Cheltenham Festival Preview Day 1

By Peter Moore 4th March 2024

The forthcoming Cheltenham Festival as always will see four days of top class competitive racing. The four day event opens up on Tuesday afternoon on Champion Day and will run through to Friday.

The opening race of the festival the Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle has been a race in previous seasons dominated by the Irish. Marine Nationale las season was the seventh Irish winner since 2013, five of them trained by Willie Mullins.

Nicky Henderson has won three of the last eight running’s, despite the stable not being represented in 2021 and last year.

This year the Lambourne trainer will be hoping for a good run from Jeriko Du Reponet who has impressed in each of his three hurdle wins.

Mullins looks to have an excellent chance of securing an eighth win in this with either Ballyburn, Tullyhill or Mystical Power.

The British novices look weak in this contest, so this could well be a race that the Irish will start their Cheltenham Festival with a win.

The race may not just be about Mullins. Fellow Irish trainer Gordon Elliott has high hopes of Firefox, who has already beaten ante-post favourite Ballyburn at Fairyhouse this season, however was a disappointing fourth at Naas over two and a half miles last time out.

The second race on the opening day of the festival the Arkle Novices Chase  has gone to Ireland in six of the last nine years with that man Mullins again responsible for five of those successes.

Last year’s Supreme winner Marine National was disappointing at the Dublin Racing Festival, finishing well behind II Etait Temps.

Irish horses have dominated the ante-post market  will the Gavin Cromwell trained My Mate Mozzie, Gordon Elliott hope Found A Fifty and Mullins trained Hunters Yarn all expected to go close.

Grade 2 winner JPR One representing Joe Tizzard was set to win over the Arkle track and trip in November until unseating at the last. However, since then his two recent runs have been extremely encouraging and leads the home challenge.

Lucinda Russell has won the last two runnings of the Ultima Handicap Chase with Corach Rambler. Last year’s Grand National winner is one of three entered this time around by Russell.

Giovinco looks to be the pick of the trio. The seven-year-old has bought to the table some impressive displays in novice chasing this season. Running off a mark of 146, he has already notched up two handicaps already this season.

In a race that has seen the Irish struggle in recent years- not produced a winner since 2006- Kim Bailey’s Chianti Classico looks an ideal type for this race.

Jonjo O’Neill runs the promising Crebilly, with the Irish trained The Goffer expected to go well for Gordon Elliott.

The main race of the opening day of the festival is the Unibet Champion Hurdle. At the time of writing it was doubtful that last years winner Constitution Hill would be looking to defend his crown after suffering a dirty scope. Monday was expected to be the day when everybody will find out if the outstanding horse will be able to run, subject to blood tests which would decide whether Nicky Henderson decided to run the horse or not.

Working on the basis that Constitution Hill wont be in the lineup, it leaves the path clear for the Irish trained State Man as the clear favourite.

The Willie Mullins trained seven-year-old is the obvious choice to win the Champion Hurdle, having completed a hat trick of Grade 1 hurdles, Morgiana, Matheson and Irish Champion as he did before this race twelve months ago.

One other interesting runner in the race is the old campaigner Not So Sleepy. Now 12-years-young the Hughie Morrison trained horse will be running in this race for the fifth season in a row, after putting up a magnificent performance to win the rearranged Fighting Fifth Hurdle on heavy ground at Sandown in December.

Lossiemouth, who is also entered in the Champion Hurdle, looks likely to contest the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle race on opening day. The Willie Mullins trained five-year-old who won last season’s Truimph Hurdle heads the market as an odds on chance, but has to prove herself over 2m 4f, with two other Mullins trained mares Ashroe Diamond and Echoes In  Rain behind her in the market.

The final two races on the card are the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle and the National Hunt Chase which will be run in honour of the late Maureen Mullins with the Emmet Mullins trained Corbetts Cross the ante-post favourite in a race dominated by Irish raiders.