Champion hurdle the highlight of day one of the Cheltenham Festival

It has finally arrived. Four action-packed days of action from Cheltenham racecourse take centre-stage this week and day one of the Festival promises to live up to the billing.

Monday, 15th March 2021, 1:51 pm
Updated Monday, 15th March 2021, 1:52 pm
Willie Mullins' horses return from the gallops at Cheltenham racecourse ahead of the Cheltenham Festival which starts on Tuesday.

The feature race of the day is the Champion Hurdle featuring Goshen, Honeysuckle and defending champion Epatante. With a fantastic undercard, we’ve previewed the action from Prestbury Park with our race by race guide.

1.20pm Grade One Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

Willie Mullins is no stranger to success in the opening race of the meeting. It is a contest he has won six times and Appreciate It could make it seven in this year’s renewal. A talented bumper performer, he was second in the Champion Bumper at last year’s meeting and has taken his form to another level over hurdles.

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Unbeaten in three starts over timber, he was electric at Leopardstown in February when beating Ballyadam and whilst the similarly unbeaten Metier is of interest, Appreciate It should have too many gears for his seven rivals in the smallest field ever for the Supreme.

Selection: Appreciate It 5/4

1.55pm Grade One Arkle Novices’ Chase

Sadly the highly anticipated clash between Energumene and Shishkin is off after Energumene was ruled out of the meeting through injury. That makes Shishkin’s task much easier a year on from his win in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

He has looked electric in three starts over fences and quickened away in good style at Doncaster last time out. Cheltenham clearly plays to his strengths and whilst Grade One winning chaser Allmankind will set quick fractions up front, Shishkin can pick him off in the closing stages.

Selection: Shishkin 8/15

2.30pm Ultima Handicap Chase

A typically competitive renewal of this event. Happygolucky is bound to go well for local trainer Kim Bailey having scored at the track in December and could be well handicapped off a mark of 147. However, Aye Right is a top-class performance and ran a cracker when second at Doncaster last time out. Richard Johnson takes the ride and he looks a leading each-way player.

Selection: Aye Right 8/1

3.05pm Grade One Champion Hurdle

A fascinating renewal of the two-mile hurdling championship. Goshen looks sure to make this a stiff test of stamina from the front and comes into the race on the back of a smooth win at Wincanton last time out.

However, he does have to give a 7lb mares’ allowance to both Honeysuckle and Epatante. The Nicky Henderson-trained Epatante is the defending champion, but does have questions to answer having finished second at Kempton last time out.

With that in mind, Honeysuckle makes the most appeal. She is unbeaten in 10 starts under Rules and also boasts winning form at the track having landed the Mares’ Hurdle over two and a half miles in 2020. She looked imperious in the Irish Champion Hurdle on her latest start and makes plenty of appeal.

Selection: Honeysuckle 9/4

3.40pm Grade One Mares’ Hurdle

Concertista looks one of the bankers of the meeting. Successful in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s meeting, she has easily dispatched of her rivals in two starts this term, which included an easy win at Leopardstown last time out. Roskana won this event in 2019, but has her work cut out against a very exciting mare.

Selection: Concertista 5/6

4.15pm Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

A hugely competitive handicap in which the Paul Nicholls-trained Houx Gris has attracted plenty of support following a solid third effort in Britain when third at Chepstow. He looks well-handicapped off a mark of 128.

However, Irish raider Zoffanien is one of many fascinating contenders following an easy win last time out. Nassalam has to defy top-weight here, but was in front of Houx Gris last time out and looks an interesting each-way player.

Selection: Nassalam 12/1

4.50pm National Hunt Chase

Galvin looks the class act here. He cruised to victory at Cheltenham in October when stepped up in trip and this slightly longer distance could eke out even more improvement. Off the track since that win, there looks plenty more to come from the seven-year-old and better ground will play to his strengths.

Escaria Ten is progressing over fences and is another to note along with the progressive Next Destination who is sure to be suited by this trip for Paul Nicholls in a fascinating finale.

Selection: Galvin 7/4

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