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Horse Racing

Cheltenham Festival 2023 Preview & Tips: Day 1 & 2

The best four days of the horse racing calendar are about to begin. We will take a look at all the races and hope to guide you towards some winners at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival. All prices correct at time of writing.

Tuesday 14th March

Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

Facile Vega has long been favourite for this. Held up in his bumpers, he has gone from the front in his three hurdles, including when pushed into setting a quick pace at the Dublin Racing Festival. This won’t be any slower in the early stages so tactics will be interesting.

The fast pace that day was due to the presence of High Definition but he departed at the fourth flight. He didn’t look the most natural hurdler on his debut in this sphere either so he needs to jump with far more fluency.

The winner at the Dublin Racing Festival was Il Etait Temps. Despite the quick early fractions, he still took some time to settle so the harder they go the better he will like it. Behind Facile Vega over Christmas, it will be interesting to see who comes out on top in round three.

Marine Nationale has not been seen since landing the Royal Bond in early December. It’s rare for a winner of this to arrive off the back of such a long break and very soft ground may not be to his liking. That said, he is clearly a class act.

At a bigger price, it might be worth considering Doctor Bravo. He was pitched in deep into a Grade 3 at Gowran last time against Fil D’Or and Sharjah, both much more experienced campaigners. A repeat of that level of form would suggest he is a little overpriced.

Conclusion: A tough opening contest. There are question marks of a sort over all the principals so perhaps a small each way on Doctor Bravo at 25/1 in the hope of hitting the frame is the way to go.

Arkle Novices’ Chase

Go back 11 months and Jonbon beat El Fabiolo a neck in the Grade 1 Top Novices’ at Aintree. A mistake at the last and being hampered three out perhaps cost the latter the race on that occasion. The former has been the slicker at his obstacles again since chasing which could be important here for all that El Fabiolo is the lesser exposed and perhaps open to a touch more progression.

If Dysart Dynamo puts the pace to the race, that could make things interesting. He was further back in that Dublin Racing Festival contest but this is a slightly shorter trip. He and Jonbon took one another on too much in the Supreme last year, both need to avoid that happening again.

Saint Roi was third in the Champion Hurdle last season. He only made it as far as the fifth in that Leopardstown contest. Not an ideal prep but he won’t have had the same hard race which could help him.

Conclusion: Another tricky looking contest. Jonbon and Dysart Dynamo took one another on in the Supreme last season which could set this up for a closer. El Fabiolo is the most likely at 11/8.

Ultima Handicap Chase

Winner of this last year was Corach Rambler. He’s six pounds higher for this follow up attempt and will have been aimed at this all season. There is the potential for more to come from him but this is not an easy race to win again.

Oscar Elite was third last year with Fantastikas seventh Both bounced back to form last time out, the former with an Ascot win and the latter with a Wincanton third. Fantastikas is now 12 pounds lower which has the potential to see him closer with a tongue strap and cheekpieces added for the first time.

The Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day saw Into Overdrive home in front, beating Gold Cup hopeful Sounds Russian. L’Homme Presse is the only horse to have beaten him over fences in his last six starts and from only five pounds higher, he holds strong claims.

Third to Into Overdrive that day was Fanion D’Estruval. Venetia Williams does well in handicaps at this meeting and this is the lowest mark he’s run off since November 2021. It’s asking a lot to carry this weight round but he could hit the frame at big odds.

David Pipe has a solid recent record in this contest so Remastered has to be respected. Below par at Sandown last time out but he has cheekpieces back on this time.

Conclusion: A race the Brits have dominated in recent years Fantastikas was only seventh in this last year but he’s been heavily punted into 14/1 in first time headgear. It would not be a surprise to see Fanion D’Estruval in the frame for Venetia Williams at 25/1.

Champion Hurdle

He is a very short price here but Constitution Hill will be tough to beat. Unbeaten in five starts over hurdles, he has barely broken sweat to win the Fighting Fifth and Christmas Hurdle. With so little mileage on the clock, it’s hard to know just how good he is capable of being.

The only real threat on paper is State Man. The winner of the County Hurdle last season, he has taken some big steps up on that level so far this campaign. Like the favourite, he is capable of better yet and it will be interesting to see if he can give him a race.

This is a tough race for a five-year-old to make an impression in which makes this a difficult task for Vauban. He is a likeable type, the winner of the Triumph last season. No match for State Man on either outing this time around, it’s hard to see how he beats that rival without a big step forward.

A wide-margin winner in the Kingwell at Wincanton last time out, I Like To Move It has stepped up a level this season. Beaten almost twenty lengths by State Man in the County last season, he looks to be in a battle with Vauban for third.

Conclusion: A 4/11 favourite, 10/3 and then 14/1 at the head of the market is very limiting to find an angle in with just seven runners. Just 2 places each way makes this is a very easy race just to watch. NO BET

Mares’ Hurdle

This has the potential to be the race of the entire meeting. Honeysuckle has not been at her best so far this season but she drops back into a race confined to her own sex. Unbeaten in her first 16 starts, she’s not been disgraced in her two defeats. Whether she has genuinely regressed will be put to the test here.

