Monday, March 13, 2023

Colman Comerford with Honeysuckle at Prestbury Park today (Monday). Tomorrow she will bid to win her fourth and final Cheltenham Festival race. Photos: Inpho.

The Cheltenham roar is always associated with the opening race of the week which is the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and for me this race revolves around one horse, the Willie Mullins trained Facile Vega. A couple of months ago the winner of last year’s bumper was money-on for this race but a below par showing at the Dublin Racing Festival (DRF) has seen him drift out in the betting although he is shortening up all the time as the race nears.
It all depends on whether or not you can forgive him for his run at the DRF. He went out too fast and didn’t stay but I think tactics (he won’t go off like a scalded cat) and the way this race is run will work in his favour and I’m willing to stay with him. For me he’s the class act in this field and should win. Henry de Bromhead’s Inthepocket now goes in this after defecting from the Ballymore.

The Arkle is one of my favourite races of the week and this year it looks like a match between Willie Mullins’ El Fabiolo and the Nicky Henderson trained Jonbon, although Dysart Dynamo, also from the Mullins camp, could have a big say too from the front. El Fabiolo was very impressive the last day and Jonbon probably wasn’t but I think Jonbon is a far better jumper and that’s why I’ll side with the JP McManus runner.

The Ultima is always a very hard race to unlock but stats will say that it is one of the few races of the week that the British trained horses have dominated in recent years. Therefore it’s not surprising that the top of the market is dominated by British runners. I’ve watched a lot of Cheltenham Previews and the three that being talked up the most seem to be Happygolucky, Coarch Rambler (who won this race last year) and Oscar Elite.


The highlight of day one, the Champion Hurdle is next and this race contains the single most talked about National Hunt horse in training today, the Nicky Henderson trained Constitution Hill (pictured above). He’s ran five times of hurdles and has won by a combined distance of 77 lengths, that’s over 15 lengths a race which is mad. Everyone seems convinced that he’s the greatest thing since Istabraq and he probably is but I’m not as sold as most other people. Don’t get me wrong, he looks like a brilliant horse but I’ve been very impressed with State Man this season for Willie Mullins. I think this is a proper horse and I think that he’ll give Constitution a hell of a race. I actually think this will be a cracker. Vauban is interesting too but very much a two horse race for me.

Waterford’s first big hope of a winner for the week comes in the Mares’ Hurdle where the legendary Honeysuckle, on her last visit to Cheltenham, bids to win this race for a second time and follow up her back to back Champion Hurdle wins at the Festival. An awful lot has been made of her so called demise this winter after her first two career defeats and whether or not she should be in this race or the Champion Hurdle but the latter talk is a load of rubbish for me. She’s around a 2/1 favourite for this race, she’d be at least four times that for the Champion hurdle so to me it’s a new brainer.
Can she win to crown a memorable career? Of course she can and if she does there won’t be a dry eye in the house. Nicky Henderson’s Marie’s Rock (who won this race last year) was leaning towards the Stayers Hurdle, but now goes here so she will definitely take a lot of beating. Former Champion hurdler, Epatante, Love Envoi and Willie Mullins pair Echoes in Rain and Brandy Love also run. It looks a cracker of a race. I’d be with Marie’s Rock.

The penultimate race on day one is the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle and this looks a very tricky affair to figure out. The Willie Mullins trained and JP McMauns owned Tekao is favourite at around 4/1 despite only having one win from three starts. The Charles Byrnes trained Byker is next in the betting followed by another for Willie and JP in Risk Belle. I don’t have a huge view on this race but two I had in the notebook are Jazzy Matty (Gordon Elliott) and Sir Allen (Andy Slattery).

The National Hunt Chase for amateur riders concludes the action on day one and the Willie Mullins trained and Patrick Mullins (his son) ridden Gaillard Du Mesnil is the red-hot favourite for this one. The same combination won this race last year with Stattler and it’s impossible to look beyond them repeating that feat. Churchstonewarrior is a good horse and could chase home the favourite.

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