Award-winning broadcaster and Road To Cheltenham presenter Lydia Hislop shares her best bets for day one of the Cheltenham Festival. And below, watch what she and Ruby Walsh had to say about all this week's big races.
1.30 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 87y__
As discussed more fully in Saturday’s column, this race revolves around Facile Vega. Many are still true believers, including his trainer Willie Mullins. Others view him as a lay bet – or a potential in-running lay bet, especially if he fails to settle under relatively new tactics.
The composite factors that might have caused his dethroning at the Dublin Racing Festival – racing a tad too hard early on, and/or returning home sore (perhaps related to his extravagant action and the quicker ground), and/or even perhaps him being a nascent stayer – don’t add up to a bet at 5/2 or shorter.
Yet nonetheless, at least two of those considerations have been addressed. The rain appears to have ensured soft ground – albeit we can’t begin to assess the accuracy of the going description until after this race has been run. Mullins has also asked Paul Townend to ride more patiently than at Leopardstown, though that in turn prompts questions about whether he’ll settle after a season of making the running.
📺 Essential viewing before the Cheltenham Festival gets under way tomorrow. @LydiaHislop & Ruby Walsh discuss the races and @nickluck gets all the scoops. Watch now on the channel, or here 👇— Racing TV (@RacingTV) March 13, 2023
Il Etait Temps, who stole his more famous stablemate’s thunder that day, can pull hard and clatter one early. He had been underestimated in the market but has now been backed. Both Inthepocket – backed after declared here rather than in Wednesday’s Ballymore – and the Mullins-trained Dark Raven are held on that form. Right-jumping High Definition – who unseated after a mistake and a stumble – is one of the pace angles and probably disadvantaged by the rain.
Closutton’s fourth dart in the race, Diverge, made his hurdling debut behind High Definition over Christmas and went on to record a thoroughly convincing success at Punchestown. He’s no forlorn hope, with a first-time tongue-tie fitted.
Hitherto clear second favourite Marine Nationale has been campaigned to avoid deep winter ground but managed to win the Royal Bond on heavy (officially soft), so any such fears might be overstated. He was flattered for being played last that day, however, even if he still did well to overcome a final-flight error.
As discussed in our live Road To Cheltenham show on Monday, Rare Edition’s Boxing Day course-and-distance form under a double penalty stacked up substantially when compared with the mighty Constitution Hill. He scoped dirty and was suffering from muscle spasms in his back – both issues now resolved – when defeated last time. He doesn’t have to lead – and would be better off here reverting to chasing tactics – and is a strong stayer at the trip.
He’s best of British for me – albeit I respect Tolworth winner Tahmuras – despite the market not reflecting that. I suspect this is a more open contest than the betting has suggested all season long. So, I’m happy with my position in this race but don’t want to get more deeply involved. If you’d prefer to bet him each-way, at the time of writing you can get four places at 25/1 with Paddy Power and Bet365.
Advised 11/03/23: Rare Edition 25/1 win NRNB with various firms
2.10 Sporting Life Arkle Trophy (Grade 1) 1m 7f 199y
One of the most keenly anticipated clashes of the meeting. As in last year’s Supreme, the exuberant and clean-jumping Dysart Dynamo will set this race up for a big performance from either Jonbon or El Fabiolo.
El Fabiolo has the best form right now, thriving on the strong pace set by his aforementioned stablemate in the Irish Arkle. Yet he has propensity to make a serious blunder, as per the fourth last at Leopardstown, and Cheltenham won’t be so forgiving if that happens at the wrong moment.
Negative readings of Jonbon’s Warwick success are overblown. He looked rusty when his sole rival suddenly injected pace and would have learned plenty from jumping fences under pressure. He should be straighter (not debilitatingly right) taking a lead at a good pace. Rider Aidan Coleman does need not to be drawn into engaging fire too far out, however, as he was in the Supreme.