Epatante has chased home Honeysuckle in both the 2021 and 2022 Champion Hurdles. Thrashed by Constitution Hill twice this season, she took a big step down in class to land a Grade 2 at Doncaster. This is a much tougher assignment again but she is a class act against her own sex.

The winner of this race last season was Marie’s Rock. She would perhaps have gone to the Stayers if the rain had not fallen. A win in the Relkeel at this track in Cheltenham suggests she is better than ever and will make a strong defence of her crown.

The step up to this trip for the first time under rules was a big plus for Brandy Love when she won at Fairyhouse last April. She ran well to a point on her seasonal debut three weeks back but is going to need to come on plenty for that outing in a relatively short period of time.

Behind Brandy Love at Fairyhouse last spring was Love Envoi. She landed the Mares Novices’ at this meeting last season and will appreciate the recent rain. Any further precipitation would be a big plus now she takes on her toughest task.

Conclusion: This will be the acid test of whether Honeysuckle has really regressed or not. It’s worth supporting her back in mares only company at 7/2.

Boodles Juvenile Hurdle

A lot of the talk has been about Tekao and whether his UK mark is fair compared to his Irish one. Third in a Grade 1 at the Dublin Racing Festival, that’s the strongest form on show. His mark is likely to be fair enough on that with plenty more to come but the price is short enough.

The race that Sir Allen won at Naas last time out is the same contest that Brazil, Aramax and Band Of Outlaws all won ahead of winning this. This will demand more of him at the weights as the second, third fourth and fifth all re-oppose him but this stamina test is a big plus.

Byker was a touch under two lengths behind Sir Allen that day, doing some good work late. That suggests that this stiff finish is going to suit him well. Morning Soldier split the pair on that occasion but he might not want any more rain to fall with stamina not his strong suit.

The money horse for the race has been the Ben Pauling-trained Bad. His win at Bordeaux in November looks a solid piece of form, with a mark of 124 looking more than fair. The booking of Rachael Blackmore adds further intrigue to his claims.

Conclusion: Sir Allen is a solid each way angle at 11/1, representing a Naas contest that has thrown up the winner of this in three of the last five years.

National Hunt Chase

The red-hot favourite here is Gaillard Du Mesnil. Third in the Brown Advisory last year, he filled the same spot in the Irish National. He’s only 1/8 over fences but with no stamina worries and as the class act in here, he warrants the short odds.

Mahler Mission has a bit to find with the favourite on a line through Churchstonewarrior who has been taken out of this contest. He has been disappointing in both runs here though, the most recent of those in the autumn when behind Chemical Energy. Jamie Codd takes the ride on that runner which has to make him of interest though he has his stamina to prove.

At a monster price, Coolvalla could run better than expected. He is a perfect 4/4 over fences and it would appear he is yet to reach his ceiling. His most recent win was his best, trying the longest trip of his career. Up in trip again here, there could still be more to come.

Conclusion: Gaillard Du Mesnil is short enough at 1/1 but he looks hard to beat. Coolvalla might sneak into the frame but the price has long gone having been 50/1 on Monday morning.

Wednesday 15th March

Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle

Impaire Et Passe is one of the big Irish hopes of the week, looking to get day 2 off to a winning start for punters. A perfect 3/3 so far in his career, he has looked slick over his obstacles. He has a smart turn of foot and looks capable of another chunk of improvement.

Paul Nicholls is yet to win this race and Challow winners have a horrible record which tempers confidence in Hermes Allen a touch. The form of his Newbury win has worked out well and he looks clear best of the home team so needs to be afforded plenty of respect.

This is a slight drop back in trip for Good Land who won over two and three-quarter miles at the Dublin Racing Festival. Plenty keen enough there, the drop in distance might actually be a benefit for him here.

The step back up to this trip last time out was a big help to Champ Kiely who picked up a Grade 1 win. He benefitted from a well-judged ride from the front there, this is going to be more difficult to dominate in the same manner.

It’s interesting to see Gaelic Warrior up in trip to take on this challenge. He was well fancied when runner-up in the Boodles last season but he jumped out to the right and perhaps is better that way round.

Conclusion: Impaire Et Passe has been one of the talking horses at the preview nights and is Ruby Walsh’s best bet of the week. He makes most appeal here at 7/4.

Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase

The rain will be a plus for Gerri Colombe who has taken well to fences. He is a perfect 7/7 under rules on top of a win in a point. That point is the only time that he has run over three miles so far in his career but he shapes as if he will improve for this distance.

The Real Whacker has won both of his chase starts at this track, jumping well for a novice. He has gone from the front which allows him to use that jumping asset to full effect. He stays this trip but has enough of an engine to win over shorter.

