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Cheltenham Festival 2023: Constitution Hill Goes For Glory In Champion Hurdle – Live

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When Facile Vega won last year’s Champion Bumper, there was practically nobody trackside as it was so wet on Champion Chase Wednesday. I was, my colleagues having made for the train home or the Centaur bar. Through the rain it was obvious he was a cut above but Leopardstown has opened up the betting even if he is being backed in. Willie Mullins is four-handed in this race with Dark Raven, Il Etait Temps and Diverge. The ground is heavy, the turf green as the runners make their way to the start.

This season has been about the whip, and the new rules for the whip. Could this be a factor at this year’s Cheltenham?

The British Horseracing Authority, however, apparently thinks differently. It could have introduced its new rules on the use of the whip from the start of summer jumping in May or even the start of the Flat campaign on turf at the end of this month and run this year’s Festival as the last under the old regime.

Instead, it took a deliberate decision to ensure the new rules would be in place for this year’s meeting, and the wisdom, or otherwise, of that choice will become apparent over the next four days, though it certainly feels as though scarcely a day has passed since the turn of the year without a trainer or jockey criticising the move.

Paul Nicholls, the 13-times champion trainer, said recently he has been “livid all along” about the timing of the new rules’ introduction, adding that the BHA needed to “show some backbone” and stand up for the sport, rather than “appease people who don’t understand the game”. Richard Patrick, who starts an eight-day ban on Friday, suggested “everyone [in the weighing room] is petrified about using the stick”.

The first of seven races is fewer than 20 minutes away but here’s the schedule for today, including four grade-ones.

1.30 – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, 2m 1/2f

2.10 – Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase, 2m

2.50 – Ultima Handicap Chase, 3m 1f

3:30 – Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy, 2m 1/2f

4.10 – Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle, 2m 4f

4.50 – Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, 2m 4 1/2f

5.30 – National Hunt Chase (Novices’ Chase, amateur jockeys), 3m 6f

Facile Vega, the favourite for the Supreme, is being backed in, and despite being beaten last month at Leopardstown, finishing last of five behind stablemate Il Etait Temps. Here’s what Willie Mullins had to say to Sporting Life.

Facile Vega comes here in tremendous form, doing everything right at home. It’s a little disappointing we got the tactics wrong at Leopardstown, but we can’t change that now. While once again High Definition will probably be ridden prominently in this race, Paul [Townend] doesn’t have to take him on so early and I’d imagine we will change our tactics and hopefully get a better result. He jumps very well and is a course winner so I’m hopeful.

1.30: Grade 1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – 2m

Facile Vega 2/1

Il Etait Temps 5/1

Marine Nationale 11/2

Inthepocket 9/1

Tahmuras 11/1

High Definition 20/1

Diverge 22/1

Doctor Bravo 25/1

Rare Edition 28/1

Dark Raven 28/1

BAR 28/1 – 14 runners

Full betting via Oddschecker here

📊 The most backed for the Supreme over the past 24 hours (% of total stakes)

1️⃣ Il Etait Temps 9/2 (29%)

2️⃣ Facile Vega 9/4f (23%)

3️⃣ Tahmuras 11/1 (11%)

— oddschecker Racing (@oddsRacing) March 14, 2023 Look at the last ten winners of the Supreme and appreciate the quality of this race.

2013: Champagne Fever

2014: Vautour

2015: Douvan

2016: Altior

2017: Laibak

2018: Summerville Boy

2019: Klassical Dream

2020: Shishkin

2021: Appreciate It

2022 Constitution Hill

With 2016 the deepest of the lot:

1. Altior

2. Min

3.Buveur D’air


5. Charbel

6. Mister Miyagi

7. Supasundae

8. Petit Mouchoir

1.30 Supreme Novice Hurdle preview

Greg Wood

A double-figure field for the Festival’s traditional opening race for the first time since 2020, and an open feel to the market which should ensure that most punters find it impossible to resist. Last year’s Supreme, in which Constitution Hill, the hot favourite for the Champion Hurdle later on the card, set off as the 9-4 favourite, was the third-biggest race of the year by turnover, several places in front of the Derby in June, and Facile Vega, the Champion Bumper winner here last year, is likely to split backers fairly evently into pro- and anti- camps. His supporters will see a horse with excellent track form, Willie Mullins’s No.1 jockey in the saddle and a comfy defeat of Il Etait Temps, the third-favourite, on his record. Detractors will point to a very tame defeat behind the same horse at the Dublin Racing Festival last time out, when Paul Townend went off quite hard on Facile Vega but not, perhaps, quite hard enough to explain it away entirely. I’m tending towards the view that a price of around 15-8 for Facile Vega is much too short in the circumstances, but the problem then is which of several interesting alternatives to back against him. Tahmuras (12-1) is probably the pick of the British-trained contenders though the concern is that he is just the best of a sub-standard bunch, but High Definition – who was Group-class on the Flat and favourite for the Derby in the early stages of his three-year-old career – is a fascinating option at around 20-1, and closely matched on ratings with both Inthepocket (8-1) Diverge (22-1). Sometimes, though, the obvious pick is the sensible one too and Marine Nationale, unraced since winning the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse in December, has much to recommend him at around 11-2. Barry Connell’s runner showed a useful turn of foot to grab the spoils last time out and won with more in hand than the margin of a head might suggest.

SELECTION: Marine Nationale.

