Tuesday 14th March 2023
Author: Jordan Yates (EvRacing_)
A big welcome to my preview for the opening day of this year’s Cheltenham Festival which kicks off on Tuesday. I’ll be sharing my opinions on the majority of the action throughout the four days, so as ever, I hope you enjoy the blogs.
The opener comes at 1:30 and it’s the Grade 1 Supreme Novices Hurdle that’s contested over two miles and a half of a furlong. I’ve tried my hand with two fancies in the race, the first of which comes in the form of Facile Vega at 2/1 for Paul Townend and Willie Mullins. He was the odds-on favourite for this race for some time before disappointing at the Dublin Racing Festival, where he went off far too quickly and paid the price. Before that, he was unbeaten and was last year’s Champion Bumper winner at The Festival. He’ll be ridden differently here and if bouncing back you could be getting odds against for a horse who was considerably shorter for a significant amount of time. It’s another Willie Mullins horse who I’ve had as a small each-way saver here, and that’s Il Etait Tempts at 11/2 who’s set to be ridden by Danny Mullins. He was impressive last time at the Dublin Racing Festival when bolting up by over nine lengths in the race that Facile Vega disappointed in, and he looks tailor-made for this. If turning up in the same form again here and handling the track, he’s also got a great chance.
The second race of the day comes up at 2:10 and it’s the Arkle Novices’ Chase which is also a Grade 1 event ridden over two miles. This has been one the most highly anticipated match-ups of this year’s festival, Jonbon arrives here with a fantastic chance for Nicky Henderson and will be very tough to beat. However, I’ve decided to side with El Fabiolo at 13/8 who’s another representative for Willie Mullins. He was narrowly defeated by Jonbon at Aintree last season when the much more inexperienced horse, and since then he’s developed into one of the most exciting horses in training. His most recent success was his most impressive to date when posting a bloodless success at the Dublin Racing Festival when bolting up in Grade 1 company, handing out a ten-length beating to the smart Banbridge. If handling Cheltenham and continuing his progression, he’s an obviously massive player.
We move onto the 2:50 now which is the first handicap of the meeting, which is the Ultima Handicap Chase that’s ridden over three miles and a furlong. This is one of the most competitive races of the week, as well as being one of the toughest puzzles to solve for punters. It’s a race in which the English have a good record, and I’ve tried my hand with an English runner in the form of Nassalam at 8/1 for Gary Moore. He’s been progressing with each run this season, with his last two outings both coming up at Cheltenham where he posted fine efforts on either occasion. Most recently finishing third behind Midnight River on New Year’s Day, which followed a solid effort in the Paddy Power Gold Cup in November where he finished sixth of fourteen. He’s given the impression that this step up in trip will really suit him, and if getting some luck in a big competitive field, he’s got every chance of going well.
It’s the 3:30 up next which is the Champion Hurdle which is the first championship race of the meeting. The race is one of the most prestigious in the calendar, and this year’s renewal we see a potential great take his chance. Keeping this short and sweet, Constitution Hill should win this at around 4/11 and it’s likely he’ll do it in impressive style. Last year’s wide-margin winner of the Supreme has taken everything before him this season and he can add more Grade 1 honours to his tally. State Man will be his main danger, however, in my ante-post blog I put up Vauban who’s now a best price of 14/1. He’s not kicked on as I’d hoped, but if you are still thinking of playing the race on the day he could still prove an each-way bet if three places are being offered. It’s not one I’d now have a great deal of confidence about though.
Next up it’s the 4:10 which is the Grade 1 Mares Hurdle that’s contested over two miles and four furlongs and ridden on the old course. These races are often the source of negativity, as there’s an argument to be made that they dilute the quality of some of the championship races, which I can see the case for. That being said, this year’s renewal of this race has thrown up a cracking contest. Honeysuckle will be all the rage, as last year’s Champion Hurdle reverts here after suffering her first career defeats, as well as Constitution Hill’s arrival on the scene. If anywhere near her best, she’ll be tough to beat. I’ve decided to chance one at a bigger price, and that’s Brandy Love who’s currently trading at around 6/1 for Willie Mullins. She signed off her campaign last season with Grade 1 success when impressively brushing the very talented Love Envoi aside at Fairyhouse. This season she’s had a few issues which have delayed her return to the track, but she did make her belated return to the track at Punchestown last month when finishing third behind Queen’s Brook in a Grade 3. That was quite an underwhelming display, but it’s likely that the run will have blown the cobwebs away and she’ll strip considerably fitter for this assignment. She’s a very talented mare, and if returning to the form of her Fairyhouse run I think that she has a great chance here.
The 4:50 is the penultimate race and it’s the Boodles Juvenile Hurdle which is a handicap hurdle that’s contested over a distance of two miles and half of a furlong. The race is another typically hugely competitive Cheltenham handicap, with twenty-two runners going to post on this occasion. In this year’s renewal of the race I’ve sided with Tekao at 9/2 who represents the team of Mark Walsh and Willie Mullins. He arrives here looking the typical contender for this race, having had the three runs to date for his current stable, with the most recent of those coming when finishing third of eight in Grade One company behind Gala Marceau and Lossiemouth. Prior to that, he won a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown and he does look primed for a big effort in this particular assignment. It’s likely later down the line he’ll be a bit better than a handicapper, if he gets some luck in the run here he should be there or thereabouts at the business end of things.
Concluding the action for the first day is the 5:30 which is the National Hunt Chase, the race is a Grade 2 affair over three miles and six furlongs that’s ridden by amateur jockeys. My NAP of the opening day is set to take his place here, and that comes in the form of Gaillard Du Mesnil at 11/10 who’s the mount of Patrick Mullins. He’s the class act in the field here and has some very solid Cheltenham Festival form to his name, having finished third in the Ballymore here back in 2021 behind Bob Olinger before finishing third in the Brown Advisory at last year’s festival behind L’Homme Presse. He added another Grade 1 success to his tally earlier in the season when taking the Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown, bolting up that day by over seven lengths. If turning up to this in anywhere near his top form, he’s going to be very hard to beat for the yard that won last year’s renewal of the race.
Image credit: horseracingphoto.co.uk