Cheltenham day one tips: Honeysuckle seeking Epatante’s crown in mares’ match-up for the Champion Hurdle
Months of anticipation are over, one of the biggest betting events of the year is finally upon us.
A year after one of the last mass gatherings in Britain took place before the first Covid lockdown, the Cheltenham Festival is back, but not in the form we are used to.
Without crowds the so-called ‘Cheltenham Roar’ that echoes up from the stands when the starter’s flag drops for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle will have to be delivered remotely.
But the main foundations remain in place, namely the best horses, trainers and jockeys in competition for some of the greatest prizes in jumps racing.
It’s a challenge that has excited punters for months and the time has come to see if those long range punts bear fruit.
Of a seven race card, six will be shown live by ITV Racing and we’ve previewed the three most significant races of the day in our ITV Racing Cheltenham day one tips.
A good time for the Festival’s most successful trainer Willie Mullins to set the narrative for the week.
There’s an unusually small field of eight for this annual curtain-raiser and no representative from the stable of Nicky Henderson, who won it with Shishkin and Altior.
That leaves Mullins, who has won four of the last eight and saddles two runners, with a clearer path to the winners’ enclosure.
His main hope Appreciate It, runner-up in last year’s Bumper, has proved the best of his class in Ireland and is three-for-three over hurdles.
He is going to be tough to beat, but there is a horse who might be up for that challenge in the Harry Fry-trained Metier.
He too is three-for-three over jumps, and an ex-Flat horse bought out of the yard of Andy Slattery, who discovered Faugheen and Cooldine.
Is Shishkin the next Altior? Wouldn’t that be great, but with Energumene a late withdrawal, we might not be able to establish that here, even if Shishkin wins.
Shishkin has certainly put himself on the right track, winning last year’s Supreme in taking style, just like Altior, and winning all his starts over fences impressively.
His trainer Nicky Henderson has done little to dampen expectations that Shishkin could be a special horse.
He will be tested by Allmandkind, an exuberant frontrunning jumper who will want to get on with things, in colours we more regularly associate with horses on the Flat, such as Big Orange.
Allmankind has been to Cheltenham three times and been beaten twice, including in last year’s Triumph Hurdle.
He’s shown he is a much better chaser, but may not have the class to topple Shishkin.
The mares showdown, Honeysuckle v Epatante, promises to be the highlight of the day. The defending champion Epatante puts her crown on the line against the winner of last year’s Mares’ Hurdle.
Since last year’s Festival, Honeysuckle has stretched her record to a perfect ten out of ten races, looking most impressive when handing a ten length beating to Abacadabras in the Irish Champion Hurdle.
Epatante has had a less smooth preparation, losing out to Silver Streak in the Christmas Hurdle, since when she has had treatment for a back problem,
Nicky Henderson is a master of getting his horses in peak form for Cheltenham and it should be no different with Epatante but in Honeysuckle she will find an opponent that won’t lie down.
Sharjah, last year’s runner-up, is a hold-up horse who should be suited by a likely furious gallop and looks over-priced at double figure odds, while Not So Sleepy is another that could run well at a big price, provided there is no repeat of the slow starts that have undermined previous big race challenges.
ITV Racing Schedule, Tuesday 16th March
13:20 Cheltenham – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
13:55 Cheltenham – Arkle Challenge Trophy
14:30 Cheltenham – Ultima Handicap Chase
15:05 Cheltenham – Champion Hurdle
15:40 Cheltenham – Mares’ Hurdle
16:15 Cheltenham – Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.