Cheltenham Festival Kicks off Tuesday

March 13, 2023

Constitution Hill will look to complete hurdling’s Triple Crown (JTW Equine Images)

Cheltenham Festival – Day 1
March 2023, the time of year, that UK and Irish National Hunt fans crave, has arrived!

By Jack Williams

Tuesday March 14th– Friday March 17th, 2023, sees the greatest NH horses from Britain, Ireland (and even at least one from France!) compete on the hallowed turf at Prestbury Park, better known as Cheltenham Racecourse. The Cotswold amphitheatre of drama plays host to another 4 days of high-quality action, where winners are crowned, losers are consoled, and legends made. There are actually technically 3 courses at Cheltenham; the Old Course (for the first 2 days), the New Course (for the latter 2 days, featuring the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup, the highlight of the entire week), and the Cross-Country course (run on only once, for the Glenfarclas Chase (Cross Country), the 4:10 Wednesday). 

RACE 1 – 1:30 Tuesday: Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1), 2 miles.

The curtain-raiser kicking off the action on Tuesday 14th March 2023 is the Grade 1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, run over 2 miles on the Old Course. Horses that win this race have included greats in recent years such as Douvan, Vautour, Altior and last year, the race saw one of the biggest demolition jobs in recent times at the Cheltenham Festival, when Constitution Hill and jockey Nico de Boinville destroyed the rest of the competitors by an astonishing 22 lengths. This year’s renewal (at least to the writer) does not actually contain a superstar of the likes of last year, nor the aforementioned Vautour, Altior et al. Instead, it stands to be reckoned as a Supreme Novices’ Hurdle which can be seen as a potential repeat of the 2017 and 2018 renewals; where the standout favourite is beaten, by an unlikely sort. In 2017, it was Labaik, a grey gelding that was in all sense of the word, a nutter. He raced when he wanted to, not when the tapes went up. In his previous races, he had not started on a number of occasions, and so as a result saw his odds for the Supreme at a realistic 66-1. At Prestbury Park however, he jumped off with the field, and gave jockey Jack Kennedy his first winner at Cheltenham, on his first ride at the Cheltenham Festival. Unbelievable. 2018 saw Summerville Boy and Noel Fehily score at 9-1, with pre-race favourite Getabird floundering in 11th place, of 19 runners. 

Ante-post favourite for the 2023 renewal is between 2 horses, priced around 7-2, the Willie Mullins-trained 2022 Champion Bumper winner Facile Vega, and the Barry Connell-trained Marine Nationale. What stands out immediately is that it is somewhat unusual for a Champion Bumper winner to then run in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle the following season. In fact, of all the winners of the Champion Bumper between 2012 and 2022, only one has managed to win the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Champagne Fever in 2013), and in the same timeframe, Envoi Allen in 2019 and Sir Gerhard in 2021, have gone on to land the following season’s Grade 1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle over 2m 5f. This is because the Champion Bumper tends to be won by a staying type; indeed, Envoi Allen went on to win the 3-mile Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal in November 2022, and Sir Gerhard is rumoured to be tackling the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival, which is run over 3 miles as well. Add to that the breeding of Facile Vega (dam is the outstanding mare Quevega, who won 6 successive Mares’ Hurdles (run at 2m 4f) between 2009-2014), and the decision to go to the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, is a brave one indeed. Whilst Facile Vega has been successful on all but 1 race, that one race is a concern. No reasoning has been given as to why Facile Vega ran so poorly, and as a result, 7-2 seems very short odds for a horse that is not certain to give their true running and will need to put that bad experience at Leopardstown in February well and truly behind them.

The joint favourite for the race, at least on an ante-post level, is Marine Nationale, winner of the Grade 1 Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse over 2 miles in December 2022. Whilst the race has produced winners in the past such as Envoi Allen, Moscow Flyer and Istabraq, only one horse, Like-A-Butterfly (who won the Royal Bond in 2001), has done the Royal Bond / Supreme double, in 2002. That again suggests that the Supreme will be won by a speedier type; what concerns me about Marine Nationale, is that at the time of the Supreme, it will be 100 days since his previous run. That is a long time to be off the track, and a fear is that Marine Nationale will be too free as the tapes go up and the field hurtles at a great gallop towards the first, and then down the hill, sorting themselves out as they go. This will use up valuable energy reserves, required to stay on strongly up the Cheltenham hill. 

