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Cheltenham Day 1 - the other races

Now for the other races on today's card...

R3, 1450. ULTIMA HANDICAP CHASE

A mighty difficult three mile handicap chase which usually goes to the British and to a runner high in the market, not what you'd expect at the Festival! There's the usual baffling mix of horses on the rise, older horses dropping down the handicap and trainers who can do nothing all season but flick the switch at Cheltenham time...

I find it hard to go against Monbeg Genius, a lightly-raced chaser trained by shrewd handicap trainer Jonjo O'Neill. He's won three in a row, all at around this distance, all slightly different tests. He wanted to idle in front when nicely clear at Chepstow last time but responded well when shaken up. A bigger field should keep him switched on, and despite going up 18lbs from his past three runs, I still think there's something in hand.

Oscar Elite ran third in this race last year and is only one pound higher in the weights. His form since has been mixed but he won comfortably at Ascot last time and a return to a race he went so close in last time should be ideal for him. 

Nassalam has kept on well at his last two starts here, he hasn't run over three miles before which is a slight concern while Tea Clipper is a bit of a pack animal who just keeps on running. He's finished third and fourth in big handicaps at the last two Festivals, he'll be sticking on near the placings.

MONBEG GENIUS (bet 7/1+), Oscar Elite, Nassalam, Tea Clipper

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R6, 1650. BOODLES JUV HURDLE

This might be as simple as just backing Sir Allen - three out of the past four winners of the Naas 4yo Novice Hurdle have gone on to win this race (but another six of the past 10 winners have started 25/1+!). He's certainly a good starting point. An ex-Flat horse, he's had three runs over hurdles, commencing with a second to Blood Destiny (currently equal fav for the Triumph on Friday), a Punchestown maiden win (both 20 horse fields) and that win at Naas against four of today's rivals, including second favourite Byker. Sir Allen had 7lbs in his favour that day, this time he switches to a senior jockey rather than a 7lb claimer, while Byker goes from a professional to a 5lb claimer. All in all, that will come to a rather significant 15lb turnaround. 

Byker started fav on that day at Naas (under a senior rider), off the back of a maiden hurdle win there a fortnight before, when ridden by Charles Byrnes' son Philip, as he will be today.

Favourite Tekau ran third during the Dublin Racing Festival behind Gala Marceau and Lossiemouth, also leading chances in the Triumph, but went up 9lbs for that run which makes his task a wee bit harder. 

Bad has been bought out of France and is supposedly 10lb light on his French ability. I'll believe that when I see it but French-breds have a good record in this race, nine of the last 18 winners of this race began their careers in France. But it's Ben Pauling's other runner I think has a great chance at the weights. Samuel Spade won on hurdling debut at Kempton over Xmas, then ran second to Perseus Way carrying an 8lb penalty at Huntingdon a few weeks later before walloping a weak field there three weeks ago. He meets Perseus Way 12lbs better for a 3L defeat - the question is whether the British form stacks up to races in Ireland.

SIR ALLEN (bet 10/1+), Samuel Spade, Tekao, Morning Soldier

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R7, 1730. NH CHALLENGE CUP

Never a fan of amateur races in a big festival but here it is. Gaillard Du Mesnil will start a clear favourite, with Paul Mullins, the amateur who regularly rides in pro races, aboard. He has at least 8lb in hand on the field according to the handicapper, and yet this race is on level weights. To pick a fault, he's only won once in eight starts over fences so do you really want to lump on at evens?

No real interest in the race but I'll side with Minella Crooner, he was classy last season over hurdles, and must have some upside left to come

MINELLA CROONER (interest bet 7/1+), Gaillard Du Mesnil, Coolvalla

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