A selection of classy mares intend to deny BUVEUR D’AIR (Cheltenham, 3.30) an historic third Champion Hurdle, but stable vibes suggest the reigning champion is in better form than 12 months ago and he can fend off the ladies.
Last year’s winner produced a rather more workmanlike display to capture this title than his supporters would have liked, but his trainer felt he was suffering from a bug that was present in the yard that day and the defeat of Melon should not be taken literally.
His two victories this term have been achieved with the minimum of fuss and the defeat sustained on Boxing Day at the hands of Verdana Blue owed a little to his rider trying to give him as easier race as possible.
The forecast morning rain should be no issue and he is likely to enjoy a lead with the likes of Apple's Jade keen to force a decent gallop.
Buveur D’Air 2pts win @ 11-4
Lightly-raced chasers have enjoyed a fine record in the Ultima Handicap Chase in recent seasons so, with just eight previous starts over fences, MISTER WHITAKER (Cheltenham, 2.50) may prove the answer to an extremely difficult puzzle.
Only one of the last 10 winners had contested this handicap without previous festival experience so the selection qualifies courtesy of his hard-fought victory in the novices’ handicap chase at this meeting 12 months ago. A reappearance success at Carlisle (2m4f) saw him finish his race off powerfully and two subsequent outings in hot handicaps have indicated that Mick Channon’s gelding may be ready for a step up to three miles.
Mister Whitaker 1pt ew @ 7-1
HIGHWAY ONE O ONE (Cheltenham, 4.50) already possesses valuable course experience courtesy of a fine second to Kildisart on Trials Day and was far from disgraced in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Chase won by Dynamite Dollars.
He finished upsides leading Arkle hope Lalor that day, recording a strong figure, so may still be fairly treated and can give a good account at a decent price.
Highway One O One 1pt ew @ 12-1
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