First race on day 1 of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival resulted in a surprise victory for the Gordon Elliott-trained Labaik in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Sent off at odds of 25-1 after the mount of young Jack Kennedy had refused to race twice in his last three races. Most recently the grey had finished a tailed-off sixth at Naas when giving his rivals a massive advantage before electing to participate in his own time. A general 16-1 chance for next year’s Champion Hurdle Labaik is going to prove a nightmare for bookmakers and punters alike as there will always be the strong possibility of his mulish character surfacing once again.
As expected, the Racing Post Arkle Chase went the way of the 1-4 favourite Altior who came home six lengths clear of northern challenger Cloudy Dream. While Altior never really appeared in any danger of defeat the Kim Bailey-trained Charbel still held a narrow lead when falling at the second-last and looked like pushing the market leader all the way to the line but for the uncharacteristic error. The winner is a best price 2-1 with William Hill and Betfred for the 2018 Queen Mother Champion Chase.
The hazards associated with ante-post betting was never more evident following Buveur D’Air’s impressive victory over twice runner-up My Tent Or Yours in the Stan James Champion Hurdle. Last season’s Supreme Novices Hurdle third had embarked on a career over fences and after winning his first two starts trainer Nicky Henderson made the brave decision to revert back to the smaller obstacles, possibly influenced by the defection of Faugheen and Annie Power from the championship contest. The JP McManus-owned gelding is 5-1 with several bookmakers including the sponsor to follow up in 12 month’s time.
The other Grade 1 race on the card, the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, produced one of the best finishes of the week. Apple’s Jade and jockey Bryan Cooper set out to make it a true test of stamina and after looking in trouble at the last when being challenged by the Willie Mullins/Rich Ricci pair of Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini showed the greater resolution in the closing stages to record a length and a half victory over the two market leaders. Apple’s Jade is 4-1 with Skybet to record back-to-back victories at next year’s festival.
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