Alex Hammond Blog: Tips from day one of the Cheltenham Festival with Willie Mullins who should add to the record | Race News
Sky Sports Racing’s Alex Hammond offers his analysis and picks for day one of the Cheltenham Festival, starting with a belt from Supreme.
So here we are again. The festival always seems far away and then… bang, it happened! The question is, are you completely overwhelmed with information, or have you just started dipping your toe in the pool?
In the times we live in, we are bombarded with information via blogs, podcasts, preview parties and the guy in the pub who landed 30 years ago.
The key is to take something from everything you hear and read and then form your own opinion. So, let’s add a little more to your information overload with my thoughts for the opening day of one of the greatest weeks of the year.
Kilcruit is more than capable
There’s no doubt that we’re going to have a blast with this year Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Constitution Hill and Jonbon represent Nicky Henderson, whose horses (*whispers this*) have been a bit quiet heading into the Festival. He’ll probably smash that stat in the park now that I’ve mentioned it, but it’s a stat worth noting nonetheless.
Of this duet, it is Constitution Hill who floats my boat as he has looked like a colossus in his two starts under the rules so far.
With enthusiastic crowds filling the stands this year after the tumbleweed-strewn meeting 12 months ago behind closed doors, anything with a high-strung personality will be tested to the limit, especially for the first race, and that may not suit Jonbon.
Willie Mullins has now won it seven times. Sir Gerhard, Dysart Dynamo, Kilcruit and others are signed up for the Closutton juggernaut and at this stage we don’t know who is racing where.
There are whispers that Kilcruit could be too expensive, and although his early defeat of the hurdles, as 1/14 favorite in Cork, is still relatively fresh in memory, he showed he could be back to his best in his first hurdle at Punchestown at the end of January.
He was not beaten by far by Mr Gerhard in the Champion Bumper and was the buzz horse before that, so don’t lose faith just yet.
Last year’s supreme winner Appreciate It finished second in Champion Bumper behind Ferny Hollow, so can history repeat itself here?
Of course you can hedge your bets and opt for one of the Sky Bet specials which offer 11/10 on any of the Mullins horses winning the opening race, just to be sure, if you think he can saddle winner number eight.
Hoping that Saint Sam can reverse the trend
the Sporting Life Arkle is the second race on Tuesday. Edwardstone runs the market for Alan King, and he’s done everything he’s been asked to do this season on the fences.
Bar being knocked down during his seasonal reappearance; he went from strength to strength as he won his last four, which include a grade one and two grade twos.
He jumps particularly well and is a worthy favourite, but it’s an open race and Willie Mullins has a nice entry too.
While St. Sam finished behind blue lord and Etel River in the Irish Arkle, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that he could turn the tide.
Remember, he was second in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last year, and I like his attitude on the fences. He’s able to fiddle but looks athletic and he set a fast enough pace at Leopardstown last time out for his rivals to aim for.
Whether you agree with me or not, it could be value in every way and it’s on my award shortlist.
There’s just one stat that slightly tempers my enthusiasm: the 5-year-olds (whom Saint Sam is) are 0-13 at the Arkle since 2007.
Blackmore and Honey a match made in heaven
the Unibet Hurdle Champion probably going to be my shortest summary of the week. Honeysuckle win, right? She is 14 of 14 and still doing the job.
We all know Willie Mullins can send something to a championship chase after a year off, but it would be one hell of a performance to get last year’s Sky Bet Supreme winner, enjoy itto beat the star mare on her first start in the company of novices.
Time to sit back and enjoy this mare while we can. It’s not a betting proposition, but Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore are a match made in heaven.
the Close the Mares Brothers Obstacle has been bred by Irish trained riders since its inception and Emerald Isle horses are once again dominating the market.
I don’t think this week will be the whole show for Willie Mullins (despite his outstanding record in this race), although I think he will end up as head coach, and it could be Gordon Elliott here.
Black Tears won it for his stable (Denise Foster) last year and this time around he’s represented by Queens Creek.
It looks like a tight thing between this mare and the horse that beat her in the Quevega Mares Hurdle at Punchestown last month, burning victory.
The latter received the Triumph Hurdle in 2020 when Goshen got his legs tangled, and it was his first victory since that day. The cheek application seemed to help her last time out, but Queens Brook needed to improve for the outing, and she might just turn the tide.
I have already nailed my colors to the mast in the Ukraine appeals hunt for novice amateur jockeys. Statlier is my choice here (again Mullins).
Stepping up on this marathon trip will likely help him jump, and he’s always promised to become a smart hunter. He’s two out of two on the fences so far and hopefully he makes it three.