Cheltenham Festival 2023 – Day 1
Facile Vega (170) will go off favourite for the Supreme Novices Hurdle and last year’s Champion Bumper is a backable price due to his recent run at the Dublin Racing Festival where he was given a very aggressive ride and folded as a result turning for home. He came out of the race lame also, so it is easy to forgive him one bad run – especially as he has been so impressive in all his previous starts.
The winner that day was Il Etait Temps (167), who performed a pound better than at Christmas, so he is very consistant. That Christmas run was four lengths behind Facile Vega, though, and it looked as if Facile Vega had more in reserve. Il Etait Temps is clear second best of the interesting Dark Raven (164), but he has ten lengths to find on Il Etait Temps on DRF run.
There is the saying ‘if Willie Mullins trained it, he’d be half the price’, but I feel as if Mullins trained Marine Nationale (164) that he would be double the price. I can’t have him at all. True, everything went against him in the Royal Bond and he still won but the form can be picked apart and he lacs experience. He was four lengths ahead of Ashroe Diamond, Facile Vega put 9 lengths between him and that rival.
I fancy Mullins to have the first three home here, Facile Vega to beat Il Etait Temps with Dark Raven in third.
I toyed with the idea that Dysart Dynamo (165) over the shorter trip may get the better of Jonbon (160) and El Fabiolo (166) but the stiffer task of Cheltenham can negate the speedier galloping Leopardstown. As fast as Dysart Dynamo went in the Irish Arkle, El Fabiolo continued to tug with Daryl Jacob pulling him back down the back straight before he collided with four out. The pace can’t be strong enough for El Fabiolo and while Jonbon will settle too, preference is for El Fabiolo who has shown a higher level of form and it remains clear in the memory what Dysart Dynamo was after doing to Jonbon before exiting three out in the Supreme last year.
I would actually fear that Jonbon may come down, ironically because he is such a good jumper. At that pace, taking on one and standing off as far as he does only needs a momentary lapse in judgement and the price could be paid.
El Fabiolo only had a head between him and Jonbon at Aintree last year and it was only his second run. He is a big tall horse who filled out since then and I think he will be too strong for this field.
Saint Roi (164) was a good winner of a Grade 1 at Christmas, but he looked badly out paced in the Irish Arkle. He might stay on for a place but I don’t fancy it to get involved.
I was surprised with how easily some of the British horses were treated by the handicapper this year. One of which was Corach Rambler (151), who got in five pounds well in and he won this last year. He will go close again but I fancy last year’s third, Oscar Elite (147) to take advantage of being better off with Corach Rambler by three pounds and well in by eight. He won the Renoldstown Chase last time and comes here in great form.
Threeunderthrufive has a massive concession of 15 pounds by my estimation, but he needs to convince me on the course and more so in a big field. All three of these are worth a bet in the Ultima Handicap Chase, as would Fantastikas (145) who would be very well in on last year’s form by 13 pounds if he can find that level of form again.
The ease of Constitution Hill’s flawless victories used as a negative over the form of State Man’s Irish Champion Hurdle win makes it hard not to at least give shout out to the latter’s chances.
Constitution Hill clearly has more in the tank but boasted three consecutive 170 runs up to the Christmas Hurdle—including course and distance form from last season’s Supreme. However, that Irish Champion Hurdle is possibly the season’s best form line and is seriously undervalued.
I rated Honeysuckle 163 (170 with mares 7lbs), Vauban 169, Pied Piper 168 and Zanahiyr 166, pre race. They all finished to the length of that at Leopardstown. Furthermore, Honeysuckle ran 10.9secs quicker than when winning the race 12 months previous on identical ground. She showed no signs of letting Vauban pass as she fought to the line, either.
It’s a rock solid race with a good time for my assesments and therefore puts State Man 5 ahead of Constitution Hill.
Of course, the Nicky Henderson gelding will have more to find but he will have to against State Man. I accept he could be a freak and he certainly has shown everything so far but at 1/4 against 11/4 on a horse who has advertised more on the track, I believe State Man is very much worth a bet.
Vauban is clearly of exceptional talent (169) but needs to jump better. If he can, then he can be involved.
I Like to Move It caught my eye as a place prospect when he won the Greatwood with 163 and loves the course, but against this exceptional bunch he will only get there are below par performances.
State man wins with Constitution Hill second within 5 lengths. Vauban third (6 lengths behind State Man) with Zanahiyr three lengths back from him in fourth.
I am completely in favour of thie Mares Hurdle and it’s high time that such a stellar cast lines up, over the shambles of a seven pound concession against the geldings to compete in greater contests. This event is off a level playing field and it could feature champion hurdlers Honeysuckle (163) and Epatante (161), along side Brandy Love (160) and last season’s heroine, Marie’s Rock (158).
As mentioned, the Irish Champion Hurdle showed Honeysuckle to be as honest as last season on 163 and therefore, while she woukd be competitive rising to 170 in a Champion Hurdle, she would be clear best here, with her closet danger being Epatante—who was in arrears of 3 1/2 lengths in last years champion hurdle.
Brandy Love is the near mare on the block and her 160 was repeated in defeat to Queens Brook (156), at the weights. She may have more to come and is most likely the biggest threat but as it stands, she will be third.
Honeysuckle wins by 2 lengths to Epatante. Brandy Love will be third beaten a length (3 in total). Maries Rock and Queens Brook next beaten (5 and 7 lengths in total)
Gaillard du Mesnil is as good a good thing in the National Hunt Chase as the festival could offer. He is a 170 second season novice where the next best, Ramillies (150) is his biggest danger. His stablemate lacks experience also, which is vital in this contest and a s a Grade 1 winning, Irish National and Cheltenham placed chaser, Gaillard Mesnil makes the outstanding candidate with Churchstonewarrior (158) next best.
A race at Naas could sort the tangled web of form to the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. Sir Allen’s (143) win of February 11 brings in form with Nusret (151) and as far as Lossiemouth. That gives Common Practice (151), Nusret, Jazzy Matty (145), Metamorpheus (145) all 20lbs on the handicap, and 19lbs for Byker (148). They all boost a massive Irish tsunami in the Juvenile division. However, Ben Pauling may upset the show with Samuel Spade (157), a massive 31lbs ahead of the assesors.
His defeat by Perseus Way also ties in Irish form through the Adonis and Nusret.
Samuel Spade gave Perseus Way 8lbs that day for a 3 length defeat putting him five ahead of him and six lengths ahead of Nusret.