Tuesday, March 14, 2023

The opening day of the 2023 Cheltenham festival has got underway, with seven races on the card.

In the first day of action at Prestbury Park, it was a day of dramatic races with plenty of Irish success.

5.30pm WellChild National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys Novices Chase

Gaillard Du Mesnil 10/11

After Mahler Mission fell at the second last fence, Gaillard Du Mesnil showed huge strides at the final stages to complete an unlikely victory.

4.50pm Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

Jazzy Matty 18/1

In his second win of the day, Michael O’Sullivan took Jazzy Matty home in first to claim the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.

The result marked the first win of the festival for trainer Gordon Elliott.

4.10pm Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle

Honeysuckle 9/4

There were joyous scenes on day one of the Cheltenham Festival when Honeysuckle brought the curtain down on her career phenomenal career with an emotional victory in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle.

The sparkle of Henry de Bromhead’s superstar had seemingly been on the wane this term and the decision was made to return the dual Champion Hurdle heroine to the race she first announced herself in at the Festival for her swansong.

And the nine-year-old did not let her adoring public down by showing all the qualities that have made her one of the most loved and admired mares of the modern era.

Sent off the 9-4 joint-favourite, ever-loyal jockey Rachael Blackmore had Honeysuckle positioned in second throughout tracking the front-running Love Envoi and although the pack swarmed as the field made their way down the hill, the order remained the same until after the last.

With Love Envoi refusing to lie down, the brave mare Honeysuckle responded to every urging of her rider to gallop up the Cheltenham hill one more time, going to the bottom of the well and digging deep to edge her way to a titanic one-and-a-half-length triumph.

The victory gave her a fourth victory at the Festival and she signs off as one of the all-time greats having won 17 of her 19 career starts.

3.30pm Unibet Champion Hurdle

Constitution Hill 4/11

Constitution Hill demolished his Unibet Champion Hurdle rivals to register a quite brilliant success on day one of the Cheltenham Festival.

Unbeaten over hurdles for trainer Nicky Henderson and jockey Nico de Boinville, Constitution Hill was sent off the 4-11 favourite and fairly strolled to victory over State Man.

De Boinville flicked the reins on the turn for home and Constitution Hill kicked up a gear, striding up the hill to come home nine lengths clear in a canter.

2.50pm Ultima Handicap Chase

Corach Rambler 5/1

Corach Rambler enhanced his claims for the Randox Grand National when becoming the fourth back-to-back winner of the Ultima Handicap Chase.

Lucinda Russell’s 6-1 favourite pounced late to land the Cheltenham Festival spoils 12 months ago and was ridden cold once again by Derek Fox.

Always travelling easily for the National-winning pilot, the enigmatic nine-year-old was coaxed into contention as the race began to unfold and was then asked to join the party jumping the last – from where he knuckled down gamely to stay on to the line, holding off Martin Brassil’s Fastorslow to extend the dominance of British-trained horses in this race.

He will now head to Aintree on April 15 and was made the 7-1 joint-favourite for the Merseyside marathon by Betfair, while William Hill go further with Corach Rambler their 6-1 favourite, cut from 10s.


2.10pm Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase

El Fabiolo 11/10

El Fabiolo got the better of Jonbon in the Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy, to get Willie Mullins and Paul Townend off the mark at the Cheltenham Festival.

The duo fought out a titanic battle over hurdles at Aintree last season and the rematch was just as entertaining, with the main protagonists coming to the fore in the closing stages.

Dysart Dynamo took up his customary position setting the pace at the head of proceedings, with both Aidan Coleman aboard Jonbon and Townend on El Fabiolo content to stalk the front-runner as Danny Mullins led the field along with his usual zest.

Jonbon crept on Dysart Dynamo’s tail heading down country to three out and was soon angled out to press the Closutton second string. But Townend bided his time aboard the 11-10 favourite, only moving El Fabiolo into contention rounding the home bend.

From then the powerhouse clash all at Prestbury Park had been waiting for ensued as the big three matched strides from two out to the last and when Dysart Dynamo fell at the final fence, El Fabiolo was still full of running and confirmed the promise of his hugely impressive performance from the Dublin Racing Festival.

He was five and a half lengths clear of Nicky Henderson’s 2-1 second-favourite at the line, with Closutton stablemate Saint Roi staying on to pick up third at 11-1.

1.30pm Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

Marine Nationale 9/2

Michael O’Sullivan produced an ice-cool ride aboard Marine Nationale to register a famous victory for trainer Barry Connell in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

O’Sullivan was still in college when Constitution Hill was winning the Festival opener 12 months ago, while his only previous taste of the Prestbury Park showpiece was an uneventful spin on an outsider in the Kim Muir in 2022.

The young Irishman pounced late to secure the Royal Bond earlier in the season and followed a similar script here, riding the unbeaten six-year-old with ultimate confidence.

As 9-4 favourite Facile Vega forced his way to the front in the hands of Paul Townend two out and then lengthened for home, O’Sullivan was motionless aboard Marine Nationale, with a target firmly locked on Facile Vega’s tail.

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