Marine Nationale is our pick in the Novice Hurdle. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PAGood detail from Greg Wood here. Time was when I had an annual berth in Cheltenham. These days, it’s a dash to Swindon and train it in and back. This idea looked good until, well, the price.

A local entrepreneur planned to use shipping containers, parked within walking distance of the course, as somewhere for racegoers to rest their heads after a hard day at the track (and, for a fair proportion at least, a harder night on the town). But only 16 of the 300 beds had been booked by the middle of last week. For now at least, the scheme has been scrapped.

Dig a little deeper, however, and the lack of demand is not quite as alarming as it might seem. Racegoers were being asked to sleep four-to-a-crate, which sounds cosy enough even for the closest of friends, and also to book for a minimum of five nights, for £950. A raging case of festival fever is one thing; the level of delirium required to pay £190 a night to bed down in a metal box is clearly quite another.

Even as someone who still reflexively switches to Channel 4 on a Saturday afternoon, it’s fair to say ITV have done a decent enough job since taking on racing. There have been worries it would drift off terrestrial schedules. But for three more years at least, it’s here to stay.

🎉 @ITV have agreed a new three-year deal to show exclusive, free-to-air coverage of UK horse racing until the end of 2026#ITVRacing

— ITV Racing (@itvracing) March 14, 2023 For Constitution Hill, the expectation of victory is so great that it is predicted he can emulate Istabraq’s Timeform rating of 176. Trained by Aidan O’Brien before the master of Coolmore concentrated on being a flat trainer, JP McManus’s horse won three Champion Hurdles, and four times at the Cheltenham Festival.

Oddschecker are providing our betting information this week. Here’s their most backed horses of the day.

📊 Our three most backed horses this morning:

1️⃣ Facile Vega 15/8

2️⃣ El Fabiolo 11/8

3️⃣ Honeysuckle 5/2

✅ The treble pays a best price of 23/1, compared to lows of 17/1.

— oddschecker Racing (@oddsRacing) March 14, 2023 And their market movers for the day one.

Honeysuckle (Mares’ Hurdle) 7/2 into 5/2

Tenzing (National Hunt Chase) 16/1 into 9/1

The Wolf (Ultima Handicap Chase) 40/1 into 22/1

Facile Vega (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle) 5/2 into 15/8

Monbeg Genius (Ultima Handicap Chase) 11/1 into 7/1

The weather looks fresh enough on course, bright sunshine the rain passing for the day, perhaps to return this evening, and later tomorrow for Champion Chase day. But perhaps not the mudlark of 12 months ago that the second day was. It will be chilly trackside, too.

Here’s Greg’s tips for the ITV races shown in the UK.

Cheltenham 3.30 The moment National Hunt has been waiting for since last year’s Supreme Novice Hurdle, as Constitution Hill bids to take his place among the sport’s all-time greats on the Champion Hurdle roll of honour. One record is already within reach as even the mighty three-time winner, Sir Ken, never started at shorter odds than 2-5 and Nicky Henderson’s gelding is no bigger than 4-11 to beat six rivals. State Man would be a worthy favourite in any other year, but Constitution Hill can cope with any pace or even make the running if necessary so even a highly tactical race is unlikely to cause him any problem.


Greg Wood

The ancient sport of organised horse racing now takes place on all but two or three days of the year, but a handful of mornings are special moments for followers of the turf and the Tuesday of Cheltenham week is very much in the top two or three. And so here we go again, gathering beneath Cleeve Hill to watch horses race over jumps, just as folk have been doing for a century or more.

A special moment, and this year, a very special horse to match. Constitution Hill, the favourite for the Champion Hurdle, is already a monster of the sport, an outrageous talent to rank alongside Golden Cygnet as one of the most brilliant novices ever to jump a hurdle. Unlike Golden Cygnet, who suffered a fatal injury in a fall in the Scottish Champion Hurdle a month after winning the Supreme Novice Hurdle, he will get a chance to show off his talent in the Champion Hurdle itself.

Make no mistake, Constitution Hill is already one of the best horses over a hurdle in the last 50 years. His 22-length success in last year’s Supreme was mind-bogglingly impressive, and backed up by a finishing time that put him at least 20 lengths in front of Honeysuckle, the Champion Hurdle winner. But he hasn’t – yet – got a Champion Hurdle of his own on his record, and filling in that gap should be the main business of the first afternoon at Cheltenham.

But of course, there’s more. Much more. We kick off with a very open renewal of the Supreme, sashay straight into a Britain vs Ireland head-to-head in the Arkle Trophy as El Fabiolo takes on Jonbon, and then try to pan some gold from an insanely competitive Ultima Handicap Chase. Post-Champion, the wonderful Honeysuckle will attempt to close out her career with a 17th win from 19 starts, and the afternoon concludes with a hopelessly impossible handicap hurdle and the rigours of the National Hunt Chase.

Honeysuckle took the Mares’ Hurdle in 2020 and has replaced Marie’s Rock, last year’s winner, as the favourite for that race this morning, while Jon Pullin, the track’s clerk of the course, has reported that the going remains soft after 7mm of rain in the last 24 hours. The traditional roar that greets the start of the opening race will be ringing in the jockey’s ears at around 1.30pm, picks for the ITV races are here (with the usual caveats etc), and you can follow all the news, views and race-by-race previews here on the live blog throughout the day.

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