Jimmy Beadle: Douvan to kick off a thrilling festival
The preview nights are in full swing, the rumour mill is in overdrive and the bookmakers are advertising ridiculous offers that you would not get at no other time of year.
It can only mean one thing. The Festival is here.
The greatest show on Earth - four days of the highest-quality National Hunt racing the world has to offer.
Make no mistake, the Cheltenham Festival is the place every trainer, jockey, owner and most of all, punter want a winner.
Dreams will be made, hopes will be dashed and Guinness will be drunk. Whatever happens it will be emotional. Hold tight.
Just a moment after 1.30pm on Tuesday, the starter will mount his rostrum, the horses will be called into line, the crowd will slowly get louder until finally the tape will rise and they will be off, accompanied by an almighty cheer from the crowd which feels like it’s been building from the previous year as all the anticipation and build up is over.
What a way for the festival to begin this year too. For many people the first race on the first day will be make or break as the Irish banker of the week lines up in The Supreme Novices Hurdle.
The horse in question is Douvan, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh. Need I say anymore?
Having won the race for the last two years with Champagne Fever and Vautour, he has an idea of what it takes to win this race and having described Douvan as ‘a nicer horse as we’ve ever had go to Cheltenham’, you can understand why he is the well-fancied favourite.
He certainly won’t have it all his own way though as Nicky Henderson sends out the well-touted Tolworth Hurdle winner L’ami Serge but even the former champion trainer fears the mighty Douvan.
He said:“I hear Willie’s (Mullins) horse is the best he’s ever had and I am not saying L’Ami Serge is the best I‘ve ever had but he’s looked good in all his starts.”
AP McCoy will be hoping to get his last-ever festival off to a flyer aboard the Harry Fry-trained Jollyallan.
Qewy enters the race in the could-be-anything category for John Ferguson, but in all truth, the biggest danger to Douvan might come from within Mullins own Closutton yard as he also looks set to saddle Alvisio Ville and Shaneshill.
I will be sticking with Douvan as there is no reason to doubt what master trainer Mullins thinks and if he is as good as he says he is, then Douvan will win by 10 lengths.
The first day could prove to be a Mullins benefit as he saddles four short-priced favourites in the shape of Douvan, Un De Suceaux (Arkle), Faugheen (Champion Hurdle) and Annie Power (Mares Hurdle).
Having recommended Un De Suceaux at 5/1 (currently 4/7) for the Arkle, I see no reason to change my mind and the only thing that can stop him would be an over exuberant jump at one of the fences.
He will simply gallop his rivals into submission and the white flags will be out long before the last fence as his rivals toil in behind. It should be a great spectacle to watch.
The Champion Hurdle is obviously far from a foregone conclusion however and with a dual Champion Hurdle winner in the line-up, along with the returning champion and the unbeaten young pretender it looks set to be a mouthwatering clash.
The unbeaten Faugheen is the strongly-fancied favourite trained by that man Mullins again and he has done nothing wrong in winning all of his starts to date but the only question-mark raised has been the quality of his opposition.
He will certainly face tough opposition here spearheaded by returning champ Jezki.
The Jessica Harrington-trained Jezki will be Tony McCoy’s last ever ride in the Champion Hurdle and he is sure to throw everything at getting him home for what would be an emotional victory.
Jezki is a spring horse and comes alive at this time of year as he showed last year so you can forgive him the defeats to Hurricane Fly in soft ground at Punchestown and Leopardstown.
You are certain to see a completely different horse now.
Now if Hurricane Fly was to win it would be the story of the festival as no horse has ever regained the Champion Hurdle twice, it would be a truly remarkable achievement even for the 22 times Grade One winner.
Almost somewhat of the forgotten horse is the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained The New One, who is looking to avenge the unlucky defeat in last year’s race.
A fast finishing third was very respectable considering he was nearly brought down when badly hampered by the ill fated Our Conor and after an unbeaten season this year he should go there with every chance.
It’s hardly original but I’m going to side with the unbeaten favourite Faugheen who has limitless untapped potential and with Ruby Walsh looking likely to ride him over Hurricane Fly it says it all as to what they think this beast can achieve.
The feature on the second day is the Grade One Queen Mother Champion Chase and its possibly the highlight of the week.
We have the returning champion Sire De Grugy who has had an injury-plagued season and has only just returned to form in the shape of an impressive victory at Chepstow after a poor display at Newbury.
We have the Paul Nicholls-trained duo of Dodging Bullets, who brings the best form this season to the table, and quirky but talented Mr Mole who has just started to put his best foot forward and could be anything.
We also have the Willie Mullins-trained Champagne Fever, who has already won twice at the Cheltenham Festival and was a close second last year in the Racing Post Arkle.
Finally the horse that needs no introduction is thehorse described as the Black aeroplane, Sprinter Sacre, who is hoping to regain the crown he lost last year after suffering from an irregular heartbeat.
A satisfactory return at Ascot after 13 months off the track where he finished second to Dodging Bullets under a very considerate ride from Barry Geraghty bodes very well and with expected improvement to come he should take all the beating.
Douvan, Supreme Novice, Day one , 7/4
Faugheen, Champion Hurdle, Day one, 5/4
Sprinter Sacre, Champion Chase, Day two, 11/4