Cheltenham Festival: Constitution Hill to light up Day 1
After months of anticipation, the Cheltenham Festival is finally here. Four days of the highest-class jumps racing, seven races per day, and champions to be crowned.
Day one, on Tuesday, is highlighted by the Champion Hurdle (G1), where Constitution Hill aims to prove he’s as outstanding as all his previous outings suggest he is. But there are also another three Grade 1 races, a Grade 2, and two competitive handicaps.
As befitting one of the great days of world racing (and betting), we’ll look at every race. Please note, the UK doesn’t start daylight savings time for another two weeks, so if you’re looking at UK racebooks, the time difference is currently four hours rather than the usual five.
Race 1, 9:30 a.m. ET: Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (G1), 2 miles, novice hurdlers
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Selections
- #8 Il Etait Temps
- #5 Facile Vega
- #1 Chasing Fire
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Wagers
Most of the winter, this race has been all about #5 Facile Vega, last year’s Cheltenham Bumper (G1) winner. Until the Ireland Novice Hurdle (G1) at Leopardstown Feb. 5, when, after going at a hectic pace in front, he had nothing left at the finish and was a little lame on pulling up. Local oddsmakers think he will bounce back, but there’s still reason to be doubtful.
Stablemate #8 Il Etait Temps was a very clear winner that day; however, on soft ground Dec. 27, Facile Vega beat him by four lengths. There’s no doubt he improved in the Dublin Hurdle, but is he the same horse on the likely soft footing?
The questions don’t end there. Can #10 Marine Nationale improve from his Royal Bond (G1) victory Dec. 4? Is the top English chance #14 Tahmuras any hope? What about the Olly Murphy pair of #1 Chasing Fire and #13 Strong Leader?
I’m going to stick with Il Etait Temps, who I think is improving. Facile Vega will not want to be taken on in front again; he may still respond with a more conservative ride, but the odds are likely too short for me.
An upset in the Grade 1 @tatts_ireland Novice Hurdle as Il Etait Temps runs out an impressive winner for @dan2231 and @WillieMullinsNH after stablemate Facile Vega drops out tamely 🥇#DublinRacingFestival | @LeopardstownRC pic.twitter.com/QmrgsCBK4g— Horse Racing Ireland (@HRIRacing) February 5, 2023
Race 2, 10:10 a.m. ET: Arkle Trophy (G1), 2 miles, novice steeplechasers
Arkle Trophy Selections
- #6 Jonbon
- #3 El Fabiolo
- #7 Saint Roi
Arkle Trophy Wagers
- $10 win: #6 Jonbon
- $2 trifecta: 3, 6 with 3, 6 with 2, 7
- $1 trifecta: 3, 6 with 3, 6 with 1, 4, 5, 8, 9
Last year, #6 Jonbon, after being thrashed by stablemate Constitution Hill in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, went to Aintree and just pulled out enough to beat #3 El Fabiolo in the Top Novices’ Hurdle (G1). Since then, the pair have both gone steeplechasing, and are both unbeaten in three novice two-mile chases in England and Ireland, respectively.
They meet again here, and it promises to be a fantastic battle once more. I’m going to come down in favor of Jonbon, but this can go either way. I’m a fan of both so I’m prepared to focus bets on trifectas that anchor the pair to finish first and second. #7 Saint Roi and #2 Dysart Dynamo look the best of the others.
Race 3, 10:50 a.m. ET: Ultima Handicap (G3), 3 1/8 miles, open steeplechasers
Ultima Handicap Selections
- #9 Into Overdrive
- #3 Remastered
- #10 Corach Rambler
Ultima Handicap Wagers
- $10 win/$30 show: #9 Into Overdrive
- $2 exacta: box 3, 9, 10
Amazingly, all the horses at the top of the market are British. They include last year’s winner #10 Corach Rambler, undefeated in two starts at Cheltenham. This year, however, he carries 17 pounds more, so he’ll need to have improved to win again.
The horse I’m really keen on, however, is #9 Into Overdrive. He’s been taking on some very good horses this season; two starts back he was beaten by top-class chaser L’Homme Presse at Newcastle, and last start he won the Rowland Meyrick Chase (G3), beating Sounds Russian, who has since finished second in the Cotswold Chase (G2). Sounds Russian is a potential Gold Cup (G1) starter, while L’Homme Presse would have been but for injury.
Also to be considered for me is #3 Remastered; he wasn’t at his best over hurdles last start, but he’s otherwise been in splendid form and I think he’s a great chance back over big fences.
