Betfred TV’s Matt Hulmes marks your card ahead of the opening day of the 2022 Cheltenham Festival
The biggest certainty the world has ever seen will land at 1:30pm on Tuesday – the loudest roar Prestbury Park has ever heard.
It’s been two years since patrons enjoyed a Festival on-course, and the extraordinary four days gets underway with one of the most eagerly-anticipated Supreme Novices’ Hurdles in many a year.
1.30 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – JONBON
The curtain-raiser is a fascinating clash between three supremely-talented, unbeaten hurdlers who have all produced performances capable of winning this race in a normal year. However, this is not a normal year.
Constitution Hill has impressed twice at Sandown by wide margins, while Dysart Dynamo has similarly swatted away all comers in Ireland. Meanwhile, many on-lookers were left feeling a little underwhelmed by JONBON’s win at Haydock. I wasn’t.
He overcame trouble at the second last and quickened up well to win a Grade 2, giving 5lbs to talented rivals. He beat Might I by five lengths giving him 5lbs, while Constitution Hill beat him 14L getting 3lbs.
Make of that what you will, but we know Jonbon battles which will stand him in good stead as not too many horses come up the famous Cheltenham hill on the bridle, especially in championship races.
A favourable mention goes to Mighty Potter, who hasn’t been since winning at the top level over Christmas at Leopardstown. He is unlucky not to be unbeaten as he flew home after a troubled passage in the Royal Bond on decent ground in November and has largely been overlooked due to the ‘sexier’ profiles of the market leaders.
2.10 Arkle Novices’ Chase – SAINT SAM
It doesn’t look a vintage renewal of the Arkle, and I’m not sure if any of these could be troubling the champion chasers next season. We shall see.
Edwardstone is a solid if not spectacular favourite. He was a very good handicapper over hurdles and it’s his jumping that’s propelled him to the top of the two-mile novice chase tree. But he’s a favourite worth taking on.
Blue Lord should have the measure of Riviere D’Etel as he meets the mare on 2lbs better terms than when narrowly successful at Leopardstown in the Dublin Racing Festival. Back in third that day was SAINT SAM, and he is the tentative selection to turn that form around.
That was only his second start over fences, and a mistake at the second last cost him valuable momentum before he stuck to his guns and was only beaten four lengths in the end, rallying well late on. He was second in the Fred Winter at last year’s Festival so has proven track form – and although he looks the third string of Willie Mullins’ on jockey bookings, he could offer some value.
Gabynako has been supplemented by for the race by connections at a cost of £8,000 which is of interest.
2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase – FANTASTIKAS & OSCAR ELITE
A typically wide-open renewal of the Ultima, as odds of 8/1 the field suggest. It’s one to really get stuck into and have a couple of darts.
Gordon Elliott suggested Death Duty was his best-handicapped horse of the week having been untouched by the British handicapper, but the form of his Punchestown win last time took a knock on Sunday and his stablemate Floueur, who was seven lengths behind in third that day, could be a bigger danger with Festival form in the bag courtesy of a third-place finish in the Martin Pipe last year.
Kim Bailey went close last year with a lightly-raced novice in Happygolucky and Does He Know has a very similar profile, although winning the Reynoldstown last month by a wide margin means he has a higher mark to overcome. He has won at the track earlier in the season and looks set to run well, especially as novices have a decent record in the race.
For that reason, I will suggest an each-way play on FANTASTIKAS for local trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies.
He has chased home top novices Threeunderthrufive and L’Homme Presse this season and stays the three-mile trip well, rallying to win at Lingfield’s Winter Million meeting in January. He handles better ground and has a lovely low racing weight of 10-6. With six and seven places available, he should reach the frame and a return for each-way bets.
I will also be having a small each-way investment on OSCAR ELITE.
He was a decent hurdler who looks every inch a chaser but it hasn’t quite worked out this season in good company. The result of that? He has a very decent mark.
Colin Tizzard’s seven-year-old was second to Vanillier in the Albert Bartlett last year so has Festival form on decent ground and he too can outrun his huge odds.
Frodon topping the weights brings some quality to this contest as he beat leading Gold Cup candidates Galvin and Minella Indo earlier in the season and has such a fantastic course record, but this would be something else to give 9lbs and upwards to the field – while Lostintranslation, placed in the Gold Cup in 2020, runs in a handicap for the first time as he tries to rediscover his best form.
3.30 Champion Hurdle – TEAHUPOO
Honeysuckle, the Queen of Ireland, looks to preserve her perfect record and make it 15 races under rules without defeat while retaining her Champion Hurdle crown.
Some judges weren’t totally enamoured with her most recent victory, despite putting it to bed two hurdles form home with a striking turn of foot, but it’s hard to look past her.
