well.

But he has to give 7lb to David Pipe’s exciting hurdling recruit CHAMPERS ON ICE (5/2 Hills) and that may prove decisive. An impressive winner of an Irish point-to-point, he gave connections an immediate return on their investment when winning a bumper at the Punchestown Festival and the second First Figaro, who was well clear of the third, franked the form when winning at the Galway Festival. The selection is potentially Pipe’s best novice hurdler for this season and, while a little more cut would have been ideal (rain is forecast), he can go in at the first time of asking.

The other two runners, Alcala and Shantou Village, representing Paul Nicholls and Neil Mulholland respectively, are not dismissed lightly as they have shown considerable promise over hurdles, but the selection may prove too classy.

2.50: Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase, 3m6f37yds
These type of races don’t really interest me for betting purposes but, for the sake of putting up a tip here, backers of Grand National runner-up SAINT ARE should get a decent run for their money at Sky Bet’s 8/1. Tom George’s nine-year-old has gone well at Cheltenham in the past, albeit over conventional fences, and could take a shine to the cross country course. Tellingly, no horse younger than nine has won this race in the last decade and that counts against the forecast favourite Josies Orders and Willie Mullins Dogora, who is next in the betting.

3.25: Opus Energy Novices’ Handicap Hurdle, 2m87yds
There’s bound to be plenty of interest in David Pipe’s BARAKA DE THAIX as he is certain to have been primed for this meeting. A winner in France, he ran a cracker on his debut for his current stable when finishing third behind Golden Doyen in a Grade 2 juvenile hurdle at this meeting 12 months ago. He didn’t really go in from that but he’s reportedly put on weight and really grown up over the summer and starts this term in what is potentially a generous mark of 125.

However, he may not be the only runner in the field that has been laid out for this valuable prize and I’ve a hunch that Ben Pauling will have A HARE BREATH ready to rock and roll on his return to action following a 695-day layoff. The winner of an Irish point-to-point, he ran well on both his hurdle starts when trained by Nick Gifford, including when finishing a four-length second to Irving on his debut at Ascot. It would be wrong to take that form too literally, but he clearly has an engine and his young up-and-coming trainer would love nothing more than a winner in the biggest stage to help get him noticed. He should be an each-way price, but do split stakes or at least save on the Pipe runner at bet365’s 12/1.

UPDATE – since posting this piece the price on A Hare Breath has crashed from an opening 25/1 into a best-priced 9/2 with Paddy Power, so the gamble is well and truly on.

4.00: Cheltenham Club Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase, 3m1f
I pray we’ve found a winner or two by now as this handicap for amateur riders looks tricky. That said, the booking of crack Irish amateur Derek O’Connor for Ian Williams’ SUPER DUTY takes the eye, and the nine-year-old looks well treated on the best of his form he showed for Donald McCain, which includes runner-up spot in the 2013 Kim Muir over this trip. He’ll do for me at Paddy Power’s 14/1 – just 9/1 with bet365.

NAP – Champers On Ice
NEXT BEST – Super Duty

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