Cheltenham Day 1 Selections
The time has finally arrived as the top equine talent from Britain and Ireland go head to head across 28 spectacular races from Prestbury Park. Will the Irish runners get off to a flying start? Can Edwardstone triumph for Britain in the Arkle? Will superstar mare Honeysuckle defend her crown in the opening day feature? Our expert editor has previewed the opening day’s action and provided a selection in each of the seven contests.
Dysart Dynamo (1:30 Cheltenham, Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle)
The Cheltenham ‘roar’ will be back in full voice once more as thousands of spectators return to the Festival for the first time in two years. Nine runners will go to post in Cheltenham’s curtain-raiser and several contenders will be hoping they can hit the ground running in what is a particularly strong renewal of the Supreme.
Former Irish pointers have won the last two editions of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and that tally could increase as Nicky Henderson plays two of his strongest Festival hopes in the opener in the shape of Constitution Hill and Jonbon.
The former has been spectacular in his opening two hurdle outings at Sandown, readily pulling clear of his toiling rivals on both starts, including when landing the Grade 1 Tolworth back in January by 12l. Like the majority of the field, the five-year-old is open to plenty of improvement and looks a horse of immense promise given the manner of his opening two starts under rules.
A full brother to 2015 Supreme Novices’ winner and multiple Grade 1 hero Douvan, Jonbon has also impressed on the track for Nicky Henderson. After landing a bumper at Newbury last season, the well-regarded six-year-old has been foot perfect in his three starts over timber which has included back to back triumphs in Grade 2 company. Although perhaps not as visually impressive at Haydock on his latest victory, Nicky Henderson’s unbeaten star had to concede weight to his rivals on soft ground and still ultimately ran out a comfortable winner.
Another trainer who has enjoyed success in this race is Willie Mullins, who leads the way for all-time wins in this race with seven Supreme titles to his name. The prospect of number eight looks very much on the cards this season and whilst Kilcruit and Bring On The Night command respect, it’s hard to look past DYSART DYNAMO who has looked something out of the ordinary since making his racecourse debut for connections.
After a brace of wide-margin bumper wins last season, Willie Mullins’ free-going six-year-old demolished his rivals on hurdling debut at Cork by 19l before repeating the trick when upped markedly in grade at Punchestown to claim the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle – a race that Vautour and Douvan claimed before going on to Supreme Novices’ Hurdle success.
The six-year-old seemingly fits the bill in comparison to previous winners from the yard, as he likes to race handy, has a high cruising speed during his race and appears to have no stamina concerns. Jockey Paul Townend could open up a lead on the field as they turn for home and climb the famous hill and if that turns out to be the case, Dysart Dynamo might not be for catching.
Edwardstone (2:10 Cheltenham, Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase)
The Arkle has been won by some of the sport’s true greats in seasons gone by with a roll of honour that includes the likes of Moscow Flyer, Sprinter Sacre, Douvan, Altior and last season’s winner Shishkin. Although three of the last four editions have gone the way of the Irish trained runners, there is a real hope that Britain can triumph once more with EDWARDSTONE, whose only blemish over the larger obstacles came when being brought down on chasing debut at Warwick.
Alan King’s charge has seemingly been galvanised since attention has switched to fences this year and has cemented his credentials as one of the best two-mile novice chasers in the country after winning his last four starts.
After comfortably getting back on track at Warwick on his second start chasing start, the eight-year-old could hardly have been more impressive when landing the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown, jumping supremely well in the hands of Tom Cannon before clearing right away in good style to defeat Colin Tizzard’s War Lord by 16l.
That success at the highest level has subsequently been followed by victories against Grade 2 opposition, comfortably justifying odds-on favouritism on both occasions in the Wayward Lad at Kempton over Christmas, before scoring well in the Kingmaker at Warwick back in February.
Although the Irish raiders are well represented with the likes of Riviere D’etel and Haut En Couleurs, both have failed to convince in the jumping department in recent outings and with Alan King’s charge fluently negotiating the obstacles in his latest victories, Edwardstone is hard to oppose at the top of the market and can give the home team something to shout about in the second race on day 1.
Floueur (2:50 Cheltenham, Ultima Handicap Chase)
24 runners are set to go to post in the Ultima, and whilst many of the handicaps across the four-day showpiece have firmly gone the way of the Irish runners in recent seasons, the Ultima remains a contest that the British have held sway, winning each renewal since 2006.
Britain will be expected to keep that impressive recent record intact with several runners holding obvious claims, including the smart novice Does He Know, who has won three of his four starts over fences and appears to have plenty of stamina in abundance. Returning champion Vintage Clouds hinted at a return to form at Doncaster last time out when finishing second, whilst classy pair Frodon and Lostintranslation are not without hope despite taking on some interesting rivals.
However, records and stats are there to be broken as they say and with that in mind, perhaps this is the year when Ireland take this Handicap by the scruff of the neck. Trainer Gordon Elliot has a formidable record with his handicappers at the Festival and there will be little separating his runners Death Duty and FLOUEUR after the pair clashed in a Grand National Trial at Punchestown last time out.
Whilst Death Duty remains well treated on the best of his form, he has often underwhelmed on the biggest stage at the Festival and may find younger rivals too good at this stage of his career. On the other hand, Floueur remains lightly raced over the larger obstacles and although no match for the impressive Galopin Des Champs on the second start over fences at Leopardstown, Gordon Elliot’s seven-year-old recorded his first chasing success on his next start, staying on well in the closing stages over the intermediate trip to see off the challenge of stablemate Frontal Assault.
