DOU OR D'AIR WILL DO FOR PRESS
Douvan's arrival on Jump racing's greatest stage, and reflections of Buveur D'Air's Stan James Champion Hurdle win dominate today's racing press coverage.
The Racing Post captures both elements on its front page, with headlines that read 'It could be a dream Douvan Day' and 'Walking on Air' (also a page header in The Daily Telegraph). Nicky Henderson's two winners on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival - Buveur D'Air plus Altior in the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy - is marked on the Post's front cover, and it manages to squeeze in '. . . and it's high fives for Gordon Elliott who bags a treble'.
Elliott's rise in racing - encapsulated by that three-timer - and Willie Mullins' sticky start yesterday, is latched onto by The Sun's Matt Chapman, who writes: "The gauntlet has been thrown down by the big lad from Meath."
The Daily Mail headlines with 'Who D'Airs wins', 'Punching D'Air' is the GloucestershireEcho's big-race reflection, and 'Air force won' does for The Sun. The Daily Telegraph's Paul Hayward shared a few moments with Henderson post-race, and during their conversation the interviewee said: "Now where's my cough mixture?" Hayward writes: "A glass of red wine was placed in front of Cheltenham's leading trainer . . ."
Douvan will become the first major-league equine star to appear at this week's Festival when lining up in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. His trainer, Willie Mullins, has yet to win the race, prompting the Racing Post headline 'A new trophy for the cabinet?'.
'Dou the biz' is the Daily Star's proclamation, and 'Dou the business' is the Racing Plus's take - its Value Plus column, which made Apple's Jade the star bet yesterday, selects Hawk High each-way in today's Coral Cup - while Kevin Garside, writing in I, quotes Douvan's owner, Rich Ricci, saying: "I'd like to see something get him off the bridle to see what he is really made of." Referring to The Festival as "the world's best sporting spectacle" Ricci tells the Daily Express's Chris Goulding about owning a hot favourite saying: "It's so difficult to enjoy it, I just endure it."
Following Altior's odds-on win yesterday, Greg Wood of The Guardian allows himself the luxury of pondering possibilities for the best confrontation since Denman took on Kauto Star, by writing: "Now it is up to Douvan to make the match and set the date for what promises to be one of the great head-to-heads at next year's Festival."
If Douvan is a proven champion, Neon Wolf is on the cusp of attaining that status in today's Neptune Investment Management Hurdle. Followers of the Racing Post's Pricewise column will be on Harry Fry's runner ante-post at 8/1. 'Cry Wolf!' is the Daily Mirror's nod to the horse, who is napped by the paper's Newsboy, and also by jockey Lizzie Kelly in the Daily Mail.
The Festival is a gathering of wide social and economic backgrounds, with captains of industry and work-place trainees rubbing shoulders. The captains own the horses, of course, and a win for Apple's Jade, the property of Michael O'Leary of Ryanair, encourages The Times' Business section to carry a photo of the man and his mare. Racing also reaches the Business Comment page of The Daily Telegraph, which illustrates its reflections of operating profits at Close Brothers with a photo of Tully East winning the same company's novices' chase yesterday.
Off the track and down among the people, The Guardian's Steven Morris considers The Jockey Club's tightening of alcohol sales following some OTT performances last year. Alongside the headline 'Cheltenham latest: Binge drinking and loutish horseplay are non-runners' The Guardian prints a series of photos capturing day one, including a five-star picnic assembled for a beaming quintet of tweed-clad racegoers (possibly not Guardian readers). The Times' news section has a headline 'Race-goers raise a glass to moderation', and while the Daily Star comes at the subject from a different angle, its caption 'And they're quaff' is one of the more original.
A fusion of pheasant feathers adorning one racegoers' hat provides The Daily Telegraph with a front-cover photo, and 'It's a fur bet' heads the Daily Mail's people-watching round-up. 'Chelten-glam Festival' is a pun in The Sun. Sport, industry, fun, food and fashion; it's all part of The Festival mix.
TOMBSTONE LOOKS GRAVE DANGER TO BOOKMAKERS
Bookmakers certainly had the better time of it on the first day, Champion Day, of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival as a host of big-priced winners plundered the spoils at Prestbury Park, with Altior (1/4 favourite) the only favourite to oblige on what was a difficult day to find winners.
However, punters are unperturbed and have supported a number of runners on the second day, Ladies Day, of the Festival.
In the feature race, the Grade One Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (3.30pm), the Willie Mullins-trained Douvan is a warm order for the two-mile chasing championship and is available at odds of 1/4. The sponsors have reported solid each way support for Tom George's God's Own who is 9/1 from 12/1.
