Alex Hammond: Cheltenham Festival day one tips

Sky Sports Racing’s Alex Hammond offers her analysis and selections for day one of the Cheltenham Festival, kicking off with a belter of a Supreme.

So here we are again. The festival always seems an age away and then… bang, it’s arrived! The question is, are you thoroughly overwhelmed with information, or have you just started to dip your toe into the pool?

In the era we live in, we are bombarded with information via blogs, podcasts, preview nights and from the bloke down the pub that landed an almighty touch 30 years ago.

The key is to take something from everything you hear and read and then make your own mind up. So, let’s add a little more to your information overload with my thoughts for the opening day of one the finest weeks of the year.

Kilcruit is more than capable

There’s no doubt we are in for a real treat with this year’s Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Constitution Hill and Jonbon represent Nicky Henderson, whose horses (*whispers this*) have been a tiny bit on the quiet side in the run-up to the Festival. He’ll probably go and smash that stat out the park now I’ve mentioned it, but it’s a stat worth noting, nonetheless.

Of that duo, it’s Constitution Hill that floats my boat as he has looked like a colossus in his two starts under rules so far.

With an enthusiastic crowd stuffing the stands this year after the tumbleweed-strewn meeting 12 months ago behind closed doors, anything with a highly-strung personality will be tested to the limit, particularly for race one, and that may not suit Jonbon.

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Seven Barrows handler Nicky Henderson talks exclusively to Sky Sports Racing about six of his Cheltenham Festival hopes, including Supreme Novices’ Hurdle duo Constitution Hill and Jonbon.

Willie Mullins has now won this seven times. Sir Gerhard, Dysart Dynamo, Kilcruit and others are entered for the Closutton juggernaut and at this stage we don’t know who runs where.

There are murmurings that Kilcruit could be overpriced, and whilst his defeat on hurdles debut, when 1/14 favourite at Cork, is still relatively fresh in the memory, he showed he could be back to his brilliant best when hacking up in his maiden hurdle at Punchestown at the end of January.

He wasn’t beaten far by Sir Gerhard in the Champion Bumper and was the buzz horse before that, so don’t lose the faith just yet.

Last year’s Supreme winner, Appreciate It, finished second in the Champion Bumper to Ferny Hollow, so can history repeat itself here?

Of course, you could hedge your bets and go with one of the Sky Bet specials that offers 11/10 about any of the Mullins horses winning the opening race, just to be safe, if you think he can saddle winner number eight.

Image: Kilcruit and Paul Townend win the Maiden Hurdle

Hoping Saint Sam can buck the trend

The Sporting Life Arkle is race two on Tuesday. Edwardstone heads the market for Alan King, and he’s done everything that has been asked of him this season over fences.

Bar being brought down on his seasonal reappearance; he has gone from strength to strength winning his last four, which takes in one Grade One and two Grade Twos.

He jumps particularly well and is a worthy favourite, but it’s an open race and Willie Mullins has a strong entry too.

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Top trainers Nicky Henderson, Dan Skelton, Gordon Elliott, Henry de Bromhead, Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls each select their ‘dark horse’ for the Cheltenham Festival.

Whilst Saint Sam finished behind Blue Lord and Riviere D’Etel in the Irish Arkle, I wouldn’t write off the possibility that he could turn that around.

Remember, he was second in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham festival, and I like his attitude over fences. He’s capable of fiddling but looks athletic and he set a hot enough pace at Leopardstown last time out for his rivals to aim at.

Whether you agree with me or not, he could be each-way value and he’s on my shortlist at the prices.

There is just one stat that tempers my enthusiasm slightly: five-year-olds (of which Saint Sam is) are 0-13 in the Arkle since 2007.

Image: Saint Sam won on his chase debut before finishing third in the Irish Arkle

Blackmore and Honey a match made in heaven

The Unibet Champion Hurdle is probably going to be my shortest summary of the week. Honeysuckle wins, doesn’t she? She’s 14 from 14 and just keeps getting the job done.

We all know Willie Mullins can send something to a championship race after a year off, but it would be one hell of a performance to get last year’s Sky Bet Supreme winner, Appreciate It, to beat the star mare on his first start out of novice company.

It’s time to sit back and enjoy this mare while we can. Not a betting proposition, but Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore are a match made in heaven.

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Henry de Bromhead speaks exclusively to Sky Sports Racing about six of his Cheltenham Festival hopes, including leading Gold Cup contenders A Plus Tard and Minella Indo.

The Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle has been farmed by Irish-trained runners since its inception and horses from the Emerald Isle dominate the market once again.

I don’t think this week will all be the Willie Mullins show (despite his exceptional record in this race), although I do think he will end up as leading trainer, and it could be one for Gordon Elliott here.

Black Tears won it for his stable (Denise Foster) last year and this time round he is represented by Queens Brook.

It looks a close-run thing between this mare and the horse who beat her in the Quevega Mares Hurdle at Punchestown last month, Burning Victory.

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Gordon Elliott outlines six of his stable stars ahead of the Cheltenham Festival, including Gold Cup prospects Galvin and Conflated as well as unbeaten Champion Bumper hope American Mike.

The latter was handed the Triumph Hurdle in 2020 when Goshen got his legs in a tangle, and that was her first win since that day. The application of cheekpieces seemed to help her last time, but Queens Brook was expected to improve for the outing, and she may well turn things around.

I’ve already nailed my colours to the mast in the Ukraine Appeal National Hunt Amateur Jockeys’ Novices’ Chase. Stattler is my pick here (Mullins again).

Stepping up to this marathon trip will probably help his jumping and he’s always promised to make up into a smart staying chaser. He’s two from two over fences so far and I hope he makes it three.

Source : Sky Sports