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Cheltenham Festival

Soft or Heavy Ground at Cheltenham Festival – Winners and Losers

Altior ridden by Nico de Boinville clears the last fence before going on to win The Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Steeple Chase Race run during Champion Day of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday March 14, 2017. See PA story RACING Cheltenham. Photo credit should read: Julian Herbert/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial Use only, commercial use is subject to prior permission from The Jockey Club/Cheltenham Racecourse.
Sunday March 11th 2018 - 18:35

With such bad weather on the run up to this year’s Cheltenham Festival, there has been an acceptance that we’re likely to have soft ground for the first time since 2013. That was confirmed today with the going soft all over for at least Day 1 of the Festival, which kicks off with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Tuesday afternoon. Although this deeper ground will be a disaster for certain horses, for others it will be a massive blessing and we’ve had a scan through the cards to see which horses will benefit from the conditions. Struggling to make your mind up on who to back? You can view all our antepost previews and tips on our Cheltenham Festival tips section now!

Leading Contenders

Getabird – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

A short priced favourite to take the opener for Mullins and Walsh, neither will be fazed by the conditions as they currently are. A winner of soft and heavy ground, Getabird has displayed plenty of aptitude for the conditions and with a win at 2m 4f at Punchestown, stamina is going to be no concern either.

Buveur D’Air – Champion Hurdle

He’s been touted by many as the banker of the meeting, but will conditions lessen his chance? The answer is a resounding no, as Nicky Henderson’s seven year old has won on heavy ground previously and plenty of other times on softer ground too. He stays further than two miles so stamina won’t be an issue either, so the ground conditions will not be a chink in his armour come Tuesday.

Apple’s Jade – Mares’ Hurdle

Gordon Elliott’s likeable mare has beaten all comers this season, including on soft to heavy ground at Punchestown over the 2m 4f distance. She decimated a good Grade 1 field that day and she won another Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas on softer ground, so the deeper conditions are of no obvious concern to her.

Samcro Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle 

Unbeaten under rules and highly impressive on all three hurdling starts, Samcro loves a slog in the mud and that is proven by his connections pondering the Supreme were the ground bottomless. A winner on softer ground over timber and on heavy ground when taking his point, his chances are not hindered by a change to the normal conditions.

Altior / Min – Champion Hurdle

Altior is a perfect thirteen out thirteen over obstacles and has won three times on softer ground, including when routing Politologue at Newbury last time. He’s avoided truly soft ground when possible, but there is nothing to suggest from his previous runs on this ground that he won’t be able to perform to his best. The same can be said for Min, who has won on heavy ground in the past and is completely ground versatile, so one of the clashes of the Festival is still well and truly on.

Un De Sceaux – Ryanair Chase

Reliable and tenacious, Un De Sceaux relishes softer ground and glided through the mud to make a winning return at Cork in December in conditions that could be described as a bog. He’s won in France over 2m 5f in testing ground so stamina is not going to be a problem and this ‘banker’ of the week for many remains with his crystal clear chances.

Might BiteGold Cup 

This is where things get interesting, as this Henderson hotpot had avoided truly soft ground throughout his entire career prior to his King George success at Kempton on Boxing Day. There are already stamina niggles surrounding him and this won’t be a Gold Cup that is run at a dawdling pace with Native River in the line up. Whether the ground will be truly soft come Friday is obviously up for debate, but if it is, it’s not hard to have small doubts about whether Might Bite is really going to relish it.

Interesting Outsiders

The handicaps are where to look if we’re trying to find some big priced horses who will relish the ground, starting off with Shades Of Midnight who runs in the National Hunt Chase. All his best form has come when conditions are as soft as possible and he has always shaped like a marathon stayer in the making. Looking at the Close Brothers to end off Day 1, Le Rocher has really relished heavy ground this winter. He was an unlucky loser at Exeter last time and makes his handicap debut over fences off an interesting mark, so he could definitely out run his odds.

The Fred Winter is always a very tricky race but last year’s winning trainer Nick Williams has a very interesting chance with Mercenaire, who has raced exclusively on softer ground since joining from France. He was a shade disappointing in Listed company last time, but he came up against a potentially smart winner and now entering handicaps surely can out-run his big odds. A final mention is given to Topofthegame, who won a Grade 3 Hurdle at Sandown last time and bids to follow up in the Coral Cup. All his best form has come on softer ground and he’s completely unexposed as a stayer, so a big run would be no surprise from him.

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