Cheltenham Day One Preview: Honeysuckle to be crowned Champion Hurdle Queen

Four days of top class racing are finally upon us with the Cheltenham Festival taking centre stage in Gloucestershire this week.

Sunday, 14th March 2021, 4:18 pm
Rachael Blackmore riding Honeysuckle. Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Day one at Prestbury Park features a mouth-watering Champion Hurdle featuring Goshen, Honeysuckle and defending champion Epatante, whilst the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle features yet another Willie Mullins-trained hotpot in Appreciate It.

We’ve previewed all of the action with our race by race guide to day one of the meeting.

1.20pm Grade One Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

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Willie Mullins has won the meeting’s traditional curtain-raiser on six occasions and looks to hold strong claims once again with Appreciate It. Second in last year’s Champion Bumper, he has easily won his three starts over hurdles this term and makes plenty of appeal.

His main rivals looks to be Ballyadam who chased him home at Leopardstown last time out, just ahead of the progressive Metier who is unbeaten in three starts for Harry Fry.

Selection: Appreciate It 5/4

1.55pm Grade One Arkle Novices’ Chase

Shishkin landed last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and has looked awesome in three starts over fences this term for Nicky Henderson.

Shishkin’s task has been made easier with the news that Energumene has been ruled out of the meeting through injury. His main rivals looks to be fellow Grade One winner Allmankind who scored at Sandown earlier this year and impressed at Warwick on his latest start. However, Shishkin is proving round Cheltenham and should be suited by this test. He gets the vote.

Selection: Shishkin 8/15

2.30pm Ultima Handicap Chase

As always this looks a competitive renewal in which Lieutenant Rocco makes appeal. Progressive this term for Nick Mitchell, he shaped well at Cheltenham earlier this season when a good second to Fusil Raffles and has since gone on to score at Ffos Las last month. Up to a mark of 147, he is capable of further progression.

Selection: Lieutentant Rocco 6/1

3.05pm Grade One Champion Hurdle

The first championship race of the meeting. Defending champion Epatante is bound to be popular having stormed up the hill to win this event 12 months ago. However, she was disappointing when beaten by Silver Streak at Kempton last time out and there are plenty of dangers.

Goshen looked right back to his best when scoring at Wincanton last time out and was in the process of producing one of the most outstanding performances in recent times at Cheltenham before falling last year. He looks sure to make this into a stamina test which should suit the unbeaten Honeysuckle. She demolished her rivals in the Irish Champion Hurdle last time out, but also boasts winning form at Cheltenham over two and a half-miles. Her stamina-laden credentials could prove vital here.

Selection: Honeysuckle 9/4

3.40pm Grade One Mares’ Hurdle

This is all about Concertista. She captured the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival and has carried all before her this season with two effortless victories. She once again has to step up on that form if she is to win a first Grade One. However, she rates as the one to beat and could be one of the best bets of the week.

Selection: Concertista 11/10

4.15pm Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

A competitive handicap for the juveniles. Houx Gris is the talk of the town having shaped with promise on his first start for Paul Nicholls and is of interest along with Saint Sam who has yet to score in three starts for Willie Mullins. However, at a bigger price, Zoffanien makes appeal for Denis Hogan. He cruised to victory last time out and looks well-handicapped off a mark of 130 to play a leading role here.

Selection: Zoffanien 12/1

4.50pm National Hunt Chase

This race hinges on whether Royale Pagaille runs for Venetia Williams. Unbeaten in three starts this term, he is also engaged in the Gold Cup. However, he would clearly be the class act if lining up here having easily landed the Peter Marsh Chase last time out at Haydock. Whilst he has to prove he can handle another step up in trip, he would be very hard to beat.

If Royale Pagaille heads elsewhere, then Galvin looks a worthy alternative. Unbeaten in four starts this year, he impressed with the manner of his win at Cheltenham last time out and also boasts good form at the meeting having finished second over a shorter trip last year.

Selection: Royale Pagalle 6/4 (if he runs) or Galvin 10/3

Tips and analysis via Betting Expert