In the Coral Cup (2.50pm), the race sponsors are fearful of Gordon Elliott's well-supported Tombstone, in the two mile and five furlong contest. County Meath handler Elliott saddled three winners on the first day of the 2017 Festival and runs the unexposed the seven-year-old who was fourth to Altior in the 2016 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle. Coral have made the gelding 7/2 favourite from 5/1 as he seeks to provide owners Gigginstown House Stud with their third victory of the week.
The Harry Fry-trained Neon Wolf heads the market for the opening race of the day, the Grade One Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle (1.30pm). Unbeaten in three starts under Rules, the gelding is a strong favourite at 15/8 from 2/1 with Coral.
Nicky Henderson's Whisper is also proving a popular choice to upstage his more vaunted stable companion Might Bite in the Grade One RSA Chase. The Seven Barrows Maestro gained his 57th winner at the Festival yesterday after saddling Altior (Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase) and Buveur D'Air (Stan James Champion Hurdle) to victory. Whisper is 6/1 from 7/1 with Betway.
Enda Bolger's Cantlow, favourite for the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, has proved weak in the market for the three mile and seven furlong event this morning and has drifted out to 7/2 from 11/4 with Betway. Support has emerged for Usuel Smurfer who is 16/1 from 20/1 with the same firm.
The Weatherbys Champion Bumper, the concluding race of the day, is invariably seen as a minefield for punters. However, Coral have reported good support for Dan Skelton'sCause Toujours. A bumper winner at Warwick in December, his price has constricted to 13/2 from 8/1.
Reflecting on yesterday's action, Betway representative Alan Alger said: "It was certainly one of the best first days we have had at The Festival in a while. We've gone into the first day with trepidation the last few years but, whilst yesterday went well for us, there are still 21 races left."
Focusing on today's racing, David Stevens of Coral commented: "Tombstone could be a 5/2 shot by the off, which is the shortest price we can find in the history of the race. Gordon Elliott had such a good day here yesterday and running this horse in the Coral Cup rather than the Champion Hurdle says a lot. Today revolves around Tombstone and we would like to get him beat in a race we are sponsoring."
Alger added: "Tombstone would be a bad result for us and we think he will go off at 4/1. We need a result in that race as the ante-post liabilities on the horse will cost us."
1.30pm - Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle - 15/8 from 2/1 - Neon Wolf (Coral)
2.10pm - RSA Chase - 6/1 from 7/1 - Whisper (Betway)
2.50pm - Coral Cup - 7/2 from 5/1 - Tombstone (Coral)
3.30pm - Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase - 9/1 from 12/1 - God's Own (Betway)
4.10pm - Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase - 16/1 from 20/1 - Usuel Smurfer (Betway)
5.30pm - Weatherbys Champion Bumper - 13/2 from 8/1 - Cause Toujours (Coral)
THE FESTIVAL 2017 - WINNERS SO FAR
Champion Day, Tuesday, March 14
First race: 1.30pm. The Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Labaik (FR) (Aidan O'Ryan) Gordon Elliott 6-11-7 Jack Kennedy 25/1, 2¼l
Second race: 2.10pm. The Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Chase
Altior (IRE) (Patricia Pugh) Nicky Henderson 7-11-4 Nico de Boinville 1/4F, 6l
Third race: 2.50pm. The Ultima Handicap Chase
Un Temps Pour Tout (IRE) (Caroline Tisdall & Brian Drew) David Pipe 8-11-12tb Tom Scudamore 9/1, shd
Fourth race: 3.30pm.The Stan James Champion Hurdle
Buveur D'Air (FR) (J P McManus) Nicky Henderson 6-11-10 Noel Fehily 5/1, 4½l
Fifth race: 4.10pm. The OLBG Mares' Hurdle
Apple's Jade (FR) (Gigginstown House Stud) Gordon Elliott 5-11-5t Bryan Cooper 7/2, 1½l
Sixth race: 4.50pm. The JT McNamara National Hunt Challenge Cup
Amateur Riders Novices' Chase
Tiger Roll (Gigginstown House Stud) Gordon Elliott 7-11-6tb Lisa O'Neill 16/1, 3l
Seventh race: Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase
Tully East (Barry Connell) Alan Fleming 7-11-8 Denis O'Regan 8/1, 1¼l
Willie Twiston-Davies' ride in the Coral Cup is taken by claimer Jamie Bargary.
Twiston-Davies fractured two vertebrae when 6/1 favourite Foxtail Hill fell in the final race of Champion Day, the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase.
Third race: 2.50pm. The Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle
No. 22 Robinshill is now ridden by Jamie Bargary (3)