In the same race at Leopardstown that Facile Vega flopped in (Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle, Grade 1), Il Etait Temps took advantage of the misfortune, taking the spoils by 9 ½ lengths. Again, there are chinks in the armour. Il Etait Temps is a second season novice hurdler, having lost every race as a 4-year-old to Vauban, and his best runs have come on soft or yielding ground, so as a result, a quick ground Supreme (of which at the time of writing it is forecast to be) would not be suitable. There are other flaws with rivals too; Luccia is likely to run in the Ryanair Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle on the Thursday, the Olly Murphy-trained pair of Chasing Fire and Strong Leader are yet to win in Graded company (though Chasing Fire is unbeaten including his point-to-point success), and Tahmuras won a war of attrition Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) at Sandown, but was all out to win and prevail by 2 ½ lengths.

With all the above considered, it is no doubt however that the best form on offer is the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle won by Marine Nationale, as the horse who came 4th in that race, Champ Kiely, won the Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle (Grade 1), so the form is bang there. It is a risk, given the 1 horse in 28 years to do the Royal Bond / Supreme double, plus the long layoff, but connections clearly know what they are doing, and 7-2 does not seem too bad a price. One horse mentioning for each-way backers is Chasing Fire for trainer Olly Murphy and owner Mrs Diana Whateley. The horse has done everything asked of him, and despite not winning Graded races so far, is unbeaten, and 16-1 is a great price, considering there is every chance he could get a place in what is a weakish running of the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

RACE 2 – 2:10 Tuesday: Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase (Grade 1), 2 miles.

The Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase, or simply put, the “Arkle”, is a race named after the Tom Dreaper-trained legend who won 3 successive Cheltenham Gold Cups between 1964-1966, and arguably one of the greatest horses ever to grace the Cheltenham turf. Unusually, given how the horse the race is named after won at 3m 2f, it is somewhat of a curveball for this race to be named after him. Nevertheless, winners of the race in its history include Queen Mother Champion Chase winners such as Flagship Uberalles, Moscow Flyer, Sprinter Sacre and Altior. Indeed, the last two aforementioned horses, trained by Nicky Henderson at Seven Barrows, Berkshire, UK, come from the same stable as the great British hope for this season, and the selection for this writer: Jonbon. Bought at the Goffs Yorton Sale in November 2020 for a remarkable £570,000 by Mr J. P. McManus, owner of the famous green and gold silks associated with stars such as My Tent Or Yours, Istabraq and 2010 Grand National winner Don’t Push It, to name but a few, his only defeat to date was to his stablemate Constitution Hill at last year’s Festival.

The full brother to 2015 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and 2016 Arkle winner Douvan, the Walk In The Park gelding is certainly a looker to the eye; his white blaze and socks certainly wins any beauty race, and I am his number 1 fan in the UK. I was there that day at Yorton in 2020, and I was lucky enough to see him at Seven Barrows a couple of weeks ago, where he looked magnificent in his stable. His 3 runs over fences to date have yielded 3 wins, including 2 at Warwick, where he dazzled on debut, before making heavy work of an inferior rival on his final start before the Festival in the Grade 2 Virgin Bet Kingmaker Novices’ Chase, with both Warwick races coming either side of the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase win.

The speed test of 2 miles on the Old Course will no doubt not be a problem, and his only major rival appears to be El Fabiolo, whom he outfought at Aintree in the Grade 1 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at the Grand National meeting at Aintree, in April of last season, again at 2 miles. With that experience under his belt, and other potential runners going elsewhere (Banbridge is heading to the Turners’ Novices’ Chase at the Festival, Sir Gerhard to the Brown Advisory and Boothill (who Jonbon beat at Sandown) potentially not even running at Cheltenham in March), it seems like a match between the two, with my personal bias edging towards Jonbon. That being said, El Fabiolo is no slouch, and his win at Leopardstown in the Grade 1 Goffs Irish Arkle Novice Chase in February, again over 2 miles, was impressive, beating Banbridge by 10 lengths, plus the son of Spanish Moon is unbeaten over fences, but does lack 1 race compared to Jonbon’s 3. Whilst his run at Warwick second time around did concern some, with Jonbon making hard work of it to defeat Calico, the experience of a battle over fences will do him the world of good, something El Fabiolo does not warrant, having won by 19 and 10 lengths on his two chase runs to date. That experience could prove invaluable, come 2:15-ish on the Tuesday of the Festival.