A recent third behind Death Duty, when upped in trip at Punchestown, highlighted the seven-year-olds staying credentials, and with previous Festival form to rely on when finishing third in the Martin Pipe last year, Gordon Elliot’s progressive charge ticks plenty of boxes in this handicap event, especially with the talented Jordan Gainford aiding the cause further by taking a handy 3lb off the seven-year-olds back.
Honeysuckle (3:30 Cheltenham, Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy)
The opening day’s feature is the Champion Hurdle and all eyes will certainly be on the wonderful mare HONEYSUCKLE who bids to defend her crown after delivering a first-class performance in this last season under regular pilot Rachael Blackmore.
Henry De Bromhead’s unbeaten star rounded off her campaign in fine style after recording her second success at the Cheltenham Festival, comfortably seeing off previous adversary Sharjah to land the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestown in April.
Honeysuckle returned on seasonal reappearance once again in the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse and joined an illustrious roll of honour alongside, Limestone Lad, Solerina and Apple’s Jade in becoming a three-time winner of the Grade 1 contest, with the fabulous mare proving far too good for her seven rivals, running out a comfortable winner by 8l.
A third straight success in the Irish Champion Hurdle soon followed in February as the fabulous mare readily justified cramped odds once more when defeating Zanahiyr by 6.5l, preserving her unbeaten record in the process and taking her career record under rules to 14 from 14.
Last season’s dominant Supreme winner Appreciate It certainly adds some fire to this year’s contest and whilst the updates from Willie Mullins has been positive regarding the eight-year-olds chance, he could be up against it on seasonal reappearance with a lack of a recent run a cause for concern.
Honeysuckle faces a sterner challenge than she did last season but the mare is simply tough to oppose and Henry De Bromhead’s charge can maintain her unbeaten sequence and create another piece of history, by becoming the first mare to win the Champion Hurdle twice.
Queens Brook (4:10 Cheltenham, Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle)
The Irish have made this race their own in recent runnings and has been landed by some seriously smart types over the years, namely Willie Mullins’ brilliant mare Quevega, who landed the Grade 1 prize a record six times on the bounce and placing her name in Cheltenham Festival folklore.
Several of Tuesday’s field have pressing claims including the likes of Stormy Ireland who has course and distance form to her name and was last seen winning the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle back in January and is the mount of Paul Townend out of Willie Mullins trio of runners. Whilst 2021 Dawn Run winner Tellmesomethinggirl has been targeted by connections at this very race for quite some time and could be set to provide owner, trainer and jockey with a quickfire double if Honeysuckle justifies favouritism in the Champion Hurdle.
However, Gordon Elliot won this race in 2017 with the talented Apple’s Jade and could be set for another victory courtesy of QUEENS BROOK who has seemingly returned to form after an apparent back injury and could be primed to run a huge race for connections if the stable whispers are anything to go by.
Returning last October, Queens Brook ran well to finish a creditable second behind Lunar Display with the pair coming 25l clear of the nearest pursuer. After that promising return, the mare was quick to return action just a week later when defeating Ciel De Neige in a Conditions hurdle event at Fairyhouse by 4l – that form being well advertised, with Willie Mullins’ seven-year-old subsequently landing a hat-trick of wins over fences.
Gordon Elliot’s mare returned to Graded company on her latest outing, and although finding Burning Victory too good in the Grade 3 Quevega Mares Hurdle at Punchestown, Queens Brook caught the eye with her finishing effort in the closing stages despite having to concede 3lb to Willie Mullins’ former Triumph Hurdle winner and will have come on plenty for that runner-up effort.
The seven-year-old mare has seemingly turned the corner in her recent outings on the track and whilst others may have achieved more, Queens Brook wasn’t beaten far when finishing third on her only start at Cheltenham in the 2020 Champion Bumper and there’s every reason to think she can rise to the occasion on Tuesday and find the winner’s enclosure at the Festival.
Gaelic Warrior (4:50 Cheltenham, Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle)
Punters will be looking to get off to the best possible start on Day 1 and whilst nothing in racing is certain, one thing that the Festival always delivers is a haul of winners of Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins. If the weight of market support is anything to go by, then GAELIC WARRIOR could blow apart a rating of 129 on stable debut.
The four-year-old has been touted as another well-regarded French import for the yard, and although yet to make an appearance on British or Irish soil, the vibes have been positive regarding Gaelic Warrior’s winning chance ever since the first entries were announced at the start of the year.
The owner and trainer were keen to snap the four-year-old up after performing with great credit on his final two starts at Auteuil last year, earning decent RPR figures in the process. Gaelic Warrior has been the subject of glowing reports in recent stable tours and interviews and has been kept from making his anticipated racecourse appearance until this season’s Festival in order to protect his apparent generous looking mark.
There is every reason to think that Gaelic Warrior could be one of the best-handicapped horses of the entire meeting and although the four-year-old will have to perform on the biggest stage first time out for new connections, he has reportedly been working well at home with stablemates rated in the 150’s and could have been let into his first handicap off a very lenient mark of 129.
Stattler (5:30 Cheltenham, Ukraine Appeal National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Novices’ Chase)
A small turnout for the final race on day 1 and although Run Wild Fred should be going close back down in Grade 2 company, he is taken on with the STATTLER who runs in the colours of last year’s winning owner after Galvin impressively turned away all challengers in last season’s renewal.
The seven-year-old has thrived since attention has switched to the larger obstacles, jumping big and bold to win a beginners chase last December at Fairyhouse before taking the rise in class in his stride with a taking display to see off the likes of Farouk D’alene and Vanillier at Naas over an extended 3mile trip.
Willie Mullins has seemingly targeted this race for a while for Stattler and with two strong staying victories already posted over fences, the seven-year-old should relish the demands of the extended 3m5f trip on Tuesday and it will take a smart performance from one of his six rivals to overhaul him as they climb towards the line.