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Cheltenham Festival tips: Trio of Day One selections from Hugh Taylor!

At The Races tipster Hugh Taylor has three selections on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival including a Willie Mullins handicapper in the Ultima!

A lot of punters like to use trends when making their selections for the Cheltenham Festival, and whilst they can provide some seductive short cuts, it’s always worth bearing in mind that trends-based selection methods rely on highlighting certain variables whilst ignoring others

Consider the chances of MEETINGOFTHEWATERS in the Ultima Handicap Chase (2.50), for instance. Plenty has been made of the fact that Willie Mullins, though closing in on 100 wins at the Festival, has never saddled a handicap chase winner at the meeting (from 43 runners).

It’s important to look at the fuller picture, though, and not many of those 43 runners would have had anything like the profile of Meetinginthewaters. Firstly, he’s in his first season with Mullins – as well as his first season over fences – and his trajectory has taken a sharply upward turn.

After unremarkable efforts on his first two starts for the stable, he took a big step forward when easily winning a Cork novice chase in November, despite some very untidy jumps. He was then asked a big question given his inexperience over fences when asked to contest the 27-runner Paddy Power Handicap Chase on very testing ground at Leopardstown, but he went through the race as if a long way ahead of his opening mark.

It’s possible he may have been suited by racing round the outside, but he eased clear of all his rivals, regardless of where they raced, in impressive style and galloped clear in the closing stages.

He had an unfortunate experience next time when badly hampered and unseating at the first, and he’s racing off a 17lb higher mark here than for his win, but he’s unexposed at 3m+, has had only four completed starts over fences, and it’s not hard to envisage that he will prove much better than a handicapper in time for his new yard.

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Rich Ricci admitted stepping up to the intermediate distance is a slight concern for Mares’ Hurdle favourite Lossiemouth.

The third and fourth from last year’s renewal, Monbeg Genius and The Goffer, are obviously interesting runners given the subsequent exploits of the first two home in that race, but Meetingofthewaters might be another horse that’s heading for much better things.

LANTRY LADY is the hardest runner to assess in the Close Brothers’ Mares’ Hurdle (4.10), but she has considerable upside, having already reached quite a high level after just two starts, and given that she shapes as if a test of stamina on softish ground will suit, she looks a valuable alternative to clear for pick Lossiemouth, who is stepping up in trip here.

Lantry Lady has won both her starts at Gowran Park in impressive style, albeit with an 11-month absence between the two runs. On the face of it, her latest performance when in receipt of a stone from What’s Up Darling, who has a BHA rating of 137, leaves her with plenty to find here, but I’m taking a very positive view of both her time and the visual impression.

Almost regardless of what point the races are timed from, she recorded a time around 12-14 seconds faster than that of the preceding four-year-old hurdle, with sectional times not diminishing that differential.

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Richard Thompson believes Envoi Allen can’t be discounted as he tries for back-to-back wins in the Ryanair.

The runner-up in the four-year-old event runs off 124 in the Boodles Handicap Hurdle later on the card (rated 119 in Ireland), and whilst those marks probably aren’t generous, it’s not hard to conclude that Lantry Lady ran to a fairly high level for a mare having just her second racecourse start.

Moreover, the manner in which she was grabbing the ground up the hill in the closing stages on both starts at Gowran suggests that a step up in trip on testing ground at a track with a stiff finish might see her in an even better light.

Rachel Blackmore rides stable companion Tellmesomethinggirl, perhaps unsurprisingly as she won the Dawn Run on her at the 2021 Festival, but it’s worth noting that Jack Kennedy came in for the Gold Cup-winning ride on Minella Indo when Blackmore opted to ride A Plus Tard in the same year, and it’s possible that Kennedy might be on the right one again here.

LATIN VERSE was a revelation last time at Ludlow, proving his effectiveness on very testing ground at the same time, and with the stars aligning perfectly for connections in terms of the handicap mark he needed to get into the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (4.50), he shouldn’t be underestimated.

Regardless of the multiple stable switches he’s had this season, nominal or otherwise, he looked to take a big step forward at Ludlow, even taking into account the weakness of the opposition.

He did look potentially very well handicapped on the basis of his previous Chatteris Fen Hurdle placing behind a potential high-class Paul Nicholls import, but he made a mockery of his opening mark, leading on a tight rein early in the straight, readily going clear two out, and heavily eased after the final hurdle, still passing the line 19 lengths clear.

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Gavin Cromwell sets out plans to run Flooring Porter in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Despite being heavily eased, his time was over four seconds faster than that of the winner of the maiden hurdle on fresher ground an hour earlier, and the third in that opening race, who like Latin Verse is a four-year-old and whose time was just over five seconds (or around 20 lengths) slower, has been given an opening mark of 109.

With that in mind, a mark of 125+ might have seemed perfectly in order for Latin Verse, but the handicapper has put him up by just 10lb to 120, which as it turned out was the lowest possible mark that would still enable him to make the cut for this race.

Clearly this race is on a different scale in terms of competitiveness, but Latin Verse, whose stable has had four winners from its last seven runners, could hardly have been more impressive last time and looks to have been underestimated by the market.

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