Something must chase her home though, and there are some decent prices for each-way punters as I can’t have Appreciate It who is making his seasonal debut and his first appearance for 364 days since romping home in last year’s Supreme.
It would be some story should Tommy’s Oscar win for the northern stable of Ann Hamilton, who only has the four horses in training. They are operating at a staggering 43% strike rate this season – 12 winners from 28 runners. That would be a real David v Goliath tale.
Epatante is a former champion looking to regain her crown, while Adagio saves his best for this track – but the one to be on has to be TEAHUPOO.
We don’t know how high his ceiling is, but he looked very good in winning at Gowran Park. Only tasting defeat once in his career, he’s improved on each of his last four starts and is on a sharp upward curve.
Cheltenham Festival Betting Odds
Mares’ Hurdle – MARTELLO SKY
The Irish have dominated this contest, winning nine of the last 10 renewals – six of which have gone to Willie Mullins.
Telmesomethinggirl won the Mares’ Novices Hurdle at last year’s Festival but has been rather underwhelming in three starts this season – the best of which was last time out over Christmas when third at Leopardstown. She also represents the Henry De Bromhead yard who has hardly been firing on all cylinders recently. She’s another favourite to take on.
Queen’s Brook is a big player now she is truly finding her feet over hurdles, while Mullins fields Relkeel Hurdle winner Stormy Ireland, Cesarewitch runner-up Burning Victory and Irish Champion Hurdle third Echoes In Rain.
I am looking for a shock here though, and for this prize to stay at home.
MARTELLO SKY has won four of her last five starts, twice over this track and trip (albeit on the other course). Her win at Sandown last time out was quite striking as she hated the sticky ground and it was her attitude and will to win that got her home.
She is still improving at the age of six and stayed on well behind Telmesomethinggirl at last year’s Festival when eighth, despite a few mistakes. She hasn’t got stacks to find on the figures, and at around 14/1 she rates the bet of the day.
4.50 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle – BRAZIL
One of the talking horses of the entire Festival has been Gaelic Warrior in the Fred Winter. Word has it he works like a much better horse then the mark of 129 he was awarded by the assessor, and his most recent start in France is solid form, with the first, second and fourth all subsequent winners. In fact, they’ve landed six races between them.
The fact is, however, you are being asked to take a short price in a competitive handicap about a four-year-old who has never seen a British style hurdle or a track as unique at Cheltenham. So, I’ll let him run and maybe win at around 5/2.
The Tide Turns was a fair fourth behind Champion Hurdle hope Teahupoo at Gowran Park and for one so inexperienced it was a good effort for trainer Gordon Elliott who has a good record in this race, winning three of the last nine renewals.
Petit Tonerre could be anything and is likely to be a lot better than the bare result of his Market Rasen win, but I will go for BRAZIL for owner JP McManus, trainer Paddy Roche and jockey Mark Walsh.
A beautifully bred brother to St Leger winner Capri who was useful himself when with Aidan O’Brien – his profile suggests this race has been the target.
He ran in some good maidens and although on bare form he has a few lengths to find with The Tide Turns, his latest win at Naas was very impressive and there is no doubt he will have come on again. All bar one of the last eight winners have carried over 11 stone in this race so weight is no barrier. The cream usually rises to the top.
5.30 National Hunt Chase – PATS FANCY
A field of just seven here should ring alarm bells for those advocating for a fifth day at the Festival. The National Hunt Chase has always attracted a decent field, despite never really having many finishers over the week’s longest trip.
There is no doubting the quality turning up though, as five Irish raiders take on a pair of Rebecca Curtis-trained runners a decade on from her success in the contest with Teaforthree.
Run Wild Fred and Stattler head the market and this pair come from very different ends of the chasing experience spectrum.
The former has had a total of 10 runs over fences, including a second in the Irish Grand National and victory in the very Grade 1 Troytown at Navan, while the latter has just had two runs in novice company. He’s owned by Ronnie Bartlett, whose colours have been carried to victory in this race twice in the last four years – including last year by leading Gold Cup candidate Galvin.
Vanillier is a big player as we know he stays well on account of his Albert Bartlett romp at last year’s Festival, while Braeside, stablemate of Run Wild Fred, also won’t fail through a lack of stamina having won a Cork Grand National.
I am going to suggest a small each-way play on PAT’S FANCY.
He was a whopping 56 lengths behind Vaniller last year in the Bartlett, and does have something to find on figures, but he looks all about stamina and decent ground will suit.
He chased home Bravemansgame at Newbury in receipt of plenty of weight but never gave up, running on well all the way to the line. His Chepstow win over Christmas has been franked and has a very experience amateur on board in Barry O’Neill. I fancy him to run well for Rebecca Curtis and hit the first three.
Today’s Horse Racing Odds