1. “Will the curse of the Supreme Novices’ come true again?”
Favourites have a stinking record in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the first race of the Cheltenham Festival (1.30pm). Irish punters will be particularly aware of this having had their fingers burnt with Cousin Vinny in 2009 and Dunguib in 2010, while home hope Cue Card was turned over when a short price in 2011.
That doesn’t mean that punters should stay away from this year’s favourite, Nicky Henderson’s talented My Tent or Yours, but there are no guarantees in this race. If the curse does strike again, it could be good news for the Irish who are bound to lump on Jezki from the Jessica Harrington yard as they look to get the week off to a flyer.
2. “Is there anything that can beat Simonsig?”
Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old is set to be the first hot favourite this year, and to be honest, it doesn’t look like there is much in the Arkle Chase (2.05pm) to beat him. Remember, this horse was hugely impressive when he won at Cheltenham last year and he’s only gotten better since.
Of the rest, Overturn is a horse that deserves respect having finished a game second in the Champion Hurdle last season while Willie Mullins’ Arvika Ligeonniere is the best of the Irish.
(Nigel French/EMPICS Sport)
3. “Which Hurricane Fly is going to show up?”
All the talk about the day’s main event, the Champion Hurdle (3.20pm), is likely to centre on Willie Mullins’ Hurricane Fly.
This horse stamped his superstar credentials when he came here in 2011, proved that he could stay up the famous Cheltenham hill, and held off Peddlers Cross to win this race. But when everybody expected him to come back and defend his title last year he was a shadow of his former self and faded into third, paying the price for a massively disrupted preparation.
He has been back to his best this season, impressing in both the Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown and the Irish Champion Hurdle, but defending champion Rock On Ruby and last year’s Supreme Novice Cinders and Ashes will find plenty of support as well.
4. “Trust the Irish in the Cross Country”
The Glenfarclas Cross Country (4pm) is often dubbed “the Enda Bolger benefit” — the trainer won four of the first five runnings of this race when it was introduced in 2005. Even when Bolger didn’t come out on top, there were other Irish trainers there to pick up the slack: Michael Hourigan and Henry de Bromhead won in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
Although last year’s race went to Philip Hobbs and Balthazar King, it’s worth trusting the Irish to get it right. Bolger saddles the favourite Arabella Boy, Jessica Harrington looks set to run Boston’s Angel while Sizing Australia is likely to represent de Bromhead again.
5. “Can Quevega make it five?”
(Julien Behal/PA Wire/Press Association Images)
Big Buck’s aside, no horse has been as dominant at Cheltenham in recent years as Willie Mullins’ wondermare Quevega, winner of the last four runnings of the OLBG David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle.
If Quevega shows up in the same form as last year — and the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that — there’s nobody in the field that can come close. The worry is that she only runs once or twice a year to win these big races, and so it’s hard to get any first-hand evidence of her race form.
You’ll just have to trust that Mullins and Ruby Walsh know what they’re doing. And if you don’t, maybe Une Artiste would be a better bet.