Cheltenham Festival advice: Simon Rowlands chooses two two-way fantasies on day one of four-day meeting | Race News

Top tipster Simon Rowlands has two fantasies back and forth on the opening day of the 2023 Cheltenham Festival with horses dominating and trailing the first-class card.

The opening day of the Cheltenham Festival is always special in the racing calendar, but this year more so than most. We have a Unibet Hurdle Champion (3.30) for the ages due to the presence of towering talent in the Constitution Hill division, and he has two or three decidedly classy rivals against him in a field of seven.

Constitution Hill is undefeated in five hurdle starts, the last four of them being freshmen, all by a dozen or more lengths. His victory in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle here 12 months ago may well have been one of the greatest hurdle performances of all time, as he slammed Jonbon and other fine horses of 22+ lengths.

In the process, he ran an incredibly fast time, in the region of 25 lengths faster than Honeysuckle managed to win the Champion Hurdle himself on the same map, and significantly faster than this later mare as well. Let that sink in for a moment.

This season, his first in open company, Constitution Hill has twice beaten a former Champion Hurdler at Splinter: in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle and the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, accelerating both times without serious pressure. Neither Splinter nor Honeysuckle are as good as they once were, but come on!

If he wins the Champion Hurdle, Constitution Hill may well be the cheapest such horse in the race’s nearly 100-year history. Sir Ken at 2/5 in the second of his three successive Champion Hurdle wins in 1953 holds that honor. Constitution Hill is even shorter at the time of writing.

It looks unmatched, especially on terrain that promises to be softer than many expected until recently, but racing is a fun old game. There’s also the not-so-small question of Irish champion Hurdler State Man – winner of his last six – to contend with.

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Former champion Hurdle jockey Barry Geraghty is the man who found superstar Constitution Hill and believes he has the potential to match the great Istabraq.

State Man has shown good enough form to win an average Champion Hurdle, and if Constitution Hill doesn’t shoot, he just might. But there’s also a chance he’ll be drawn into a battle with a one-of-a-kind talent prematurely and suffer as a result.

Vauban, winner of the Triumph Hurdle last year but twice behind State Man this season, might just pick up a few pieces, if so.

I like to move It was extremely impressive to win the Kingwell Hurdle in Wincanton in record time, but it’s still a few levels higher, and the recent rain may not have helped it.

Constitution Hill deserves the kind of prize it is, and it may end up being a matter of “how far?”. I would go for something like seven lengths, and anything more than that could easily make him the highest rated hurdler in history. It’s a race that I can watch – transfixed, I think – without having a financial stake.

Fast and Furious Supreme may be suitable for Il Etait Temps

Once Upon a Time wins at Leopardstown under Danny Mullins
Once Upon a Time wins at Leopardstown under Danny Mullins

This year Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (1.30) surely can’t compete with last year’s, but let’s see. There’s a horse in there that was talked about in whispers, in Easy Vega, but he did poorly in a first year at the Dublin Racing Festival last time around.

There were extenuating circumstances that day in terms of too strong an early pace (set by him and erratic High Definition) and post-race soreness, but he lost some of his aura.

The defeat of Facile Vega rather eclipsed the victory that day of his stablemate IT WAS TIME, who stormed to win by nine and a half lengths from Inthepocket. It Was Time was useful for a while, finishing fifth in the Triumph Hurdle here 12 months ago, but it was even better.

Il Etait Temps tends to go free and the prospect of a good pace in a 14-rider field here should see it come off well. His odds make him a one-sided bet in my book.

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Patrick Mullins thinks Facile Vega could have the advantage over Marine Nationale in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Rare Edition looks best to an overall weak British contingent (although really soft ground would be an unknown as it wasn’t that when he won at Kempton despite what you can read in places), while the Navy Unbeaten National achieved less than the Mullins-formed pair in the pre-Christmas Royal Bond win when last seen.

If those two races aren’t enough, we have a fascinating Sporting Life Arkle Chase (2.10)in which there is nothing in the bet between the pride of Ireland, El Fabiolo, and the pride of Great Britain, Jonbon.

I was originally in the side of Jonbon, who pulled off huge late gaps in their pre-Christmas Sandown win, but failed to impress beating their only rival at Warwick last time out. Either way, El Fabiolo put in an even better performance, including against the clock, last time out winning the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown despite a major mistake.

There will be little margin for error here, in a race that involves two more barriers but a total distance that is over a yard shorter than Leopardstown. This brings the free and daring Dysart Dynamo into play – fourth at Leopardstown but still present until the start of the break-in.

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Looking for Cheltenham Festival winners? The Sky Sports Racing team are on hand to give you some helpful advice as you study the form.

The problem is that a lot of “smart” money has come in for Dysart Dynamo lately, and he’s not as attractive a betting proposition as he used to be. This should be an exciting contest, but the recommendation is “no betting” in this case.

This also applies to Ultima Handicap Chase (2.50)in which last year’s winner, Corach Rambler, tops my numbers, but in a race in which arguably nothing deserves to be shorter than about 8/1, and the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Obstacle (4.50)although I think Tekao is the good favorite in this regard.

I will stay out of Close Mares Brothers Obstacle (4.10)too, but it ended up being one of the reunion races, featuring the aforementioned former Hurdlers champions Honeysuckle and Epatante, as well as smarts Marie’s Rock and Echoes In Rain.

There’s little valuable there, but I would have pretty much preferred Honeysuckle for a run in which she knocked Benie Des Dieux down three years ago. That aside, it would be great to see the mare retire with a win in this area.

Mahler Mission should relish the National Hunt test

Mahler Mission won the Grade Two River Don at Doncaster in January
Mahler Mission was well supported for the National Hunt Chase

I want one in the conclusion Wellchild National Hunt (5.30), However. Gaillard Du Mesnil is a legitimate favorite but has only won once out of eight chase starts, and I’m not convinced he’s 100% straightforward.

MAHLER-MISSION seems to be, and it’s clearly the second best in my book. He beat The Real Whacker, no less, over hurdles and cleared taller hurdles very well after a heavy blow on his hunting debut, beating Tenzing by 10 lengths at Navan in January. Tenzing should at least go up the hill.

Mahler Mission was narrowly beaten again in Navan last time out, but in a race where he ran without going fast enough to exploit his stamina, jumping well and coming back to the line.

About three more quarter miles should suit him, and he has a good chance of being placed, and very likely of winning.

So just the two recommendations on the opening day of this year’s Cheltenham Festival. We will know more about the real state of the field by Tuesday at the end of the day, and selectivity is a strength, anyway, in a meeting which is spread over four days and 28 races. Good luck and enjoy!

Sky Sports

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