In a scenario whereby those three take each other on too far out, enabling Saint Roi to pick up the pieces for second at least. Rider Mark Walsh shouldered the blame for his unseat behind El Fabiolo in February. The 2021 County Hurdle winner took a Grade One in a good time over Christmas. At 9/1, he’s the each-way play, if that’s what you’re seeking.
Selection: Jonbon (no bet)
Advised 26/01/23: Banbridge each-way at 20/1 with various firms – NON-RUNNER
2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 3m 1f
Last year’s winner Corach Rambler deserves maximum respect, even if his primary target this season is the Randox Grand National, as he’s open to further improvement. He came through with his trademark late surge 12 months ago – just as he did in the Coral Gold Cup Handicap Chase (Hennessy in old money), where such tactics are less viable – and will be suited by another likely strongly run edition.
Relentlessly progressive Into Overdrive and Happygolucky took on L’Homme Presse in the Rehearsal Chase, the former getting outpaced before rallying for second and the latter going with the top-class winner for longer before the effects of his 595-day absence told.
You’re getting a much bigger price than his form merits about Happygolucky, who also wears first-time cheekpieces, because trainer Kim Bailey hasn’t had a winner from 41 runners since January. That’s not something that generally bothers me.
At a bigger prices, expect good runs from Tea Clipper – only 2lb higher than when fourth last year and laid out for this – and Top Ville Ben, who ran a stormer over an inadequate trip when a lesser-spotted British raider at the Dublin Racing Festival last time out.
Back now: Happygolucky at 16/1 with Unibet or Bet Victor
Back now: Into Overdrive at 9/1 with Betway or 8/1 more widely
3.30 Unibet Champion Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 87y
The democratisation of sectional timing is responsible for Constitution Hill being the price he is. Without this, more people would be pointing to State Man’s form this season – a triple Grade One progress, beating first Sharjah in the Morgiana, then Vauban in the Matheson and finally reigning Champion Hurdler Honeysuckle in the Irish version.
Without a doubt, State Man is a progressive and straightforward horse, good enough to win most Champion Hurdles. It is likely to be his misfortune to encounter a more progressive and just as straightforward horse, good enough to win almost every – and perhaps even plain every – Champion Hurdle in Constitution Hill.
Clearly, something could go wrong – it’s a race, thankfully, not a coronation or pools-panel result. But there is no obvious tactical chink in the favourite and his bombproof rider is unlikely to complicate matters on his uncomplicated mount. If he can take a lead, he will; if he needs to lead himself, he can do that, too.
It is in Constitution Hill’s nature to win by wide margins, albeit trainer Nicky Henderson and owner Michael Buckley have spoken of supplementary targets at Aintree and Punchestown. (They won’t be able to do both, however, with those two meetings scheduled so close together this season.) So, many will be interested in the winning-margin markets.
Others will be looking for an each-way play, perhaps in the betting-without-the-favourite market, even though there are just seven runners. If that’s your idea of fun, then Vauban seems to me the obvious candidate because I Like To Move It’s best run style means he’s likely to get involved too soon for his own good.
Yet when there’s a possibility we might see the best hurdling performance since triple Champion Hurdle hero Istabraq – and, unthinkably for my generation, perhaps even better – the last thing I want to be doing is looking back down the hill and forlornly pleading: “Get third!”
Selection: Constitution Hill (no bet)
4.10 Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 3f 200y
Surely the best renewal yet of this contest. The key question is: how much have former Champion Hurdlers Honeysuckle and EPATANTE regressed from their peak performances? Even though everyone bar the coldest of heart would love to see Honeysuckle bow out on a win, this is business.
Whilst on strict figures, Honeysuckle’s dominance-ending defeat in the Hatton’s Grace was not out of place with say, her 2019 success and was better than her 2020 victory – both in the same Grade One race and on seasonal debut – there was a lack of zip that saw her struggle to get past Ashdale Bob, let alone put up a fight against Teahupoo and Klassical Dream.