Interestingly, I had already wrote this article and had it finished on the Friday before the Grimthorpe Handicap Chase at Doncaster, which myself and Tom were in attendance for Past The Wire. The second race of the day was a 2-mile handicap chase, and the victor if said chase was… CALICO. Therefore, whilst I admit it is a handicap chase, and it is not a Grade 1, the Jonbon form reads very well; he battled to beat Calico giving him weight and a good start along the back, so this only strengthens my view of Jonbon being the winner of the Arkle.

RACE 3 – 2:50 Tuesday: Ultima Handicap Chase (Premier Handicap), 3 miles 1 furlong.

Oscar Elite (outside) will look for back-to-back wins (JTW Equine Images)

The third race on the opening day is the first chance racegoers will get to scratch their heads in the first of many hugely competitive handicaps, this one being a 3-mile 1 furlong handicap chase. Winners of this race n the past include Grand National winners Rough Quest, Seagram and West Tip, as well as Gold Cup winner Charter Party. Many racing fans will remember when this race, registered as the Festival Trophy Handicap Chase, when it was sponsored in 2009 by William Hill, being the race that 20-time Champion Jockey AP McCoy pulled victory from the jaws of defeat, in a herculean effort to get Wichita Lineman up at the line. This year’s renewal, whilst it may at this stage not have the drama of 2009, it is a particularly intriguing line-up. Heading the weights at the time of writing (March 2nd, 2023) is Sam Brown, trained by Anthony Honeyball. Rated 159, his rise in the weights has been mainly due to running in Graded races such as the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby and Many Clouds Chase at Aintree. His most recent outing however resulted in being pulled up at Newbury in the Grade 2 Denman Chase at Newbury last month.

Looking elsewhere, Coko Beach has some pretty good form, winner last time out at Punchestown when winning the Grand National trial, but he will have to contend with being 14lb higher than last time out, without the uses of a conditional to drop the weight by a good few pounds. Fanion D’Estruval is classy on his day but has not been convincing at 3 miles on flat tracks, so there is a stamina doubt, whereas Happygolucky was 2nd in the 2021 renewal off 5lb lower, and 2 and a half miles was not to suit last time out. The horse followed up at Cheltenham by winning at Aintree the next month, and despite being injured subsequently and missing some time on the track, remains of interest. Remastered is on a career high mark having won last time out at Kempton, and the same can be said for 2022 Welsh Grand National second The Big BreakawayTea Clipper is very interesting based on his 3rd to Our Power at Ascot in October, and having had only one run over hurdles since (the Long Walk at Ascot), his handicap mark over fences remains of interest, at 147, just 2 pounds higher, plus he would be carrying less weight than he did at Ascot in October, as well as the fact he was 4th in the race last year. 

Into Overdrive (JTW Equine Images)

Our Power is now 9lb worse off than when that rival and he met, but he won the Coral Trophy Handicap Chase last weekend at Kempton, so remains an interesting contender. Also at 147 is Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase winner Into Overdrive who was touched off at Newcastle at the start of December by L’Homme Presse, who was booked for at worst second place in the Grade 1 King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, before belting the last and unseating jockey Charlie Deutsch. A 5lb rise may not be enough to stop him from winning, especially as runner-up in the Rowland Meyrick Sounds Russian was only ½ length behind Ahoy Senor in the Grade 2 Cotswold Chase om Festival Trials Day in January. Last year’s winner Corach Rambler is 6lb higher in his repeat bid, however a tilt at the Grand National looks more likely. 

Cloudy Glen is on a workable mark of 145, the same level he was when 3rd to Quick Wave in the Grand National Trial at Haydock, however that was a very hard race, and what effect that had on him needs to be seen. Eva’s Oskar is again another horse looking at the Grand National, so this trip may be too short after his 4m 1f Eider Handicap Chase 4th, and Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase winner Oscar Elite has only been raised 4lb for that success. With everything below Oscar Elite unlikely to run in the race, and the above considered, last year’s 4th Tea Clipper has to go close, with everything seemingly geared around a repeat bid. With the form of his Ascot 3rd looking better now, and 9lb better off with that rival, he can go very close to not just placing, but also winning.

RACE 4 – 3:30 Tuesday: Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1), 2 miles.

The feature race on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival is the Unibet Champion Hurdle. Istabraq, Hurricane Fly, Sir Ken, Lanzarote, Hatton’s Grace, Sea Pigeon, Dawn Run, Honeysuckle. Just some of the names that have immortalised themselves into legend by winning hurdling’s showpiece event. And in this year’s renewal, there could be the crowning of a new sort of legend, as Constitution Hill bids to complete hurdling’s Triple Crown, by winning the main event on the Tuesday.

