Cheltenham is here: Cork jockeys will play a huge part at the Festival

Kevin Murphy looks at the Leesiders hoping to win big this week
Cheltenham is here: Cork jockeys will play a huge part at the Festival

Galopin Des Champs and Paul Townend fall at the last when clear in the Turners Novices' Chase (Grade 1). Both horse and jockey were ok.

THE Cheltenham Festival gets underway today and the greatest show on turf will provide massive local interest on Leeside. 

The beautiful Cotswolds have been battling snow and rain and the likely soft ground will make it tricky for punters. 

Home By The Lee looks a massive player in the Stayers Hurdle on Thursday for West Cork owner Sean O’Driscoll while Blood Destiny for the O’Leary family has been backed into favouritism in the Triumph Hurdle. 


In a golden age for Cork jockeys, Paul Townend has a great book of rides on the opening day including Facile Vega, El Fabiola, and Stateman in the Champion Hurdle while Davy Russell, Aidan Coleman, Johnny Burke, Adrian Heskin, Darragh O’Keeffe, Jody Townend, Michael O’Sullivan and Gavin Sheehan will hope to enter the famous theatre of dreams that is the winner’s enclosure at Cheltenham.

The Champion Hurdle is the feature race on day one and Constitution Hill is a real superstar of national hunt racing right now. 

A brilliant winner of the Supreme last season he is impossible to oppose and will go off a long odds-on chance. 

Cork man and former bookmaker Joe Donnelly has enjoyed a brilliant few years with Al Boum Photo winning a couple of Gold Cups and he will be represented by Stateman. 

He comfortably lowered the colours of Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle and was also a winner of the County Hurdle at Cheltenham last year. But Constitution Hill looks a bit special, and the great English hope should deliver in style.

The famous Cheltenham roar will get the festival underway with the Supreme Novice Hurdle and what an occasion it will be for young Michael O’Sullivan from Lombardstown who rides Marine Nationale. 

Having turned professional last September O’Sullivan has been one of the stories of the season. Marine Nationale is unbeaten in four races including the Grade 1 Royal Bond at Fairyhouse back in December. Unfortunately, the rain may have scuppered his chances though. 

Churchstonewarrior ridden by Aidan Coleman going on to win The William Hill Ten Up Novice Chase.
Churchstonewarrior ridden by Aidan Coleman going on to win The William Hill Ten Up Novice Chase.

Paul Townend rides the Willie Mullins favourite Facile Vega who must overcome a very poor run at the Dublin Racing Festival where he could only fifth after going too quick early on with High Definition. 

But Facile Vega was a brilliant winner of the Bumper at last year’s festival and the Champion Trainer Willie Mullins has an uncanny knack of getting things right for the big day. 

Another contender Tahmuras who is trained by Paul Nicholls comes from the Noel Fehily syndicate and the softer ground conditions will play to his strengths. But I expect Facile Vega and Paul Townend to get punters off to a flyer in the festival opener.

The Arkle Novice Chase is a fascinating contest with Paul Townend aboard El Fabiola and Innishannon’s Aidan Coleman riding big English hope Jonbon. 

Both horses served up a titanic battle at Aintree last season with the British challenger edging it. This two-mile chase will be run at lightning speed and a mistake by either is likely to decide it. 

Marginal preference is for Jonbon who can give Aidan Coleman a Cheltenham winner for the famous green and gold silks of JP McManus.

The Mares Hurdle is one of the most competitive races of the week with a whole host of challengers including two previous Champion Hurdle winners Epatante and Honeysuckle. 

The latter and Rachael Blackmore will bring the house down if they can win here and this magnificent mare certainly is a major player in her final race before retirement. 


Honeysuckle has been rerouted to this after suffering a couple of defeats already this season. Love Envoi will have plenty of supporters here in Cork and will be ridden by Jonathon Burke for the Noel Fehily racing syndicate. 

This mare did us a massive favour by winning the mares novice last season and the softening ground conditions will boost her chances. Defending Champion Maries Rock will go off favourite here and she will be a tough nut to crack after an extremely impressive victory over course and distance back in January. 

Willie Mullins is doubly represented by Brandy Love and Echoes in Rain who both carry excellent form. Davy Russell will ride Queensbrook for Gordon Elliot and this mare finished runner-up in the race last year. But preference is for Marie’s Rock.

The National Hunt Chase brings the curtain down on the opening day and the Mullins team are represented by another Joe Donnelly horse Gaillard Du Mesnil. 

This gruelling marathon contest will have plenty of punters backing the even-money favourite who boasts very good form. 

However, each way chance is taken on the Nicky Henderson-trained Mister Coffey who will be ridden by top amateur Derek O’Connor.

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