Race 4, 11:30 a.m. ET: Champion Hurdle (G1), 2 miles, open hurdlers
Champion Hurdle Selections
- #1 Constitution Hill
- #5 State Man
- #2 I Like To Move It
Champion Hurdle Wagers
- $10 exacta: 1 with 5
- $3 trifecta: 1 with 5 with 2, 6
- $1 trifecta: 1 with 5 with 3, 4, 7
The premier hurdle race in Britain and Ireland, and only seven runners are here. That’s because #1 Constitution Hill and #5 State Man have been so dominant; the former has looked like a machine, while State Man so comprehensively beat Honeysuckle that the latter, the 2021 and 2022 Champion Hurdle winner, has been redirected to the Mares’ Hurdle — along with Epatante, the 2020 winner and last year’s runner-up.
In a normal year, State Man would be a very warm favorite. However, Constitution Hill has been putting up barely believable performances, without seeming to get out of second gear. All the figures suggest he’s a generational talent. This is undoubtedly his biggest test, but it seems like something needs to go wrong for him to be beaten.
Of the others, #2 I Like To Move It has been running very well and likes Cheltenham, while there’s little wrong with the form of #6 Vauban, but they seem like they’re running for third. Trifectas look the best option again.
Race 5, 12:10 p.m. ET: Mares’ Hurdle (G1), 2 1/2 miles, open hurdlers, fillies and mares
Mares’ Hurdle Selections
- #6 Marie’s Rock
- #4 Honeysuckle
- #5 Love Envoi
Mares’ Hurdle Wagers
- $10 win/$30 show: #6 Marie’s Rock
- $1 trifecta: 4, 6 with 4, 5, 6 with 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8
There’s arguably more depth here than in the feature race. There are two Champion Hurdle winners here in #4 Honeysuckle and #3 Epatante, along with last year’s winner #6 Marie’s Rock, winner of five of her last six, 2022 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (G2) winner #5 Love Envoi, Fairyhouse Mares’ Novice Hurdle (G1) winner #1 Brandy Love, and another couple of class mares in #2 Echoes In Rain and #8 Queens Brook.
If Honeysuckle was at her best, she would probably win. But she seems to have regressed this season, and it’s questionable whether 2 1/2 miles is further than she prefers. However, she has enough class to win.
When putting everything together, Marie’s Rock is probably the one to beat. Stamina is her key — there was talk of her taking on the males in the 3-mile Stayers’ Hurdle (G1) at one point — and she’s in the best form of her life. Regardless, it’s a truly fascinating contest.
Race 6, 12:50 p.m. ET: Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Listed), 2 miles, 4yo hurdlers
Juvenile Handicap Hurdle Selections
- #10 Jazzy Matty
- #2 Tekao
- #4 Sir Allen
Juvenile Handicap Wagers
- $10 win/$20 show: #10 Jazzy Matty
- $2 exacta: box 2, 4, 10
A tough race on paper. Willie Mullins’ #2 Tekao will probably start favorite after finishing third at Grade 1 level last start, though he was a fair way behind the winners and he carries more weight here as a result.
#3 Perseus Way, #4 Sir Allen, #5 Byker, #6 Risk Belle, and #8 Bad all have claims, but I’m going for a little bit of value with #10 Jazzy Matty. His trainer Gordon Elliott normally does well in Cheltenham handicaps, and I think he’s at a nice position in the weights.
Race 7, 1:30 p.m. ET: National Hunt Challenge Cup (G2), 3 3/4 miles, novice chasers, amateur jockeys
National Hunt Challenge Cup Selections
- #4 Gaillard Du Mesnil
- #8 Mister Coffey
- #5 Mahler Mission
National Hunt Challenge Cup Wagers
- $20 win: #4 Gaillard Du Mesnil
- $1 trifecta: 4 with 1, 5, 7, 8 with 1, 5, 7, 8
It’s difficult to go past #4 Gaillard Du Mesnil here. He has form at Grade 1 level in the past two seasons behind horses such as L’Homme Presse and Mighty Potter, and he faces much lesser company here at level weights. He’s stayed 3 5/8 miles before, so he has every chance of getting the 3 3/4 miles here.
Nicky Henderson’s #8 Mister Coffey has been running well of late, as has #5 Mahler Mission, and they look set to be competitive. Others to watch include #1 Chemical Energy and #7 Minella Crooner.