Having been unbeaten all of last season, racking up high-profile wins in the Grade 1 Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle and Grade 1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, he has looked imperious this season. Tom attended Newcastle Racecourse in November to watch him demolish stable companion Epatante, as well as the rest of the field, in the first of the Triple Crown races, the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle. After that, a smooth success in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day followed, and when Jack went to visit Seven Barrows on the 20thFebruary 2023, he was absolutely magnificent. No horse could look so effortless on the gallops, but yet act so carefree, some would say cheeky, on the way back to the stables, his tongue lolling from the side of his mouth like some cheeky child playing a prank. His presence is unquestionable, but the manner of his wide margin victories states that he is the quintessential standard of which all in hurdling need to be measured against. I will not spend too long on the Champion Hurdle, for it is he who I am siding with, and as I will be lucky enough to be in attendance, as a paying customer at Cheltenham Racecourse, on the first day of the Festival, it is Constitution Hill, that I will drive my father Steve to see in the flesh. Of course, one would love to be accredited so very, very dearly, but alas, there are many reasons I cannot, which I will not delve into right now. Maybe next year?

Facing up against Constitution Hill is Ireland’s top hope, State Man. Winner of the 2022 County Handicap Hurdle (Premier Handicap) at the Cheltenham Festival, his rise to the top of Irish racing’s hurdling division has been eye-catching, winning the Grade 1 Champion Novice Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival last season, and starting where he left off, with 3 wins in the 3 Grade 1s he has ran in this season; the Morgiana Hurdle, the Matheson Hurdle and the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle. With Epatante, Honeysuckle and Love Envoi all expected to line up in the Mares’ Hurdle (the following race on the Tuesday, although Epatante would need to be supplemented), it seems to be a straight fight for them for the coveted prize.

Each-way punters however will be spoilt for choice, with I Like To Move It, Vauban and Zanahiyr all vying for a place. Vauban has chased home State Man 3 times this season, whereas Zanahiyr’s best effort has been an 8-length loss to State Man on their most recent start in Ireland, at the Dublin Racing Festival for the Irish Champion Hurdle. However, at 16-1, I quite like the chances of I Like To Move It at grabbing a place. Winner of the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle over 2 miles at the November Meeting, he found 2m 4f on the New Course not to be to his liking, and a drop back to 2 miles saw him bolt up in the Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton last month. He has the pace, having carried top weight to victory at Cheltenham, to make the Champion Hurdle a proper test, and can set things up nicely for Constitution Hill to bolt up, with Irish hearts just as blown away, as what their challengers’ efforts will be. 

RACE 5 – 4:10 Tuesday: Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle (Registered as the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1)), 2 miles 4 furlongs.

Epatante (pictured) won’t be running into Constitution Hill, but she will face the Queen… Honeysuckle (JTW Equine Images)

Named in honour of the trainer of Gold Cup winners Charter Party and Mill House, as well as stayers such as Anzum and Barton Bank, the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle is probably best known for being the race for which, between 2009 and 2014, Quevega and jockey Ruby Walsh, for trainer Willie Mullins and owners the Hammer & Trowel Syndicate, farmed and made their own. Quevega’s record breaking six consecutive Mares’ Hurdles is a feat that many in the racing world believe will never be repeated; indeed, the only horse to come anywhere close to matching that in recent years is Big Bucks, who won 4 consecutive World (now Stayers’) Hurdles, between 2009-2012. Understandably, Golden Miller’s 5 Cheltenham Gold Cups between 1932-1936 probably come as close as possible, without beating. As for this year’s renewal, the race is set to be the final race, in a stellar career, of 2020 Mares’ Hurdle victor, 2021 and 2022 Champion Hurdler and overall Queen of Jump Racing, Honeysuckle. 

Having lost her unbeaten record at Fairyhouse when coming 3rd in the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle over 2m 4f in December 2022, she came 2nd in the Irish Champion Hurdle behind State Man in February 2023, and a win for him in the preceding Unibet Champion Hurdle would only see her odds shorten. Facing her however, should she be supplemented, is the 2020 Champion Hurdler Epatante and the new kid on the block in the Mares’ division, Love Envoi. The aforementioned Epatante, like Honeysuckle, is probably not at her best now, and a career as a broodmare surely beckons on the horizon, however Nicky Henderson’s star showed she was still a genuine Grade 1 contender, by filling the runner-up spots at Newcastle and Kempton Park to her monster stablemate, Constitution Hill.