If we’re honest, as discussed with Ruby Walsh many times on the Road To Cheltenham series, her level last season was also lower than the season before. There were merely three-and-a-half lengths between her and Epatante in last year’s Champion Hurdle – and it would have been closer bar for the latter’s stumbling mistake at the last.
Epatante then went on to Aintree and, upped to this trip for the first time, she produced a career-best performance. You can surely forgive her being defeated by stablemate Marie’s Rock at Punchestown next time out, given Epatante had been to Liverpool whilst the winner sat that meeting out after winning this race last year.
Marie’s Rock beat Queens Brook on that occasion – form that probably needs upgrading 12 months on, but the winner certainly did that in the Relkeel in January. Yet she is 9/4 and her more decorated, slick-jumping stable companion is an extraordinary 8/1. She’s been kicked out of the way by Constitution Hill twice but was ridden defensively on both occasions and also hampered at an inopportune moment at Kempton. She has since reminded us of her class at Doncaster.
The rain has helped improved Love Envoi but further disadvantaged Echoes In Rain, who shapes like a short runner at this trip. Brandy Love has been backed for a return to a more suitable left-handed track but she’ll hangs left even so – she has more than a touch of Yorkhill about her. Stablemate Shewearsitwell holds a victory over Queens Brook from Christmas but jumps too hesitantly for this depth of contest.
Back now: Epatante at 8/1 with Paddy Power or Betfair
4.50 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m 87y
Ireland dominates the top-flight juvenile scene this season but I’m nonetheless sure AFADIL has something up his sleeve. He was far more dominant than the winning margin suggests at Musselburgh on his penultimate start, having learned plenty from a raw success at Taunton on debut. Forget his last run – in which Punta Del Este shaped well in third – because it was an overly quick reappearance to qualify for this race after which his blood tests were also poor.
However, I’d rather be with BYKER for win purposes. As highlighted by Ruby Walsh on our Road To Cheltenham show with the British Horseracing Authority’s handicappers, he shaped eye-catchingly when third behind the doughty (but right-adjusting) Sir Allen at Naas last time out. Byker now wears cheekpieces and will be suited by a strongly run race.
Back now: Byker at 6/1 with Bet Victor or Coral
Back now: Afadil each-way 6 places at 20/1 or 22/1 with various firms
5.30 Wellchild National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys' Novices' Chase (Grade 2) 3m 5f 201y
Shrewdies are already salivating over a mark of 155 for the Grand National for Gaillard Du Mesnil, deeming him home and hosed in this. That’s based on his well-established form spanning two seasons over fences, replete with a top-flight third in last season’s Irish Grand National. It’s the archetypal winning profile for this race. However, he does adjust right.
I’m inclined to take him on with MAHLER MISSION, who probably didn’t set a sound enough pace against the sadly absent Churchstone Warrior last time out in Navan’s Grade Two Ten Up Novice Chase last time out. He probably raced on the wrong part of the track at Cheltenham in October and his jumping has improved since – a frailty many of his rivals carry here.
I expect him to drift from the overnight prices because intended rider Barry O’Neill has defected to Minella Crooner, who’s a hesitant jumper but likely to do better for this trip.
Back with best-priced-guaranteed terms: Mahler Mission at 15/2 or better
How To Bet £20 on day one of the Cheltenham Festival
Dave Nevison: my top tips for Cheltenham on Tuesday
Paddy's Pick 5 tips: our selections for day one at Cheltenham
Unibet Champion Hurdle: runner-by-runner guide and tips
Road To Cheltenham: Lydia Hislop's 25-1 Supreme fancy
Cheltenham Festival: verdicts on key Britain v Ireland clashes
The 2023 Cheltenham Festival: Placepot picks for day one
Cheltenham Festival: three runners who stand out on the clock
Cheltenham Festival tips: Harry Allwood's best handicap bets
Select any odd to add a bet