It has finally come back around! Day one of the 2022 Cheltenham Festival looks to be a real belter, fully befitting its status within the game.
In terms of sheer quality, the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle has provided a wonderful opening to the meeting, while there may be a mini shock on the cards in the feature Champion Hurdle at 3.30.
1.30 (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – CONSTITUTION HILL
A tremendous start to the proceedings. The ‘Cheltenham Roar’ at the beginning of the curtain-raiser may be matched for volume by the roar at the end of the race, especially if Constitution Hill gets the job done which we believe he will.
Nicky Henderson has a very strong hand here, being responsible not only for Constitution Hill but also for JP McManus’ unbeaten expensive purchase Jonbon.
The first-named has been excellent this season. Only a five-year-old and with just the two hurdle starts under his belt, you could claim he lacks experience but we also know he has not shown us his very best form yet which we expect on Tuesday.
Both his debut win in December and his Tolworth Hurdle success in January were spectacular. What’s more interesting is that he has clocked some impressive speed figures, despite winning on heavy ground.
Constitution Hill appears then to have the speed and the strength for this race and it’s easy to see him powering up the hill to victory.
Willie Mullins’ Dysart Dynamo may well go off favourite in the end and he was also impressive at Punchestown, a horse we think is the biggest danger to the selection ahead of Jonbon with Mighty Potter further down the list.
2.10 (Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase – Grade 1) – EDWARDSTONE
An excellent turnout for the Arkle and this renewal is sure to be a competitive one.
The major pleasure here is the lack of the current trend of keeping Cheltenham hopes off the track for months, with none of the big five in the betting having been away from the course for more than 38 days.
In the case of Alan King’s Edwardstone, he is eight years old and has run 18 times under rules so is very experienced, he is also very much race fit having gone in four weeks ago.
Despite all of this, he still looks like a big improver and we can certainly mark up his latest success at Warwick ahead of Third Time Lucki.
Since falling and being brought down in his first two chases, Edwardstone has won four times in a row and has been rarely troubled against some good types.
He looks a proper horse and can get the job done here, perhaps ahead chiefly of Blue Lord (Willie Mullins) and Riviere D’Etel (Gordon Elliott).
2.50 (Ultima Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – TEA CLIPPER
A 3m1f handicap chase at Cheltenham is always a tough event to try to solve, but the tentative vote goes to Tea Clipper for the Tom Lacey yard.
Going on recent form, he wouldn’t have a chance and that is reflected in his price. However, the form of his debut chase win from last October makes him very well handicapped here and it’s important to note that he has now had a wind operation and wears first-time headgear.
The admirable Corach Rambler should also go well. Over on the New Course we backed him to win in December and he went off favourite for a Grade 2 last time.
Fantastikas is another horse who could prove to be well treated, while Floueur is attracting plenty of bets and can also go well.
3.30 (Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy – Grade 1) – APPRECIATE IT
It goes without saying that it would be no surprise whatsoever to see the wonderful mare Honeysuckle win this again. She would become the first mare to win the race twice and would be unbeaten in 15 career runs.
She is not infallible however and purely from a betting value point of view, it could prove fruitful to trust the expert training techniques of Willie Mullins and go for his Appreciate It instead.
Also unbeaten over hurdles, last year’s utterly imperious Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hasn’t run since that day but is reportedly fighting fit.
Going on the numbers based on the form of the horses in behind Appreciate It last year, even at the weights, it is easy to see a scenario in which Appreciate It reaches a level now he has matured that is too much even for Honeysuckle to handle and he is priced well enough for us to have a little wager.
Teahuppo is clear dangerous, Tommy’s Oscar can go well at a big price, former champ Epatante is in with a shout and her Fighting Fifth joint-winner Not So Sleepy should not be a 100/1 shot.
4.10 (Mares’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – TELLMESOMETHINGGIRL
Rarely does it work out this easily, but on our own ratings Tellmesomethinggirl is just about the best bet of the day. Henry De Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore were excellent last year and they have a proper contender here too.
Tellmesomethinggirl is moving in the right direction, quite quickly too, and despite being beaten the last three times looks to us as though she is at a higher level than Stormy Ireland, Queen’s Brook and Indefatigable.
4.50 (Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – GAELIC WARRIOR
Another proper running of the Fred Winter, or the Boodles as it is now known officially, with 22 four-year-olds charging over an extended two miles.
Gaelic Warrior hasn’t run for 283 days and never outside of France. Backing him seems risky, but frankly he is in the best of hands (Willie Mullins) and if he runs to the level he did Auteuil, let alone improves, then he looks very well handicapped off just 129.
There are plenty of challengers, The Tide Turns being the main one for us ahead of HMS Seahorse and Champion Green.
5.30 (National Hunt Challenge Cup – Grade 2) – RUN WILD FRED
The closing race over 3m6f is a potentially tough one to call, though if last year’s Albert Bartlett Hurdle run is anything to go by leading light Stattler may not be at his very best around Cheltenham, opening the door for Run Wild Fred.
Both horses have leading amateur jockeys on board and both are solid, but Run Wild Fred gets the vote having won nicely at Navan in November before chasing home Fury Road in a Grade 1 last time. Vanillier was another on the shortlist.