Back against her own sex in the Grade 2 Sky Bet Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle over 2 miles at Doncaster Racecourse in January 2023, she was an effortless winner by 6 ½ lengths, with jockey Nico de Boinville absolutely unmoved on the daughter of No Risk At All. The distance would not be a problem for her, having won at Aintree over 2m 4f in April 2022, and another mare who would not mind the trip is Love Envoi for trainer Harry Fry and owners the Noel Fehily Racing Club. 2m 4f is absolutely perfect for her, with 2 of her best wins last season coming in Grade 2 events, the Jane Seymour Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown, and the Ryanair Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. She has done nothing wrong all season, most recently defeating a good yardstick in Martello Sky back at Sandown in January, although she was due to run at Warwick in February, being pulled out late due to unsuitable going. Only one horse has lowered her colours, and that rival is due to re-oppose, in Brandy Love. Victor in a Grade 1 at the Irish Grand National Festival at Fairyhouse last season, she has come back rather late this season, finishing 4 ¾ lengths behind Queens Brook in the Grade 3 Quevega Mares’ Hurdle at Punchestown, and as a result, I am not too certain she will be at her peak at Cheltenham. Other potential runners to note are Echoes In Rain, winner of the Grade 3 Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas over 2 miles, Molly Olly’s Wishes, who started her season with a hard-fought win at Wetherby in October 2022, and West Balboa, Lanzarote Hurdle winner at Kempton Park in January 2023, and stablemate of Molly Olly’s Wishes. However, the enigma of the race is Marie’s Rock; put it this way, if she goes here, she gives her stablemate Epatante and the queen Honeysuckle something to think about.

Last year’s Mares’ Hurdle winner beat Queens Rock into second that day, and has done everything right this season, smashing her rivals on seasonal reappearance in the Relkeel Hurdle in January 2023 at Cheltenham over 2m 4f, but that performance has her right in the mix for the Stayers’ Hurdle over 3 miles, on the same course (New Course). As a result, the likelihood of this race is this; if Marie’s Rock runs in this, she would be a fantastic each way price at 5-1, but Queens Brook represents, in my opinion, fantastic value at 10-1, now back on level weights with Brandy Love and Anna Bunina. The beauty of this race is you could make a serious case for all of the following: Epatante (should she be supplemented), Honeysuckle, Love Envoi, Marie’s Rock and Queens Brook. That I feel will be the first 4, but in what order, remains to be seen, however, I have to nail my colours to the mast, and I like a 10-1 about Queens Brook, so that is the one I shall go for.

RACE 6 – 4:50 Tuesday: Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Premier Handicap), (Registered as the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle), 2 miles.

I am just going to be straight-talking, some would say equivocally blunt, about this race; it is a nightmare for punters. The race, named after Fred Winter, famous for winning the 1962 Grande Steeplechase de Paris aboard Mandarin (who had broken down after bowing a tendon), as well as having his bit snap, before being a master trainer, culminating in being the only person to have won the Champion Hurdle, Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National as both a jockey and a trainer. It is a handicap hurdle for juveniles (4-year-olds) run over 2 miles on the Old Course. Previous winners since the race’s inauguration include Sanctuaire (who had somewhat of a rivalry with the great Sprinter Sacre), Une Artiste, Diego du Charmil and Band Of Outlaws, and this race is for those juvenile novice hurdlers who are not quite at the top level required to get into the Grade 1 JCB Triumph Hurdle, the first race on Cheltenham Gold Cup Day, the final day of the Festival.

As befitting most races, it is once again a cavalry charge, with keen young horses bolting off in a typically competitive race. The very nature of the race also means that some shock results creep in; the shortest-priced winner of the race in recent years was indeed Band Of Outlaws in 2019 at 7/2 joint favourite, but the year before saw Jeff Kidder win at massive odds of 80-1. Indeed between 2013 and 2018, the winning horses had starting prices of 25-1, 33-1, 25-1, 13-2, 33-1 and 33-1, proving that a shrewd bet in this race can sometimes set you up for a profit for the rest of the week, regardless of other results (all bet with sensibly, please).

Starting off near the top of the announced weights, Isaline de Chandou is of particular interest, having been third to Dixon Cove at Aintree, and this French raider from the stable of D Sourdeau De Beauregard is potentially extremely well-handicapped. In France, he was fifth to St Donats and one place ahead of Mctigue, the Emmet Mullins challenger also set to line up in this race. Tekao holds good form, a 3rd at Navan to subsequent dual Grade 2 Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow and Grade 2 JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham winner Comfort Zone, however I just cannot see how he is 135 and 4-1, whereas Isaline de Chandou is 136 and 20-1. 

