CHELTENHAM Festival gets off to an absolute cracker on day one.
Yes, the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, the very first race to be greeted by the famous roar, could end up being the race of the week.
There are loads to top runners to pick through and form to go over.
Here, Sun Racing's Steve Mullen – Templegate to you and me – delivers his ultimate guide.
DYSART DYNAMO can get the Festival off to a flying start for Willie Mullins. He won his two bumpers before going over hurdles where he has looked a real natural. He kicked off with a 19-length success at Cork before leaving that behind with an equally easy Grade 2 success at Punchestown where he looked a potential superstar. That was on testing ground but he’s struck in quicker conditions and has a lot more to come. Nicky Henderson has two good chances and I just favour the hopes of Jonbon over Constitution Hill. The JP McManus-owned six-year-old was made to dig deep when winning a good contest at Haydock last time but he had plenty in hand crossing the line in front. That was a decent test on ground that was too soft for him. This faster surface can bring lots of improvement. Constitution Hill already has a Grade 1 success on his CV after winning the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown in early January.
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He loved the mud there and picked up well out of it to score with 12 lengths to spare. He didn’t have a lot to beat that day but couldn’t have done it any easier. If he can repeat that form on quicker ground he’ll be a major contender. We might not have the cavalry charge Supreme of years gone by but there’s lots of quality and Mighty Potter can’t be ignored. He is another who has already won at the highest level thanks to his Leopardstown success at Christmas. We haven’t seen him since then but trainer Gordon Elliott will have him ready for this. He shaped as though a bit further might suit and that staying power will be an asset up the famous hill. Kilcruit is an interesting contender for Mullins. He was odds-on when second in the Champion Bumper last season and has taken a little while to get going as a hurdler. He was turned over at 1-14 on debut but got his act together to destroy a big field at Punchestown six weeks ago. This is a much hotter contest but connections have always rated him and the reports of his home work have been positive. If he can show the quality of his Grade 1 bumper form he can figure. The others look well short of this standard. Shallwehaveonemore wasn’t disgraced when second in a Kempton Grade 2 last month but he shouldn’t be winning this if he was beaten in that. Bring On The Night comes from Mullins but has a massive gap to bridge from winning a minor contest at Naas 16 days ago.
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RIVIERE D’ETEL can turn around the Irish Arkle form with Blue Lord. She travelled like a class act right through that Leopardstown contest and looked to have it sewn up before a dodgy jump at the final fence slowed her momentum. She quickly got going again and was catching her rival before the line came too soon. She normally jumps really soundly and gives the impression that Cheltenham’s stiff finish will be ideal. The 7lb weight allowance she gets from the boys is another big advantage. Blue Lord looks a big danger again after that Dublin Racing Festival success. That built nicely on an easy Naas win. It’s a slight concern that he fell in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on his sole visit to Cheltenham but he has lots of quality. The home side has an excellent chance in the tough Edwardstone who has gone from strength to strength this season. He took the Grade 1 Henry VIII at Sandown in December by an easy 16 lengths and backed that up with equally impressive victories at Kempton and Warwick. Alan King’s flagbearer hasn’t met anything in the same class as the Irish horses he takes on here but he’s done nothing wrong and deserves to be favourite. Brave Seasca looks overpriced and some bookies are paying four places which gives him an each-way shout. He was far from disgraced behind Edwardstone at Warwick where a bad early mistake didn’t help. He had easier options than this at the Festival and was impressive when landing a handicap hat-trick earlier this year. Saint Sam was only four lengths away when third in the Irish Arkle. That was just his second run over fences and there will be more to come from this five-year-old. He needs to brush up his jumping at this level though. Haut En Couleurs fell early in that race after being supported in the betting. He was third in last year’s Triumph Hurdle here so has quality. This is a tough race to bounce back in but his December Leopardstown win was promising. Coeur Sublime was only beaten four lengths by the sadly injured Ferny Hollow when they clashed at Punchestown in December. He came up short in a Grade 1 after that but had ten lengths in hand when striking at Gowran in late January. His jumping caught the eye there and he’s another long price with chances of making the frame. Stablemate Magic Daze needs to improve on her Cork third and has had a break.
