THE Cheltenham Festival gets underway this afternoon, and the Champion Hurdle is the feature race on a cracking seven race card.
Punters have plenty of tough decisions to make throughout the day with the travelling Irish hoping to get the meeting off to a flyer.
While many pundits are expecting the Mullins and Elliot teams to dominate the week the Nicky Henderson team will be hoping that they get among the winners early with Constitutional Hill in the eagerly awaited Supreme Novice Hurdle which is the first of 28 races over the next four days of championship racing.
Honeysuckle looks unopposable in her quest for a second Champion Hurdle and a 15th consecutive victory.
This wonder mare and Rachael Blackmore captured the hearts of racing fans last season. Although she ran below par in the Irish equivalent at Leopardstown recently the Henry De Bromhead horses were not quite firing at the time.
De Bromhead has enjoyed an upturn in fortunes lately so expect the mare to be cherry ripe today. Appreciate It is a hell of a horse and romped to victory in the Supreme at last year’s meeting by a whopping 24 lengths.
But a setback has kept him off the track all season and taking on a mare of the calibre of Honeysuckle in a championship race like a Champion Hurdle looks a tall order.
But Willie Mullins is a master trainer and expect Appreciate It to give Honeysuckle a real fright under Paul Townend in the feature.
The Supreme Novice Hurdle gets the festival underway and what a race we have in prospect.
It’s a real Anglo-Irish battle with Nicky Henderson having Constitution Hill and Jonbon who will be ridden by Innishannon’s Aidan Coleman. Dysart Dynamo represents the Mullins team and Paul Townend will be keen to get the meeting underway with a winner.
Mighty Potter is a lively 10/1 e/way chance for Gordon Elliot. The Mullins second string Kilcruit will be ridden by Patrick Mullins.
This is going to be an absolute cracker with so many horses going there with chances.
But the vibes for Constitution Hill are very strong from England and I expect him to take the opener.
The Arkle Novice Chase looks a very open renewal with the injury to Ferny Hollow throwing this division wide open earlier in the season. Edwardstone is a rock-solid favourite for some time now after four solid novice chase victories around England.
There is very little to separate the Irish horses and cases can be made for a few.
The Gordon Elliot team are represented by Riviere D’tel who was a desperately unlucky loser at the Dublin Racing Festival.
Blue Lord and Paul Townend edged that battle with some real tactical riding.
Cork man Joe Donnelly has a great stable of horses right now and his Haut En Couleurs represented the each/way value.
Admittedly he was a faller on his most recent start at Leopardstown but before that he jumped well.
He ran a cracker to finish fourth in the Triumph last season and can give Donnelly a great start to the week.
The Mares Hurdle was dominated by Quevega for six consecutive years but since her departure this race has become very open.
The big three Irish yards are strongly represented.
The Gordon Elliot trained Queens Brook has seen the subject of sustained market support in recent weeks and was third in the bumper a couple of years back.
The Mullins team are represented by the consistent Stormy Island while De Bromhead and Blackmore hold a leading chance with Tellmesomethinggirl who won the Mares Novice Hurdle at last season’s festival.
The Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle has a red-hot favourite for Mullins and Townend in the shape of the French import Gaelic Warrior who is reportedly very well handicapped.
The National Hunt Chase again looks a real battle between Elliot and Mullins with Run Wild Fred looking an ideal candidate for this race.
Elliot has a great record in this and won it last season with Galvin who is now disputing favouritism for the Gold Cup.
1.30: Supreme Novice Hurdle: Constitution Hill, Nicky Henderson, Nico De Bonville
2.10: Arkle Novice Chase : Haut En Couleurs, Willie Mullins, B Cooper
2.50: Ultima Handicap Chase: Vintage Clouds, S Smith, S Quinlan
3.30: Unibet Champion Hurdle: Honeysuckle, Henry De Bromhead, Rachael Blackmore
4.10 Mares Hurdle: Queens Brook, Gordon Elliot, J Kennedy
4.50 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle: Doctor Brown Bear (e/w), Martin Brassil, Darragh O’Keeffe
5.30 National Hunt Chase: Run Wild Fred, Gordon Elliot, J Codd.