Runner-up in the Stayers’ Hurdle last season, Thyme Hill took a big step forward when winning the Kauto Star at Kempton over Christmas. He has the strongest form in the book from his hurdling days but has looked a little less of a natural over the bigger obstacles than a couple of his rivals.

This is a fair step up in trip for Sir Gerhard who won the Ballymore at this meeting last year. He made the odd mistake when winning on his chase debut at Gowran, a single run that would leave him looking rather ill-prepared for this sort of test. He has a smart cruising speed but his lack of experience is a concern.

Conclusion: Another short priced favourite for the Irish with the rain arriving in time for Gerri Colombe to land the spoils at 7/4.

Coral Cup

An ante post plunge on Good Risk At All was foiled last year when he failed to get into the race. A win at Carlisle to start this campaign has him safely in now. Three miles didn’t suit last time out but the drop to this trip will be much more like it.

Fourth in the Boodles at this meeting last year, HMS Seahorse showed a career best last time out. That was stepped up to close to this trip on soft ground so conditions look ideal. His canny yard don’t send many over without a strong chance so he is entitled to plenty of respect.

Twice well fancied for the Martin Pipe on the final day, Langer Dan tries his luck in this contest in 2023. He is clearly on a workable mark and has been primed for this festival once more but he has not had the best of luck here in the past.

Fourth to Stayers’ Hurdle favourite Blazing Khal as a novice at this track in November 2021, Off Your Rocco missed more than a year of action. He has hinted that the ability remains despite not getting involved at the business end of two races this season. No surprise if a big step forward were forthcoming now.

Conclusion: As always, a deeply competitive race. A pair each way against the field in Good Risk at All at 16/1 and Off Your Rocco at 50/1.

Champion Chase

There was little to separate Editeur Du Gite and Edwardstone in the Clarence House here in January. The former arguably had the run of the race while the latter was given plenty to do. There might not be such an easy lead for the first named here which could see the placings reversed.

Energumene was well behind the aforementioned pair last time out. Connections felt the white fence boards contributed to that, something he now has experience of. The defending champion stays further than this so it will be interesting if they make more use of him.

Conclusion: Another championship race with only 2 places each way. It’s tough too split the top three so it’s a NO BET race for me.

Cross Country Chase

Winner of this race last year when closing the door on a fairytale ending for Tiger Roll, Delta Work is back to defend his crown. This will have been the main target for the season and his experience of these fences will be a big help against his main danger and stablemate.

That danger is Galvin. Well fancied by many for the Gold Cup last year, he has had a lesser campaign this time around. A former National Hunt Chase winner, he won’t fail for lack of stamina and is a class act if taking to the fences and this deep ground.

Back On The Lash won the Cross Country Chase on trials day in January when the ground wasn’t as bad as is often the case at that time of year. Pulled up in this race last year when the ground turned heavy, that’s the concern again.

At a bigger price Plan Of Attack is worth considering. He was third in this last year on heavy ground and won’t mind this turning into a slog once more.

Conclusion: Delta Work makes most appeal given the ground at 5/4. Plan Of Attack is worth a few sheckles each way at 50/1 to hit the frame as he did 12 months ago.

Grand Annual

Beaten favourite in the Mares Novices’ last year, Dinoblue looked too inexperienced to do herself justice that day. Kept to smart company following a chase debut win, a handicap mark of 140 could easily underestimate her in a race where novices have a decent record.

Despite having had plenty of racing for his age, Final Orders has suddenly found improvement this season. Chasing has been the making of him, winning five of his six starts. This is deeper from ten pounds higher than his last win but he still requires respect.

Runner-up in this race last year was Andy Dufresne. He arrives off the same mark of 155 so is clearly well enough treated. Yet to live up to the lofty reputation of his younger years but this will have been the target all year.

Pulled up in this last year on heavy ground, Elixir De Nutz will be looking for slightly better conditions this time around. A Tolworth winner on soft, he handles cut and arrives off the back of a career best in the Game Spirit at Newbury.

Conclusion: This could be a battle between the JP McManus pair Dinoblue and Andy Dufresne. Preference is for the former who is still in the ‘could be anything’ category at 11/2.

Champion Bumper

An impressive winner at the Dublin Racing Festival, A Dream To Share heads the market. There is no short-priced favourite this year but that beating of Fact To File is the strongest bumper form shown this season.

Western Diego notched up a big RPR figure when winning his sole bumper at Naas in January. The form of that race is nothing special but he travelled well and picked up instantaneously when asked in the manner of a smart one.

Willie Mullins has won this race the last three years with It’s For Me looking the pick of his team. A ten-length beating of Suttons Hill (same horse behind Western Diego next time) is not a strong form line but he did it without coming off the bridle.

Conclusion: Not much of a fan of bumpers from a punting point of view so no bet is tempting but can’t resist a very small look at Western Diego each way at 14/1.