Tom Lee’s Cheltenham Festival tips: Day 1 – Ballyandy can get punters off to a flier in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle


The Cheltenham Festival.

Three words guaranteed to instantly lift the mood of any horse racing fan, be they casual or hardcore. The thought of those four adrenaline-inducing, hero-creating, stamina-sapping days, underlined and then some on the sporting calendar.

Reputations will be enhanced and there'll be surprises by the bucketload, but there could be more than a few bubbles burst, one of which could very well arrive in the opening race of the meeting, the Supreme Novices' Hurdle (1.30pm).

Courtesy of Champagne Fever, Vautour and Douvan, trainer Willie Mullins captured this prize every year between 2013 and 2015, and here his big gun is a young horse long on potential but short on experience, Melon. 

An easy 10 length winner at Leopardstown being the only time we've seen him race in Ireland, Melon has an awful lot more on his plate here on a very different track. He could well end up falling into the same category as the likes of Dunguib and Pont Alexandre, much-hyped animals who let down punters with sky-high expectations in the opening race of the meeting.        

Far more solid and at bigger odds, my suggestion is to take him on with Ballyandy (4.00).

Trained not far from Cheltenham by a master at preparing them for this meeting, Nigel Twiston-Davies, we know for certain he can handle the hype and intensity of the Festival atmosphere, as well as the testing track, given that he won the Champion Bumper here 12 months ago, one of two Cheltenham victories to date.


What's more, he arrives here with a decent level of experience over timber, his most recent outing being a battling win in a valuable Newbury handicap – a sure sign that he's tough enough for the battle ahead.

Interest is heightened by the fact the last three winners of this race were all top-rated on the official figures allocated by the British Horseracing Authority – Ballyandy is top of the tree. 

Altior probably won't have to be at his best to win the Arkle (2.10pm), such is the superiority he's shown in his four outings over fences to date as well as last year's Supreme Novices' stroll, but that's reflected in his eye-wateringly short odds, so instead leapfrog that race and head direct to the Ultima Handicap Chase (2.50pm).        

There's no doubt this is a very, very difficult race to solve, but one with impeccable credentials is the Tom George-trained Singlefarmpayment (8.00).

Like Ballyandy, he loves it at Cheltenham, winning there over both hurdles and fences previously. 

Unexposed and apparently still improving, he hails from a local stable who are having a cracking season, and the fitting of a first time hood to try and help him concentrate might just be the thing that swings this in his favour. 

It's all good, but the highlight of day one comes at 3.30pm with the Champion Hurdle to be decided by a field of 12. 

The bookies will tell you the most likely winner is either Yanworth or Buveir D'Air, but at bigger odds than either of those I'm keen on the chances of Ireland's principal hope, Petit Mouchoir (8.00).

Horses coming over from the Emerald Isle have taken this prize home in 12 of the last 18 renewals, and this horse looks a very strong contender to enhance that record. 

I've been present for all four of his runs this season, a campaign orchestrated by new trainer Henry de Bromhead, who has overseen a pair of top level victories at Dublin track Leopardstown. 

He'd have added a Grade 1 at Newcastle to that list had it not been for an unlucky late fall, but his dramatic improvement makes him a major threat here all the same. 

The race after the Champion Hurdle is the Grade 1 Mares' Hurdle (4.10pm), which has unexpectedly become one of the races of the meeting as Limini locks horns with stablemate Vroum Vroum Mag (3.50).   

Add to that already flammable mix the likes of Apple's Jade, Jer's Girl and Lifeboat Mona, and you almost certainly have a contest to savour.


Ruby deserts her, but I'm sticking with last year's winner, Vroum Vroum Mag, who had a host of possible options across the four days but will have a massive chance if she definitely runs in this.

She only does enough in her races but is as tough as they come, and has loads of big game experience. 

Saving the trickiest 'til last, my final suggestion for day one comes in the finale at 5.30pm, the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase, where trainer Nicky Henderson looks to repeat his 2013 victory in this by saddling Gold Present (10.00).

This horse put up a lovely display behind the talented Frodon at Kempton last time out, a run which should leave him spot on for this very different test. 

Nine of the last 12 winners of this concluding day one heat came from the first five in the market, and Gold Present is neatly poised in the betting just behind the likely favourites Foxtail Hill and Its'afreebee.