FANTASTIKAS can give local hero Nigel Twiston-Davies a Festival win with son Sam in the saddle. He has shown loads of potential on his four chase starts to date, especially his effort here on New Year’s Day. He ran a belter when third in the Grade 2 Dipper where he kept up with potential star L’Homme Presse for a long way until being run out of it late on. He then showed guts to score at Lingfield and has had a little break since. There’s more to come and the hustle and bustle of this hot handicap should suit. Our Power enjoyed his first crack at this sort of trip when third at Kempton 17 days ago. A better jump at the last might have seen him win. He looks a threat for Sam Thomas and Charlie Deutsch from the bottom of the weights. Ireland have a couple of decent chances with Death Duty who got the better of Floueur in a classy contest at Punchestown last month. The former is a Grade 1 winner at best but Floueur would have won but for a couple of errors. He looks more of a threat here if he can get across his fences better. Frodon can be relied on to run his usual gutsy race and it’s worth remembering that he was fifth in the Gold Cup last year so this is a drop in class. I t won’t be easy to give weight away but he won a hot handicap over course and distance off this mark last season so it can be done. Gericault Roque never runs a bad race and is getting almost two stone from Frodon. He has hit the frame in good company on all four of his chase runs and has more improvement to come. He stayed well in the Classic at Warwick last time and will be finishing off strongly. It would be no surprise to see him hit the frame – especially if your bookie is paying extra places. Last year’s winner Vintage Clouds has done little since but is just the type to pop up again. He’s only 1lb higher in the weights than 12 months ago and he was placed in this race twice before winning it. Take the hint! Does He Know won here in October and had lots left in the tank when scoring at Ascot. He hasn’t tackled a big field like this before but looks capable of better. Noble Yeats has few miles on the clock and chased home a useful type in a strong race at Wetherby last time. He probably wants further while Tea Clipper could show more on this handicap debut in first-time cheekpieces.
HONEYSUCKLE can maintain her amazing 100 per cent record by winning a second Champion Hurdle. Henry De Bromhead’s superstar mare is having another stellar season and landed her latest Grade 1 at the Dublin Racing Festival last time. She may not have been at her very best there but didn’t need to be in landing a six-length success. She has beaten several of these before and gets a 7lb weight allowance that tips the scales even more in her favour. She didn’t have to break sweat in taking this 12 months ago and, while this year’s race looks a little stronger, they all have to improve to steal the crown. Another mare is worth an each-way look – 2020 winner Epatante who was third last season. She has been brought along slowly by Nicky Henderson with this race in mind. She dead-heated for the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle with Not So Sleepy before a comfortable Christmas Hurdle success at Kempton. Aidan Coleman’s mount looks a big price to hit the frame. Teahupoo could be the major improver in the field for Gordon Elliott. He took a huge step forward when winning a Gowran Grade 3 contest by 11 lengths last month. He picked up really strongly despite the gluey ground and the form looks solid. He’s only five so there could be a lot more to come. The bookies look to have underestimated him. All the talk coming into the race has been about Appreciate It’s return from 12 months off. He hasn’t run since winning the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on this day last year thanks to injury problems, none of which are thought to have been that major. Willie Mullins will have him fit for this comeback and that 24-length Supreme success was a fantastic effort. It is asking an awful lot to win a Champion Hurdle off such a long break though. It’s decades since any horse has won it after more than a couple of months away. If there’s going to be a shock, Adagio could be the one to provide it. He loves Cheltenham as he showed when finishing second in last year’s Triumph Hurdle. He came back here to run another stormer for second in the big-field Greatwood Hurdle in November. He gave Goshen a good race at Wincanton last time and there will be much worse each-way bets this week. Zanahiyr was second in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and has held his own in Grade 1 company this season. He was no match for Honeysuckle at Leopardstown but was far from disgraced. He needs a big step forward to figure here but trainer Elliott certainly hasn’t given up on him. Tommy’s Oscar won the Trial for this race in the mud at Haydock by a convincing five lengths. This is much tougher but he’s a real battler who deserves his place in the field.
QUEENS BROOK couldn’t quite catch Burning Victory when they clashed at Punchestown last month but can turn the tales with the benefit of that run under her belt. She was coming back from a break and Cheltenham’s hill should bring out the best in her. The winner that day is part of a typically strong team for Willie Mullins who has won this race nine times. Stable jockey Paul Townend is on board Stormy Ireland who looks a massive threat. She was helped by her main rival falling at the final flight when she won the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle here on New Year’s Day but is was a good performance. She has been put away with this race in mind since and can improve on her 2020 fifth in this contest. Echoes In Rain is another Mullins runner in with a serious shout. She was third in the Irish Champion Hurdle behind Honeysuckle last time and is already a Grade 1 winner. She tackles further than two miles for the first time and will be a danger if staying. Telmesomethinggirl came from a long way back to finish a narrow third at Leopardstown. She’s been off since that Christmas run but is proven over this trip and won the Dawn Run here last season so will like the track. Mrs Milner drops back in trip and won the Pertemps Final here last year so that’s not certain to suit. Her liking for Cheltenham is a bonus but this might happen too quickly. Marie’s Rock is pick of the British team but has a fair bit to find.
