Cheltenham Festival Day One – Through The Card Selections

The 2022 Cheltenham Festival kicks off on Tuesday. Our experts have combes over every race and come up with through the card selections to guide you through the opening day.

Constitution Hill (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle)

Our full Supreme write up can be found here.

A conveyer belt of speedy riches has glided through the Seven Barrows stables in recent years.

Nicky Henderson is the one British trainer who can be relied upon to serve it up to the Irish invaders, particularly over two miles. Sprinter Sacre, Altior and Shishkin have all done so. Now it may be time for CONSTITUTION HILL.

He showed a glorious turn of foot in heavy conditions in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle. That race was much of a muchness for the top level, but the fourth and fifth have won easily since, so there is form there to be reckoned with.

In fact, he was arguably as impressive on his debut against the useful Might I. Cruising alongside that rival at the last, he blasted clear up the run-in and announced himself as a potential champion. He will have genuine top class rivals to contend with this time, but he looks up to the task.

Riviere D’etel (NAP) (Arkle Challenge Trophy)

The Arkle looks phenomenally competitive this season. That stands in contrast to the race’s profile, as there have been seven odds-on favourites in the last ten runnings.

Whenever the favourite has opened at odds against, they have been beaten, which is ominous for market leader Edwardstone. Preference instead is for RIVIERE D’ETEL (NAP), a mare who has substantially benefited from the switch to fences.

She was only seventh in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap a year ago, but has been a revelation over the larger obstacles. But for an uncharacteristic error at the last at Leopardstown, she would have beaten Blue Lord and possibly with a little to spare.

She gets 2lb fewer from that rival here, but should be able to reverse the form with a smoother fencing display. Coeur Sublime is another who cannot be ruled out.

Floueur (Ultima Handicap Chase)

While the Brits have regularly overcome their Irish counterparts in this race, the raiding party have rarely sent as many challengers with such depth.

The old boy Death Duty has been granted 1lb fewer than his Irish mark, which is most unusual. However, the rain has not fallen to the quantity levels he would enjoy most and there are progressive rivals in opposition. That said, another aged into double figures, Ben Dundee, could well have a say after an excellent run in the Paddy Power Chase after Christmas.

Overall, the most appealing is FLOUEUR, another running for Gordon Elliott. Jordan Gainford is very good value for his 3lb claim, he has come up against some smart rivals in Beginners’ Chases and was a creditable, running-on third in Punchestown’s Grand National Trial last time out. There is more to come, for all he can throw in a “bag of hammers” jump from time to time.

Leading the way for the hosts are Does He Know and Gericault Roque, both of whom have shaped as though their ceiling of ability has not been reached.

Appreciate It (Champion Hurdle)

Our full runner-by-runner guide to the Champion Hurdle can be found here.

If any other trainer handled APPRECIATE IT, his absence of a year would frighten even his most fervent supporters.

However, he hails from Closutton and while many trainers would not dream of trying to win a Champion Hurdle first time out for the season, Willie Mullins’ ambition knows no bounds. Remember Quevega won the Mares’ Hurdle on her seasonal reappearance for six straight seasons, while Penhill won the Stayers’ Hurdle recently having been absent since Punchestown the previous season.

Suffice to say, Appreciate It looks to be an extremely talented horse. Despite being the same age as Honeysuckle, and nearly twice the size, he is much less experienced. Some may say that means he is simply less exposed and could have significantly more to offer.

Ultimately, his absence from the track is not seen as a negative and he blew away the field in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle when last seen. That was not the strongest renewal, but he was barely asked to extend significantly when winning by 24 lengths.

Stormy Ireland (Mares’ Hurdle)

Last year’s Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle winner, Telmesomethinggirl will undoubtedly be popular, especially if stablemate Honeysuckle has won the Champion hurdle 40 minutes before.

She runs in the same colours and will also be ridden by Rachael Blackmore. She is building momentum gradually, though no winner of a separate Cheltenham contest has ever won the Mares’ Hurdle afterwards. Similarly, it is a slight concern that she has been winless in the build-up, even when coming out best at the figures last time.

Instead, Willie Mullins may hold the key to this race again, as STORMY IRELAND remains underrated. Her two runs in this race came against markedly better rivals. She was second in 2019 (would have been third if Benie Des Dieux had not fallen) and fifth to Honeysuckle in 2020.

She missed last year’s race, but that was during a brief holiday with Paul Nicholls. Back with Mullins, she stormed to success in Punchestown’s Mares’ Hurdle last May and scored at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day against the boys. She is primed to go well again and is Paul Townend’s choice.

HMS Seahorse (Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle)

Gaelic Warrior arrives with many so confident of his burgeoning greatness, that Cheltenham’s water supply may have turned to wine before the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.

However, in a race which has thrown up seven winners priced at 25/1 or longer since 2012, there is no reasonable way he should be backed at the prices he currently trades at. Maybe he is the biggest certainty to ever grace the shadows of Cleeve Hill. Maybe he’s not though, and then you’ll be caught with your trousers down.

There are also plenty of viable alternatives, with the chief among them seen as HMS SEAHORSE. While he is not available at quite such lengthy odds, he should still be a horse with a serious future.

He was third to Pied Piper and Vauban, the top two in the Triumph Hurdle market, on debut, before not being beaten far by a rival here, The Tide Turns. However, he now gets 9lb from Gordon Elliott’s charge and has subsequently earned a first victory at Fairyhouse. He should go very well.

Vanillier (National Hunt Chase)

Only six go after Ontheropes was ruled an absentee. However, though fields in the past have been expansive, there will not have been many in this race that matched the quality levels of this sextet.

Beatthebullet is the only one who looks slightly out of his depth. The other five all have substantial chances, with VANILLIER top of the pile.

The grey was a wide-margin winner of the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle last season and that race regularly provides winners who become course specialists over fences too. The likes of Bobs Worth and Minella Indo are testament to that.

Vanillier has not immediately taken to fences as well as that duo, but he did win a Grade 2 at Punchestown. Similarly, he was conceding 8lb to Stattler when third at Naas, but could well prove better suited to the step up in trip than that rival and the small field, slower pace scenario should give him plenty of time to warm to his jumping.