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Apple's Jade and Bryan Cooper

Vroum Vroum Mag (right) loses out to Apple’s Jade

 PICTURE:Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos) 

 By Tony McFadden 8:00PM 27 FEB 2017 

BOOKMAKERS took a battering at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, with a succession of well-backed winners sending punters home happy.

There are six horses trading at shorter than 2-1 for this year’s meeting, and how they fare could make or break the week for punters and layers.

In a bid to ensure this year’s festival is another 2016, we’ve ranked the hot favourites in order of shaky to certs.

6. On The Fringe
St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase
(6-4 generally)

Pros: Has dominated the hunter chase scene for the last two years, winning this contest before completing the festival treble at Aintree and Punchestown. Now a 12-year-old but looked as good as ever when posting a highly-encouraging second to Foxrock on recent reappearance at Leopardstown.

Cons: Only scrambled home in last season’s race and this year’s renewal could be stronger with Wonderful Charm, a high-class Grade 2-winning chaser at his peak, not needing to come off the bridle to win on both starts in hunter chases. Prolific winner Ask The Weatherman brings a big reputation from the pointing sphere and impressed when slamming a formerly smart chaser at Wincanton recently.

Conclusion: The horse to beat but doesn’t make appeal at such a short price against a couple of strong contenders, in what is likely to be a chaotic 20-plus-runner cavalry charge.

On The Fringe

On The Fringe: winner of the Foxhunter Chase for the last two years

 PICTURE:Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos) 

5. Vroum Vroum Mag
OLBG Mares’ Hurdle
(6-4 generally)

Pros: Consistent, versatile mare who has been beaten just once in 13 starts since joining Willie Mullins. Was an impressive winner of this race last year and the 2m4f trip appeals as her optimum.

Cons: Often compared to illustrious stablemate Annie Power but does not boast a piece of form to suggest she is nearly as good as last season’s Champion Hurdle winner. Her one defeat was inflicted by likely rival Apple’s Jade, and she was well below her best at Doncaster last time when narrowly winning at 1-5.

Conclusion: Arguably should have beaten Apple’s Jade at Fairyhouse when set plenty to do, and meets that rival on 4lb better terms. But there’s not a great deal between the pair in terms of ability and her lacklustre effort last time – on the back of a hard race over a stamina-sapping three miles – has to be a concern.

Vroum Vroum Mag (Ruby Walsh) wins mares hurdle

Ruby Walsh celebrates after Vroum Vroum Mag wins the Mares’ Hurdle

 PICTURE:Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos) 

4. Unowhatimeanharry
Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle
(11-8 Betfair)

Pros: Successful on all eight starts since joining Harry Fry and hasn’t had to pull out all the stops to register a hat-trick of Graded-race successes this season. Twice a winner over course and distance and holds rock-solid claims.

Cons: Not as far clear on ratings as you may expect for a horse trading so close to evens, so may not be able to get away with performing much below his best if other rivals bring their A-game.

Conclusion: By far the most likely winner but not a great deal of juice in his price, and both Shaneshill and 2015 winner Cole Harden appeal as legitimate rivals, particularly if the ground is good.

Unowhatimeanharry

Unowhatimeanharry: has racked up an impressive sequence of wins

 PICTURE:Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos) 

3. Yorkhill
JLT Novices’ Chase
(7-4 Betfair, Coral and Ladbrokes)

Pros: Looked a potential top-notcher when comfortably beating Champion Hurdle hope Yanworth in last season’s Neptune Novices’ Hurdle, and further displayed his huge engine when following up at Aintree despite refusing to settle and pulling hard throughout. Not hard pressed to win both starts over fences and has a clear edge over his rivals in terms of raw ability.

Cons: Not straightforward – as evidenced by his hard-pulling antics – and has displayed a tendency to jump to his left.

Conclusion: Plenty will be willing to take him on having displayed a shaky jumping technique and signs of temperament, but he remains an exciting prospect and by some distance the most talented horse in the race.

Yorkhill-360

Yorkhill: not fluent over his fences but a top-class prospect

 PICTURE:Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos) 

2. Altior
Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy
(1-3 generally)

Pros: Wide-margin winner of last year’s red-hot Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and has taken well to chasing this season, winning all four starts with ease, including against more experienced rivals at Newbury last time. The heir apparent to Sprinter Sacre and is rated higher than that superstar was at the same stage of their careers.

Cons: Jumping largely an asset, but stood a long way off a couple at Sandown and wouldn’t want to take similar liberties with the stiff Cheltenham fences.

Conclusion: A potential superstar whose presence will make the distance markets more interesting than the outright betting. Will win barring a fall.

Altior-2

Altior: launches himself at a fence at Sandown

 PICTURE:Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos) 

1. Douvan
Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
(1-3 generally)

Pros: Eight-time Grade 1 winner who is unbeaten in 13 starts for Willie Mullins, including two authoritative successes at the festival. Regarded by many as the best horse in training and has significantly better form than all his likely opponents in what will be a small-field renewal.

Cons: Looks bombproof. But you won’t get rich backing him.

Conclusion: A cut above his rivals and should be a formality.

Douvan (Ruby Walsh) wins the Racing Post Arkle Chase

Douvan: had no trouble winning the Racing Post Arkle last year

 PICTURE:Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos) 

 
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