THE TIDE TURNS can give Gordon Elliott his third victory in the past five runnings of this race. He kicked off his hurdles career with a big-field win at Punchestown and has held his own twice in red-hot Graded races including at Gowran last month. This is a fair drop in class from that and he has lots of pace for this trip. Gaelic Warrior has been a massive plunge horse ahead of this debut for Willie Mullins. He ran in a good race in France last time and connections admit they are surprised he has so little weight to carry. He’s got a massive chance but is a skinny enough price. HMS Seahorse has an each-way chance at tempting odds. He was well backed when winning at Fairyhouse last month. The handicapper has been fair with his weight and he battled well which is a good sign. Champion Green jumped like a more experienced horse when scooting in at Naas. He looks capable of better with Rachel Blackmore taking over in the saddle. JP McManus has two other chances with Brazil looking impressive when winning latest. The handicapper hasn’t taken any chances but there will be a lot more to come. Petit Tonnerre only had two rivals to beat on debut for Jonjo O’Neill at Market Rasen but did it nicely enough. He made a bad mistake at the last and won’t be able to do that here. Dan Skelton knows how to plot one for these big Festival handicaps and his Too Friendly is interesting coming back from three months off. He ran well enough in a Doncaster Grade 2 last time and has had a wind operation since. He doesn’t have a big weight and can outrun his odds. Britzka didn’t get the run of the race when fourth behind White Pepper at Fairyhouse. The latter has since held his own in Grade 3 company and they are too more in with each-way chances. Paul Nicholls has an interesting runner in Bell Ex One who makes his debut for the yard after moving over from Ireland. He did well to win at Listowel and Punchestown and the first-time blinkers could bring further improvement. Prairie Dancer shaped well with a Grade 3 second at Fairyhouse last month. None of these would be shock winners with Doctor Brown Bear having run well at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting. He has moved to the canny Martin Brassil yard and has been fitted with a tongue tie. He has been nibbled at in the ante-post markets and could easily outrun his price.
RUN WILD FRED can give the Coddfather his fourth National Hunt Chase win since 2016. Jamie Codd is different class in these amateurs’ races and has the ideal partner in Gordon Elliott’s eight-year-old who was a cracking second in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival. That is much hotter company than this and built on his excellent Troytown victory at Navan in November. This his long been his target and his Irish Grand National second suggests that moving up in distance will be ideal. Provided he jumps soundly he’ll take a lot of stopping when his stamina kicks in. Stattler has been well touted for Willie Mullins and he’s a chaser going the right way. He was fourth in the Albert Bartlett here last year but he didn’t motor home over three miles that day. He did stay strongly enough at Naas last time but he’s not guaranteed to get up the hill here. His class could see him home but it wouldn’t be a shock if he was outstayed. Stablemate Ontheropes looks a solid each-way prospect especially if you can find a bookie who is paying three places. He was a good fifth in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran in January and he seems to have bottomless stamina. That will be a major asset here. Vanillier got the better of Stattler when winning the Albert Bartlett by an impressive 11 lengths. He has shown some promise over fences with a decent Grade 2 success at Punchestown in November. He hasn’t fired completely twice since then but coming back to Cheltenham could see him take a step forward, as it did 12 months ago. Braeside hasn’t had the best of luck on his past two runs, with his saddle slipping before a below-par effort at Navan last month. He was a cracking fourth in a big field at Leopardstown before that and a return to that form would put him in the mix. It’s hard to believe there are no English runners in this but Welsh trainer Rebecca Curtis has a go with Pats Fancy. He has been in decent enough form at handicap level with a couple of wins at Chepstow in December. He was far from disgraced when chasing home Bravemansgame at Newbury last month. Stepping beyond three miles should be the making of him and he’s no forlorn hope. Unlike stablemate Beatthebullet who was pulled up in a much easier race than this last time out.
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