The Festival is nearly here and with the crowds back the atmosphere is sure to be electric.
I can’t wait to get started and I have one ride to look forward to on the opening day. Here are my thoughts on all seven races.
13:30 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
I’ve been very impressed by Constitution Hill, and he’d be the one that I’d want to be on. He’s a very laid-back character and takes everything in his stride, so the big occasion on Tuesday won’t get to him. That’s something that will be very important. I do think his biggest rival will be Dysart Dynamo. He’s been impressive in Ireland this season, but it depends how the prelims go for him, as he can get very worked up on the way to the start. That isn’t ideal on a big occasion like this and might hand his main rival an advantage.
I’m sure this race will be run at a good tempo, with Dysart Dynamo giving Constitution Hill a lead. I can see him joining Dysart Dynamo coming down to the last and taking over up the hill. Nico [De Boinville] will be looking forward to this ride, and for me, Constitution Hill gets the vote over the Willie Mullins runner.
14:10 Arkle Novices’ Chase
This is the biggest field in an Arkle for quite a while, which is good to see.
Edwardstone is favourite and he’s a horse that really seems to have got the hang of things over fences. I feel his jumping has improved as the season has gone on. He’s beaten me twice this season and he now looks like the finished article. He was the highest rated of these over hurdles, and that’s a good statistic when it comes to finding the winner of the Arkle. Alan King isn’t the type of trainer to over-hype his horses, but he’s said that he hasn’t had a horse like Edwardstone for quite some time, so I think that needs to be noted.
Another to keep an eye on in this race would be Haut En Couleurs. He was impressive at Leopardstown and then fell on his next start. To my eye what I saw at Leopardstown was very impressive and I think he could run a big race.
14:50 Ultima Handicap Chase
Frodon is at the top of the weights. He’s a classy horse on his day and this is a step down in grade for him. He’s lost his form a bit lately, but if he came back to his best, then he’d be a danger to all.
The horse I like here though is Fantastikas of Nigel Twiston-Davies’. He’s been an improving novice throughout the season and novices have a good record in handicaps at Cheltenham. He’s got a lovely racing weight with ten-stone-six too. He still seems to improving and should stay the trip, so he’s one I think could go well.
15:30 Champion Hurdle
What a race this is! To be honest, I think only two of the ten runners have a chance of winning – Honeysuckle and Appreciate It.
Appreciate It was unbelievably impressive in the Supreme last year, winning by 24-lengths. He’s a monster of a horse. If you’re a fan of Appreciate It, I wouldn’t have any worry at all about the long lay-off, as fitness won’t be an issue coming from the Willie Mullins camp. I suppose a little bit of match practice is always helpful though, especially going into a championship race.
Honeysuckle is the ultimate queen. She’s been unbelievable. She gets the handy seven-pound mares’ allowance from Appreciate It and if they both run up to scratch, I think that could be the difference.
The only thing I would say is that, as she gets older, she’s getting a bit wiser to the occasion. Her winning margins appear to be reducing and she seems to be doing enough to win, rather than blowing the field away like she used to.
If I had to side with one, it would have to be Honeysuckle. On all form that we’ve seen, if she reproduces that, she’ll be tough to beat. We all love a champion and I’m sure it would raise the Cheltenham roof if she won again.
16:10 Mares’ Hurdle
To be honest I think this could be an Irish whitewash. It looks quite open and if I picked one it would be Stormy Ireland, who’s won over course and distance. She’s a really hardy mare that likes to go a good gallop and fend off her rivals from the front.
Her closest pursuer could be Queen’s Brook. She hasn’t achieved the same level of form as Stormy Ireland yet, but she once placed in the Champion Bumper so has ability.
16:50 Boodles Juvenile Hurdle
This is the first race where I have a ride, on Too Friendly. He’s been trained for this race, and we’ve had this in mind for quite some time. He comes here fresh off the back of a break and is really fit.
The hustle and bustle of this contest won’t affect him, as he’s had a bit of racing on the Flat and is quite a hardy character. He’s undergone a wind operation since his last run at Doncaster.
That now looks like a good run on form and ratings, with Knight Salute winning that race and Porticello second. We were staying on back in fourth and closing all the way to the line. We’re really happy with Too Friendly and I think off a mark of 125, he’s competitively handicapped.
It’s an ultra-competitive race as you’d expect from a Festival handicap and how good the others are I don’t know. I’m sure there will be plenty of rivals with untapped potential, and horses like Gaelic Warrior of Willie Mullins’ are hard to get a handle on. We just have to worry about our horse, and Too Friendly is in really good form, he’s ready for the race and there won’t be any excuses on the day.
17:30 National Hunt Chase
The highest rated of these is Run Wild Fred and I don’t really see why Vanillier should turn the form around from their race at Leopardstown in December. Jamie Codd takes the ride and, for me, it’s hard to see past him.
Only seven runners line up in this. With talk of a fifth day being added to the Festival, it’s hard to see why you would want that, with only a small field going to post here. Should these horses all be running in the Brown Advisory and making that race more competitive? I don’t know.
I wouldn’t like to see too many more races added to the Festival. I think if they were going to have a fifth day, they would want to spread the races out and only add in one or two more, which might be a possibility, but small fields like this make you question why you’d want to do that.