The greatest show on turf

The greatest show on turf

The best punt of the Cheltenham Festival in the past was to take the odds on the opening day being contested on good ground, but there’s every chance that the word soft may creep into the description next Tuesday.

Cheltenham is recovering well from the heavy snow that cloaked the track, according to clerk of the course Simon Claisse, who on Sunday changed the going to primarily soft.

But Claisse is anticipating rain to arrive, turning heavier as the festival approaches. 

He said: “We are now soft and good to soft in places on the chase, hurdles and cross-country courses.

“I think it will remain that way for much of the week with some rain forecast, which could turn heavier by the end of the week with 8-10mm across Friday and Saturday.”

The legacy of the Beast from the East won’t worry the Irish contingent, as their horses generally run more on wetter ground which is often described as soft when closer to heavy.

Willie Mullins’ first string for the RSA Al Boum Photo ran the worst race of his career when fifth on good to yielding ground at Punchestown last year and has been kept to soft or worse conditions since. 

The smooth traveller is almost certain to improve for the step up in trip and jumps well.

Chris’s Dream jumped into the Cheltenham picture with a 64-length demolition job at Clonmel last month in extremely heavy conditions. 

Henry de Bromhead’s six-year-old led from an early stage and just went further and further away from his opponents as the race went on. 

Both his career victories have come on soft or heavier and he must have a big chance in the Albert Barlett on Friday.

But the Irish won’t have it all their way, and not a surprise to see little bits of money for the Colin Tizzard-trained Native River for the festival feature, the Gold Cup. 

Grinding out victories from the front is his forte and the slower the surface, the more effective his running style. 

He’s won five of his 10 career victories with the ground soft or worse.

Kalashnikov showed a liking for soft ground when romping home in the Betfair Hurdle last month, and trainer Amy Murphy is likely to favour the Supreme over taking on Samcro in the Ballymore, while Harry Whittington has Saint Calvados primed for the Arkle.

He has won six of his seven career starts and has never raced on ground better than soft. 

With favourite Footpad drifting in the market, it could be worth having a few quid on Saint Calvados before his price contracts further.

Co Meath handler Gordon Elliott had a sensational start to last year’s Festival with six winners in the first two days. 

Flawless Escape holds four entries, but it looks like connections are leaning towards the Martin Pipe Hurdle, and he will be of interest if he lines up in that. 

His Dounikas looks overpriced with Carrigill’s at 10’s for the RSA. 

• CARRIGILL’S NAP (Stake returned as a free bet if selection does not finish in the top 4): Dounikas, RSA Chase, Wednesday, March 14.

• AUGUR’S BEST BET: Saint Calvados, Racing Post Arkle, Tuesday, March 13.

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