Andy Stephens has found seven winners from his past 11 selections – including his past four naps at 15-2, 5-1, 7-2 and 5-2 – and his fancies for Tuesday’s action include a 10-1 contender in the Supreme and a 40-1 hope in the Boodles
None of us are going to get rich backing Constitution Hill in the Unibet Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham on Tuesday but he promises to put on some half-time show on day one of the great meeting.
The unbeaten six-year-old doesn’t seem to have any chinks in his armour and is already rated higher than then past seven winners of the race. With a mark of 173, he has Faugheen (174), Hurricane Fly (175) and Istabraq (176) firmly in his sights.
Barring misfortune, another wide-margin win looks on the cards, with principal rival State Man having achieved less (in terms of form) and being more efficient than spectacular in chalking up his sequence of wins. William Hill are offering Evens about Constitution Hill (to a maximum stake of £10) if you had not already noticed.
Bookmakers will be dangling al kinds of carrots to get our custom at the meeting and Sky Bet offering eight places in the 21-runner Ultima Handicap Chase very much caught my eye.
I cannot resist throwing a couple of darts at the board with such a safety net on offer, in the shape of Nassalam, who they quote at 8-1, and Threeunderthrufive, available at 12-1 (you can get 16-1 if you don’t want the extra places).
Nassalam is unproven over so far, but he’s hinted stepping up in trip will suit in two fiercely competitive handicaps over about 2m5f at Cheltenham this term.
He was a staying-on sixth in the Paddy Power Gold Cup in November despite almost being wiped out by a faller three out, and he again kept on well when third to Midnight River on New Year’s Day, when he had Il Ridoto back in fourth. That horse was subsequently a good winner at Cheltenham on Trials Day.
The six-year-old is 1lb lower in the ratings than he started the campaign and seems likely to get the soft ground he enjoys. And like nine of the past 11 winners, Gary Moore’s charge will be sporting some headgear. Provided he doesn’t run out of puff, then it’s difficult to believe he will not be in the thick of things.
Threeunderthrufive represents the race sponsor and is also well worth a second look after his eye-catching fifth off a 1lb higher mark in a competitive Classic Chase at Warwick last time, where he travelled sweetly for a long way only to not get home.
The drop back in trip seems sure to suit the Paul Nicholls-trained eight-year-old, who has a good wins-to-runs ratio (nine from 16) and will be equipped with a first-time tongue-tie.
It would be rude not to have a play in the opening Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle because Facile Vega looks a bad favourite after his poor run at the Dublin Racing Festival last month, even though Patrick Mullins said on Racing TV on Sunday that he rated him as one of Closutton’s bankers of the week.
My initial instinct was to oppose him with the exciting Marine National, who did well to win at Fairyhouse last time after fluffing the last, but he’s no bigger than 9-2 and effectively has a 5lb penalty because his conditional jockey is unable to claim.
The one who looks overpriced is the Nicholls-trained Tahmuras, who is 10-1 with bet365 and William Hill.
He’s not achieved as much as some of the Irish challengers in winning each of his three races over hurdles, but you can only beat what you are up against and he was impressive when landing the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown last time.
The waiting is almost over!
Between the last two flights he was still swinging away on the bridle and, while still a bit raw when hitting the front, there’s little doubt he has the blend of speed and stamina required for this contest. Nemean Lion and Colonel Harry, who finished third and fourth at Sandown, did their bit for the form when subsequently dominating a useful Grade Two contest at Kelso. Harry Cobden is as cool as any other big-race jockey around and I fancy he will be content to sit off the pace and pick his way through, much as he did on Iceo in the Imperial Cup on Saturday.
I’m also going to have a couple of stabs at the Boodles Juvenile Handicap.
Tekao, trained by Willie Mullins and owned by JP McManus, heads the market but preference is for Risk Belle, who represents the same combination.
She won both her races in France last year, staying on stoutly on deep going, and was handled sympathetically in Graded races won by Lossiemouth, her stablemate, on her first two starts for Mullins.
Risk Belle was then all the rage for a handicap against older opposition at the Dublin Racing Festival – the one named in honour of Mullin’s late father, Paddy – but she fell at the fifth when stalking the leaders.
The British handicapper has her on a 4lb higher mark than she is in Ireland but my hunch is that a rating of 127 still underestimates her. Plenty of juvenile hurdlers don’t stay in strongly-run races at Cheltenham, especially when the ground is testing, but her taking pedigree is all about stamina.
At outlandish odds, Romancero Le Dun also warrants a small wager.
He got no further than the first on his debut at Warwick in November but has since shown a good attitude to score at Exeter and Ludlow. He beat several fair Flat performers at the latter track, doing well to get on top late in the scene as the track was almost certainly on the sharp side for him. Cheltenham promises to play more to his strengths and, provided this does not come too soon in his career, he can outrun odds of 40-1.
Finally, my heart and head is with Honeysuckle in the Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle. She lowered the colours of Benie Des Dieux in this race in 2020, on soft ground, and has won the Champion Hurdle for the past two years, each time with Epatante behind.
Plenty seem to have written her off after successive defeats this term, but, at nine, she might well have needed her comeback run behind Teahupoo at Fairyhouse (that horse followed up in great style and is a leading fancy for the Stayers’ Hurdle on Thursday) and I didn’t think she got a great ride when runner-up to State Man in the Irish Champion Hurdle last time, with the winner allowed to dominate soft fractions.
Those efforts alone give her every chance of bowing out with a flourish. She’s never gone off bigger than 9-4 for any of her previous 18 runs under Rules and now you can get 7-2 about her beating her own sex when the official handicapper reckons she’s got 7lb up her sleeve.
How To Bet £20 on day one of the Cheltenham Festival
1.30 Cheltenham: Tahmuras £2 each-way at 10-1 with bet365 and William Hill (both offer four places)
2.50 Cheltenham: Nassalam £2.50 each-way at 8-1 Sky Bet (eight places)
2.50 Cheltenham: Threeunderthrufive £1 each-way at 12-1 with Sky bet (eight places). Other firms offer 16-1
4.10 Cheltenham: Risk Belle £2.50 each-way at 9-1 with Boylesports (six places)
4.10 Cheltenham: Romancero Le Dun £1 each-way at 40-1 with bet365 (six places)
4.50 Cheltenham: Honeysuckle £2 win at a general 7-2
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✍ DAN OVERALL STUDIES THE 9 HANDICAPS
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