Bo Zenith is extremely interesting; as a 3-year-old in France, he beat current Triumph Hurdle favourite Blood Destiny at Auteuil, before flopping on UK debut having been sold to the stable of Gary Moore, and ultimately making amends at Haydock in February 2023 when winning. Personally, there does not seem to have been the same forward development as Blood Destiny, and 11-1 seems a little short for myself. The same connections of Bo Zenith also have Perseus Way, who is being targeted at this race specifically, not the Triumph Hurdle, and at 12-1 represents better value for potentially better form. Sir Allen has 2 successes to his name; however, he had the advantage of a 7lb claimer each time, and is not guaranteed to have the same luxury. Nusret, the Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle winner at Kempton Park in February, seems to be headed to the Triumph Hurdle, whilst Cougar, successful at Down Royal on Ladbrokes Champion Chase Day in November, ran too free at Leopardstown, and has clearly been aimed for this race. The only concern would be if the race is run at a brisk pace, he may run too free again and ruin his chance. Jipcot will be making his first start for Ben Pauling in the race, arriving from France on 1st March. 

Jackpot de Choisel was an easy 32-length winner at Ayr in February but was well and truly put in his place next time out. Ben Pauling also has Bad and recent Huntingdon scorer Samuel Spade entered in the race, but the latter will need to reverse form with Perseus Way in order to get close. Fergal O’Brien has entered the Scottish Triumph Hurdle third Fils De Roi, however despite being clearly talented, he has two falls to his short career, and so his jumping will need to be extremely slick to win this, however he is not without hope. However, the winner of that race, Afadil, was then comprehensively slammed by Bo Zenith at Haydock a couple of weeks later. With everything lower than these unlikely to get a run, and even if they did, might not be at the standard required for this test, a verdict must be taken, and the one that I just keep looking at is Isaline de Chandou, who appears to have been aimed at this, and with the form being mixed in behind, a truly-run Fred Winter may just be what this filly requires, and as a result, 20-1 looks a fantastic each way price. 

RACE 7 – 5:30 Tuesday: National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Novices’ Chase (Grade 2), 3m 6f

The final race of the opening day of the 2023 Cheltenham Festival, is a race restricted to amateur jockeys, and is the second longest race of the entire meeting (just behind the 3m 6f 37y Glenfarclas Chase over the Cross-Country course). Originally 4 miles in length, the race has been reduced slightly in recent years, but still requires a stamina-laden horse to win it. Previous winners have included dual-Grand National winner Tiger Roll, Grand National placed horses such as Teaforthree and Cause of Causes and other National Hunt stars such as Rathvinden and Stattler. As a result, winners of this race are usually those that excel in stamina tests, so it pays to see previous runs of all entrants for this year’s renewal, to determine which horses are extremely well-placed, and others who are completely out of their depth. One who regrettably fits the latter bill appears to be Bowtogreatness, who has done his best work at 2 and a half miles, whilst Chemical Energy was a very easy winner by 61 lengths at Cheltenham in October, before a 29-length defeat in January at Navan blotted his copybook. City Chief, winner of the Grade 2 Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby last month, will have to hope for a place at best, while Coolvalla can do the trip, but needs to find 40lb of improvement to win. 

Frontal Assault ran no race at all in the 2022 Kim Muir, but then ran Lord Lariat close in the Irish Grand National, however his form this season is regrettably patchy. Gaillard du Mesnil is over a stone better off at the weights with Frontal Assault, and as he still retains his novice chasing tag until this season’s conclusion, he is eligible for this race. What also appeals is that each time he has gone below 3 miles in trip, he has been beaten by Mighty Potter, current favourite for the Turners Novices’ Chase on the Thursday. That means that stamina is his game, and that is the reason he is a very strong favourite for the race. Mahler Mission looks good value after some very good performances in Ireland over staying trips in Graded events, whilst Mister Coffey can build on his 2022 Kim Muir 2nd and will not have to give extra weight away to any rivals, unlike last time out when second off a big weight at Uttoxeter. Therefore, the easy verdict is Gaillard du Mesnil to win, and Mahler Mission to be placed. Nice and simple ending, to hopefully a very successful day. 

Photos: JTW Equine Images, Past the Wire

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