A New Story ridden by A P Heskin (third from left) on his way to winning the Glenfarclas Handicap Chase (Cross Country). Tony Marshall/EMPICS Sport
Starter's Orders

Mark Your Card: Tuesday

It’s better than the Morning Line and the Racing Post rolled into one. Mark Hobbs is here with an overview of today’s Cheltenham card.

THE STRANGE THING about the Cheltenham festival is that it encourages us to look forward like no other sporting event.

As soon as a horse wins the Supreme Novices then he is talked about for the following year’s Champion Hurdle, as soon as one wins the Gold Cup everyone wonders will they reclaim it again in 12 months.

Most racing die-hards will have counted down the time to Cheltenham since the close of last year’s final race, and plenty will have placed bets on the 2011 festival directly after their favourite horse or fancy romped home last term. There is little time to stand still in racing.

But hopefully in the next four days we can appreciate, on its own merits, a feast of national hunt action that is unparalleled anywhere in the globe. This is what has been circled off on the calendar all year; it’s here.

Opening day in Cheltenham is arguably its strongest day and a fantastic way to kick off the week.

The Champion Hurdle is the feature event, and many will argue that it’s the highlight of the entire four days. While the champion Binocular was forced out of the race in the final stage of the build-up, it has not lost too much lustre. At least seven of the runners have a realistic chance; amongst them such luminaries as Menorah, Hurricane Fly, Peddler’s Cross and Dunguib. It truly is a clash to savour.

The Supreme Novices Hurdle opens the proceedings, and much of the build-up has focused on the chances of Cue Card, who sluiced up last year in the Champion Bumper. His second behind Menorah last time out reads well, even if his unbeaten run came to an end. Now back in novice company he has an excellent chance.

The Arkle is usually one of the most competitive events of the week, but this year’s renewal seems to lack the quality of years gone by. Realt Dubh will look to improve trainer Noel Meade’s poor record in the Festival and take the prize back to Ireland again following Sizing Europe in 2010.

Elsewhere, the handicaps are the usual minefield for punters; while the Cross Country Chase could go the way of the well-weighted Maljimar for those brave enough to try and solve the puzzle in the idiosyncratic event.

Nap of the day

A very difficult one to call in a very tricky race, but the unbeaten Peddler’s Cross (9/2) looks like he has an excellent chance to extend that race today. Already a course winner at last year’s festival, he certainly handles the track and the ground should be fine. He has the stamina for further so the slog uphill to the finish line should prove no problem to Jason Maguire’s mount. Hurricane Fly will be a serious threat.

Each-way selection

Enda Bolger is mob-handed in the Cross Country event as usual, and while he saddles several of the leading fancies one of his outsiders appeals as a bet. Freney’s Well can be backed at 25/1, which is generous considering he was sixth last term off a similar mark and finished only eight lengths behind the eventual winner.

Irish Eye

The Irish team has a realistic chance of getting one or two winners on the board today, and according to the betting Quevega is our best bet. Having won the mares race in the last two years, she is a warm order to make it a hat-trick. Her fitness must be taken on trust, but she did win on her seasonal bow last year. She is perhaps the only runner in the line-up that could compete at the highest level against their male counterparts and she rates as an Irish Banker.

Some each way value could be had in the opening where Tommy Stack saddles a rare runner over jumps. Magen’s Star was a Group performer on the flat, and her two wide margin victories over hurdles to date suggests that she still has an appetite for the game. She receives a handy sex-allowance from the others, and could sneak into a place at 25/1.

Read more of’s Cheltenham coverage here >