WITH just 11 days to go until the Cheltenham Festival, you wouldn’t normally expect Prestbury Park to be completely covered in snow, but that is the remarkable situation we find ourselves in.
Fortunately, the forecast suggests things are going to get warmer next week, although the snow has to melt and it may well be that the ground on the opening day is softer than normal.
The Tuesday is defined by the famous roar that meets the tapes going up at the start of the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and if hot favourite Getabird is in front at the line expect the noise to be deafening.
What’s not to like? Unbeaten under rules, trained by Willie Mullins, ridden by the returning Ruby Walsh and wearing the Ricci silks which have been successful in the Festival curtain raiser for three of the past five years.
Getabird has an awful lot going for him, but he’s only had two starts over hurdles, ran out on his only previous try going left-handed in a point-to-point and is just 11/8 with Coral.
Although he is undoubtedly the most likely winner, he surely won’t go off much bigger than his current price on the day and I have to take him on. The question is who with?
Kalashnikov blasted himself into the reckoning with a brilliant display in the Betfair Hurdle.
He is a seriously good horse, and I would be surprised to see him out of the first three, but at the prices the one I’m interested in is the only horse to have beaten him, Tom George’s SUMMERVILLE BOY.
The son of Sandmason didn’t receive the credit he deserved for winning the Grade One 32Red Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown in early January.
Admittedly, the heavy ground didn’t suit his rivals, but I’m also convinced that it didn’t suit him either.
His previous two starts at Cheltenham were messy affairs and although he didn’t run badly in those, the brutal pace of a Supreme will be right up his street.
Summerville Boy would have no problem staying further than two miles and it’s generally accepted that you need stamina to win a Supreme.
I know Kalashnikov has come out and won since, but I can’t see why he is half the price of his Sandown conqueror, so the advice is to back my selection each-way at the generally available 12/1.
It could be a blistering start to the Festival for George, as I’m also keen on the chances of his BLACK OP, who is by the same sire as Summerville Boy, in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on the second day.
Sent off favourite for the Grade Two Aintree bumper last April, he was a little disappointing that day, but he has done well over hurdles this season.
He looked set to win on Cheltenham Trials Day, only to make a mistake at the last and be reeled in late on by Santini.
The ground was heavy that day, while you could also argue that jockey Tom Scudamore kicked for him a little too early.
He travels like a very good horse and a return to better ground should suit, so 16/1 looks a fair price.
Samcro is the Irish banker of the meeting for many, but they do get turned over sometimes and Black Op certainly offers decent each-way value against Gordon Elliott’s 8/11 shot.
CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL POINTERS
Summerville Boy e/w 12/1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Black Op e/w 16/1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle