Cheltenham – Tuesday Set For A Soft Start

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Ground conditions are set to be officially soft for the start of the Cheltenham Festival, according to clerk of the course Jon Pullin.

The snow has all melted but further rain is expected before the meeting begins on Tuesday.

The Racing Post reports that for much of the build-up, there has been a fear that underfoot conditions might be unduly quick but Pullin said on Saturday: “I think if we get what’s in the forecast, it will certainly be soft ground.”

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Assessing the current surface, he said: “It remains soft in the main, with a little bit of good to soft down the back on the New course and on the cross-country course.

“The forecast is for it to remain dry for much of the rest of today, with some showers moving in later on, although there should be nothing too significant volume-wise.

The traditional Cheltenham ‘roar’ means the start of the Gr1 Supreme Novice’s Hurdle at 15h30 on Tuesday.

Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins saddles three of the top four in the betting in an attempt to win an eighth Supreme. Quevega’s son, Facile Vega has been the strongly supported in the market and looks to go off favourite, whilst stable companions Impaire Et Passe and Il Etait Temps arrive in good form having won their respective last starts in graded company.

Fellow Irish trainer Barry Connell saddles the second favourite Marine Nationale who was successful in an Irish Group 1 earlier in the season. He will be hoping for a first Festival success as a trainer.

Nicky Henderson provides an English challenge to the Irish dominance in the Gr1 Sporting Life Arkle at 16h10. He trains the McManus owned Jonbon, the joint-highest rated Novice chaser this season.

He is marginal favourite for the Arkle at 6/4 with the Mullins trained El Fabiolo, who was so impressive when victorious in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown last month, at 13/8.

Favourites have a fantastic record in this race, with six of the last eight market leaders obliging, so it will be interesting to see who will go off at the top of the betting.

The day’s feature race is the Unibet Champion Hurdle (17h30), and hurdling superstar Constitution Hill will be in action. Trainer Nicky Henderson’s six-year-old is back at Cheltenham for the first time since his 22-length Supreme demolition last season. He hasn’t had to come off the bridle to win the Fighting Fifth and Christmas Hurdle this season.

The Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle (18h10) is very likely to be the final time we see the great mare Honeysuckle in action. The dual Champion Hurdle heroine has been rerouted from a Champion Hurdle clash with Constitution Hill to instead take in the Mares’ Hurdle, a race she won in 2020.

Willie Mullins landed six consecutive runnings of the race with Quevega (2009 to 2014), and he won two of the subsequent runnings. Brandy Love, Shewearsitwell and Echoes In Rain are all potential runners for Mullins this year.

No horse has yet managed to win both the Mares’ Novice Hurdle as well as the Mares’ Hurdle, but that could well change this year as the Harry Fry trained Love Envoi will attempt to complete the feat. She is a general 6-1 chance to supplement last year’s Festival win.

After four Group 1’s, the juveniles take centre stage at 18h50 with the running of the Gr3 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.

Tekao is fancied for this year’s race, having chased home the Triumph Hurdle favourite and third favourite at the Dublin Racing Festival. He’s attempting to provide Willie Mullins with his first Boodles winner.

The final event on the card is the Gr2 National Hunt Novices’ Chase at 19h30. This graded feature is run over 3 miles 6 furlongs and is restricted to amateur riders. Patrick Mullins and Jamie Codd have dominated in recent years, landing the race six times between them since 2012.

Both jockeys hold strong chances in this year’s race with the market headed at present by Gaillard Du Mesnil, who is expected to be ridden by Patrick Mullins for his father Willie Mullins.

Jamie Codd should be aboard the Gordon Elliott trained Chemical Energy. He bolted up at Cheltenham in October and looks the biggest threat to the Mullins runner.

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