Day one might just be the best day of the entire Cheltenham Festival. Aptly named Champions Day, the card starts with back-to-back Grade 1s in the form of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Arkle Challenge Trophy before another batch of top-level contests — the Champion Hurdle and the Mares’ Hurdle — followed by the Ultima Handicap Chase.
So, with four fantastic Grade 1s to dissect, let’s jump straight into the action and assess the favourites for day one’s thrilling contests.
Facile Vega – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Some of those who have Facile Vega in their tracker will be delighted that the six-year-old got beat comfortably at the Dublin Racing Festival as he’s now a seemingly very generous 3/1 shot to win the Supreme, others will see it as a serious chink in his armour.
For those who missed it, the Willie Mullins-trained horse was 4/9 for the Ireland Novice Hurdle but he weakened very quickly before the last after leading from the front a very fast pace and ultimately finished last of the runners who finished the contest.
The trainer was very critical of Paul Townend for the ride, claiming his stable jockey rode Facile Vega like a machine. It might have been a learning curve for the jockey aboard this still very young horse and plenty are still backing them to reverse the form.
El Fabiolo – Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase
As we write this, there isn’t much to separate El Fabiolo and Jonbon at the fore of the market for the Arkle. The latter was the long-time favourite in the online horse betting after going two for two over fences earlier in the season, including in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown.
In fact, the Nicky Henderson-trained horse even maintained favouritism after El Fabiolo’s success in last month’s Irish Arkle despite the fact Mullins’ six-year-old won by a comfortable 10 lengths at Leopardstown.
It wasn’t until Jonbon needed everything in reserve to beat Calico in the Grade 2 Kingmaker the following weekend that the market changed. There is still very little in it, with El Fabiolo 5/4 and Jonbon 13/8 at the time of writing.
Constitution Hill – Champion Hurdle
Constitution Hill. Need we say more? The best hurdler in the world at the minute, and perhaps for years to come, the six-year-old sparked the 2022 Festival into life with an exhilarating victory in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last year — and while he’s not the most lucrative selection from a betting point of view, he’s still one of the runners no one will want to miss this year.
Five for five over obstacles, no challenger has managed to get within 12 lengths of Constitution Hill thus far in his career. State Man comes across from Closutton as something of an unknown entity as he’s never really been tested, but Henderson’s prized asset should have enough about him to win the day one feature comfortably.
Honeysuckle – Mares’ Hurdle
It’s not be the race anybody anticipated Honeysuckle would be participating in when she won her second Champion Hurdle 12 months ago, with a clash with Constitution Hill at this year’s Festival the only thing just about everyone could talk about.
The decision to not pit her against the six-year-old has not gone down well with many high-profile pundits in the racing world, but we think it’s the right choice from Henry de Bromhead and the horse’s connections to revert to the Mares’ Hurdle given how she performed this season.
That is by no means saying she is a guaranteed winner of the Grade 1 contest. There’s no denying from those two runs this season, finishing third at Fairyhouse and second to State Man at Leopardstown, that her powers have dwindled and the likes of Marie’s Rock and so on will not make this an easy outing.