The declarations are through for the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival and just eight will contest the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and six the following Arkle Trophy tomorrow. Owners not being able to attend looks to have had an impact on the number of runners although all the big guns have stood their ground.

Four competitive cards in Britain and Ireland this afternoon and the ground was given as soft at Stratford on Monday morning ahead of their first card of the year. The opening juvenile hurdle is a cracker with Gary Moore’s Casa Loupi (12.30) bypassing the Festival as he looks to make it third time lucky over timber, having chased home leading Triumph Hurdle fancy Tritonic in both starts to date.     

I am slightly surprised to see Moore step his 4-y-old up to this extended 2m 2f, but I would be disappointed if he could not confirm Ascot form with Dan Skelton’s Stepney Causeway who must give the selection 6lbs.

Kapgarry won the corresponding 2m 6f handicap chase 12 months ago from a 1lb higher mark and he must have every chance of doubling up under Jordan Nailor who continues to impress in the saddle. Marginal preference, however, is for Orrisdale (2.03) who is fitted with first time cheekpieces by Jonjo O’Neill. Note he wore blinkers at Carlisle on his last start.

The selection – 7/2 with Unibet – has little to fear with subsequent Ludlow winner Subcontinent on Hereford running on his penultimate start and the winner is now rated a stone higher in the weights. His Bumper win was gained on good ground but he is effective on soft ground.

I thought Golden Tobouggan (3.03) ran a cracker in a much better race than todays at Wincanton last time when runner up to the Paul Nicholls’ trained Caid Du Berlais. The selection – 13/8 with BetVictor – is a multiple winner between the flags and the only negative is that he tended to jump slightly out to his right last time.

I am keen on the chance of Beau De Brizais (3.40) in the 3m 4f handicap chase for Philip Hobbs and Micheal Nolan. All five of the selection’s career wins have come right-handed including twice at Taunton and I would be disappointed if he did not go close having run a couple of excellent races over Cheltenham’s X-Country course earlier in the season. Conditions were described as soft on Sunday morning and, in an ideal world, I would like the ground to dry out a bit more, but the selection – 3s with BetVictor – does have winning form on soft ground.

White Moon was the outsider of the field, but he is considered the main danger for Colin Tizzard. He looks very well handicapped on his old form although the grey has not won for over two years. The opening 10s was daft and he is just 9/2 with 10bet at the time of posting.

Starczewski did us a favour at Kempton over 2m last time coming from last to first but he might not have the race run to suit dropping back a couple of furlongs this evening and I hope to see James Doyle dictate his own fractions on Margaret Dumont (6.50). The selection – 6/5 from 15/8 with Boylesports – looked ready for a step back up in trip when third over 12f on her first start for Hugo Palmer at Lingfield last time and she gets a narrow vote for her inform stable.               

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