Huge crowds expected this week
Cheltenham organisers are set to welcome a record crowd to Prestbury Park this week as fans return after last year’s behind-closed-doors Festival.
More than 266,000 fans attended across the four days of the 2019 Festival, when the current record was set, but that mark looks likely to be shattered, with as many as 275,000 spectators expected to pour in.
Already making a good dent into that figure…
Nicholls: Frodon has been looking great
Paul Nicholls will be hoping for a successful start to the Festival – he’s given his thoughts on a couple of his Day 1 runners.
13:30 – Silent Revolution
“He is a useful prospect who won well on his debut over hurdles for us at Newbury in November before having a little problem with a splint which prevented us giving him another run before Cheltenham.
“But he has done plenty at home and enjoyed an away day at Wincanton where he worked nicely.”
14:50 – Frodon
“The way the ground is drying up at Cheltenham will favour Frodon who looks great, retains all his enthusiasm and worked very well on Saturday morning.
“It is a bit of a punt running him in this handicap under top weight but we know he enjoys racing on the Old course and this is the only realistic option for him before the Oaksey Chase which he won last April on the final day of the season at Sandown.
“It’s true he disappointed last time at Leopardstown but some of ours were running below par at the time and we knew we were in trouble when it rained on heavily watered ground. I’m sure he needs better ground these days.
“While Frodon appears to have a lot on his plate he is an amazing horse, keeps surprising us and is capable of running another big race.”
Quotes via Betfair.
Resurgent Elliott seeking Cheltenham redemption
If Gordon Elliott was in turmoil heading into last year’s Cheltenham Festival then he was hardly alone, writes Malik Ouzia.
A photo of the leading Irish trainer sat on a dead horse at his Cullentra House yard had emerged on social media and sent the entire sport into crisis on the eve of its biggest meeting, a meeting from which Elliott would be absent, banned for six months for bringing racing into disrepute.
In an interview with The Telegraph last month, Elliott revealed that he did not seek solace in escape, instead going through the torture of watching the Festival in its entirety on TV at home as three horses trained at Cullentra under the temporary watch of Denise Foster triumphed and, more painfully, so did three horses taken away from the yard by their owners after the scandal broke.
As well as the widespread outrage at the 44-year-old’s crass actions, there was also widespread concern, both for his future in the sport and his mental wellbeing away from it.
Twelve months down the line, though, the picture could hardly look more different as he sends his biggest ever team across the water to Prestbury Park.
Click here for the full article on that
Blackmore chases glorious repeat after riding to racing’s rescue
At last year’s Cheltenham Festival, the stands stood empty as racegoers and owners were banned from attending amid the Covid pandemic, writes Matt Majendie.
Horse racing was in the mire, Irish trainer Gordon Elliot having just been banned for six months following the emergence of a picture of him sitting on a dead horse while taking a phone call.
Twelve months had passed from a Festival that had been heavily criticised for its packed stands in the early days of Covid. As such, the event — and the sport more widely — was crying out for any possible positive headlines it could muster.
In just four days, the Festival — or more pertinently Rachael Blackmore — went on to change the face of racing.
As ITV Racing host Ed Chamberlin put it perfectly at the time, she had “ridden to racing’s rescue”.
In a flash, horse racing was front and back-page news, this time for all the right reasons.
Click here to read the article in full
Edwardstone’s roundabout route to Arkle has been ‘a blessing in disguise’
Tom Cannon can’t help but chuckle to himself, when asked whether the Irish domination of last year’s Cheltenham Festival made going out to ride as an English jockey a demoralising experience, writes Malik Ouzia.
“Maybe for the lads that were riding fancied horses!” he laughs. “If you’re going out there on horses that are expected to win and getting thrashed then yeah, it probably was.
“But the horses I was going out to ride, if I’d have nicked a place I’d have been happy!”
The 23-5 Prestbury Cup mauling dished out by the Irish was made only slightly easier to bear by the coronavirus bubble restrictions of the time, which ensured that while the Brits barely got close to their visiting rivals on the track, they weren’t allowed to off it either.
“The English and Irish had to change in different weighing rooms anyway so we didn’t really see them, except from when they were winning every race,” Cannon says, conceding that a return to normal this week means a similar thrashing “might hit home a bit more”.
Click here to read the interview in full
Standard Sport’s Malik Ouzia is on location at Prestbury Park this week and will be offering his thoughts on the action…
Honeysuckle and Constitution Hill: Bankers or blowouts?
Johnny Ward has also been assessing whether this week’s big race favourites deserve to be dubbed ‘bankers or blowouts’.
On Tuesday, the obvious market leaders are Constitution Hill in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle.
Constitution Hill (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Tuesday)
This race will set the tone for day one. How good are the British novices? This fellow is one of at least four really exciting sorts in this race. He won the Tolworth with ease last time but how good is that form? It is hard to be sure, especially relative to the Irish, who absolutely dominated the novice division last year.
Stablemate Jonbon, a brother to Douvan, seems almost equally exciting but is a far bigger price. And, with the Irish novices coming over sensing blood, it might be tough for Michael Buckley’s charge. He’s risky.
Honeysuckle (Champion Hurdle)
The unbeaten queen of the hurdling division seems bereft of genuine rivals. Many who never back her would find it sad if she were ever to lose. It is hard to see how this is any better than an average Champion Hurdle, despite the promise of Appreciate It. He has not run since dominating the Supreme last season and had been expected to go chasing.
Honeysuckle was not impressive by her standards at Leopardstown last month but she is almost impossible to fault. The eight-year-old finds loads for pressure and it is a long time since she looked in trouble in a race.
Can Appreciate It upset Honeysuckle in Champion Hurdle?
Here are Johnny Ward’s day one tips in full…
Feel the roar greeting the opener at the Cheltenham Festival this afternoon and you will soon realise how much you missed it.
With two novice races of nine runners or less, day one reflects the field-size issues that have become a major concern in British racing — yet the opener still goes back in time.
Nicky Henderson supplies a hot favourite and an apparent second string that could be the best of them all. And if he fails to win it, Willie Mullins likely will.
This Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (1.30) has only nine runners but it has so much going for it. Henderson’s pair, Constitution Hill and Jonbon, are yet to be beaten. Jonbon, a brother to Douvan, is appealing each-way, with the strong pace likely set by Dysart Dynamo to bring his stamina to the fore.
Click here to read the article in full
Weather forecast and going update
The latest going description at the track is good to soft, with no rain overnight.
Tuesday’s weather forecast is for a dry but cloudy day with temperatures between 12 and 14 degrees.
- 1 Huge crowds expected this week
- 2 Nicholls: Frodon has been looking great
- 3 Resurgent Elliott seeking Cheltenham redemption
- 4 Blackmore chases glorious repeat after riding to racing’s rescue
- 5 Edwardstone’s roundabout route to Arkle has been ‘a blessing in disguise’
- 6 Honeysuckle and Constitution Hill: Bankers or blowouts?
- 7 Can Appreciate It upset Honeysuckle in Champion Hurdle?
- 8 Weather forecast and going update