And, we’re back! The 2023 Cheltenham Festival gets underway on Tuesday and we have strong information for all seven races on the opening-day card, worth a combined total of £1.2 million.
The ground is a little softer than many would like, which punters should keep in mind, though the Old Course does favour speed which is what we’re using on Tuesday.
1.30 (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – FACILE VEGA
We won’t expect anything like last year’s spectacular winner Constitution Hill to show up this time around, but the winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle tends to be a very, very good horse so this gets us as excited as always.
Champagne Fever, Vautour, Douvan, Altior, Klassical Dream, Shishkin and Appreciate It have all won this race in recent years.
Five or six weeks ago, Willie Mullins’ 2022 Champion Bumper winner Facile Vega was a very strong favourite for this race. After failing last time however, lots of people have jumped ship to Barry Connell’s unbeaten Grade 1 winner Marine Nationale.
We like that horse too, but there is no reason why Facile Vega shouldn’t get back to form here after only one blip and if he does, he will surely prove that he is comfortably better than this field.
His stablemate from Willie Mullins’ yard Il Etait Temps may be a better option to follow him home, while former Derby favourite High Definition and Paul Nicholls’ Tahmuras have to improve plenty.
2.10 (Arkle Trophy – Grade 1) – JONBON
There are arguably only four serious contenders for this year’s Arkle which is somewhat disappointing. Three of those are trained by Willie Mullins. Of that group, Saint Roi is likely to be the poor relation leaving us with Jonbon, El Fabiolo and Dysart Dynamo.
El Fabiolo was outstanding in winning the Irish Arkle last time, while we should not rule out Dysart Dynamo who was as impressive as his two big rivals on chase debut and went off the same price as El Fabiolo in that Irish Arkle. The one we like best however is Nicky Henderson’s Jonbon.
He only just got the better of El Fabiolo on his last hurdle start at Aintree last spring, while he had to play second fiddle to Constitution Hill in the Supreme.
He has eased to three facile victories over fences so far and while it’s true he hasn’t been tested to the limit yet, he looks up to the task for jockey Aidan Coleman.
2.50 (Ultima Handicap Chase – Class 1) – MONBEG GENIUS
2022 winner Corach Rambler has only had a couple of runs since his big victory but he’s back here for more.
He is an interesting contender, as are Into Overdrive and The Big Breakaway, but our vote goes to Jonjo O’Neill’s Monbeg Genius who is on a four-timer after three very taking chase wins.
3.30 (Champion Hurdle – Grade 1) – CONSTITUTION HILL
Only seven line up for the Champion Hurdle this year, though it is to be understood to a degree as many are running away from last the sublime Supreme Novices’, Fighting Fifth and Christmas Hurdle winner Constitution Hill.
The seven is very disappointing for each-way backers too, unless you want to take Vauban or I Like To Move It at reduced odds with three places, as Constitution Hill and State Man are very hard to oppose as a pair.
Constitution Hill looks to have all bases covered in truth and it would be a bitter disappointment were he not to win. His price is very restrictive, but he can of course be used in multiples, Placepots and the like.
4.10 (Mares’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – ECHOES IN RAIN
If we’re right about Jonbon and Constitution Hill, then a fair bit of money will be going on Nicky Henderson’s former Champion Hurdler Epatante in this event, or for that matter likely favourite Marie’s Rock.
Both Epatante and Honeysuckle are going backwards, it’s just a sad truth, and they may yet be beaten home by not only Marie’s Rock but also Love Envoi and even the overpriced Echoes In Rain.
Willie Mullins also runs Brandy Love in this race, a shorter price than the selection, though Echoes In Rain is a real long-term improver over hurdles who won ever so easily last time and who will love the conditions.
She was fifth in this race last year behind Marie’s Rock, though more is expected now.
4.50 (Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle – Class 1) – BAD
This the race otherwise known as the Fred Winter, a very competitive handicap hurdle for four-year-olds. These juvenile hurdlers are all very inexperienced which presents punters with various challenges, especially this year.
We all know that the Old Course favours speed and this indeed is a two-mile race, however many of these horses will go a lot further in time and so on the forecast soft ground it may be that some amount of stamina is needed to get the job done.
Top owner JP McManus has a strong hand here. His Tekao is being very well backed throughout Monday while Risk Belle provides strong back up. Big money has also come for Byker, while Sir Allen has some strong form to his name in the novice ranks.
The best of the bunch way well prove to be Bad however. Ben Pauling has grabbed this young horse from France where he put in an impressive performance back in November and he now looks very well handicapped.
5.30 (National Hunt Cup – Grade 2) – MAHLER MISSION
Our final race is a 3m6f novices’ chase for amateur jockeys, though nothing in the race’s conditions makes it less
appealing to punters.
All the money in the build-up has been for Willie Mullins’ Gaillard Du Mesnil, though while he should be improving like most novices, there is no real evidence he’s going forward just now and he is a very short price.
Minella Crooner is of some interest, as is Mister Coffey who we tipped when he went close in the Kim Muir last year, though he finishes second an awful lot and again isn’t improving fast enough.
Mahler Mission is the value play. Though he was beaten last time, he is a fast improver overall and will love underfoot conditions too.
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