It’s day two at Prestbury Park, which means it’s Ladies Day! Yesterday served up a breathtaking return of the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’, as Constitution Hill made sure his hype was justified with a nine-length win in the feature race before Honeysuckle signed off her stunning career with an emotional Mares Hurdle victory under jockey Rachael Blackmore.
Day two is headlined by the Champion Chase at 3.30pm as Energumene looks to defend his crown for Willie Mullins. Edwardstone, last year’s Arkle winner, looks to be the biggest threat to the double. The first race is the Novices’ Hurdle (1.30pm), for which Impaire Et Passe leads the market but British hopes lie with Hermes Allen.
Elsewhere, the likes of Gerri Colombe (2.10pm), Delta Work (4.10pm), Andy Dufresne (4.50pm) and It’s For Me (5.30pm) are all fancied to triumph in Gloucestershire, though the weather forecast is expected to play more of a part today, with rain set to fall later in the day. Follow all the action from Prestbury Park with our dedicated blog below!
Irish dominance at Cheltenham
Ireland are 5-2 up in the Prestbury Cup after the opening day of the Festival. The first eight runners home in yesterday’s opening race were Irish, so it’s been a pretty ominous start.
Safe bet to say we can expect more of the same over the next three days.
Football royalty… and actual royalty
Can Energumene be stopped?
This time last year, the Champion Chase was billed as a head-to-head between Energumene and Shishkin.
That certainly did not prove to be the case, with Shishkin pulled up after struggling throughout and Energumene cruising to victory.
Double up is certainly on the cards…
Certainly a good name…
Energumene or Edwardstone in the Champion Chase?
Rachael Blackmore and Henry de Bromhead will be hoping it’s neither, with Captain Guinness their 18/1 shot in the big one today.
“Captain Guinness has been running solidly all year,” Blackmore told Betfair.
“He was impressive in winning the Fortria Chase at Navan in November on his seasonal debut, and he finished second behind Blue Lord in the Grade 1 Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, when he had good horses behind him.
“He is going to have to improve again on that if he is going to be involved in the Champion Chase, he has a little bit to find on ratings, but he’s in great order at home, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ran above his rating and his odds. He’s a classy horse, and he deserves to take his chance in a race like this.”
Double up for Corach Rambler
Corach Rambler won the Ultima once again yesterday, a special achievement even if it got slightly overshadowed by what came later in the day.
Here’s a view from Harry Cobden’s perspective on Oscar’s Elite as Corach Rambler charged up the hill.
McCoy hits out at whip rules
Retirement has not always come easily for AP McCoy. At his first few Cheltenham Festivals, he struggled with the idea of not being in the saddle for horses he once rode to famous victories.
As those horses have all made their way into their own retirement, life after racing has become easier to bear, to the extent that, were he still riding, he is not sure he would even take part at this week’s Festival.
McCoy is angry and embarrassed, his vitriol aimed at the British Horseracing Authority for its new whip rules, ones he worries will become the headline of this week’s racing.
“I feel so lucky that I’m not a jockey any more,” he said. “Maybe I live on a different planet now I’ve retired, I probably do, I’m just a chippy f***ing ex-jockey.
“I have to be careful sounding like someone all jockeys should listen to, but why would you turn up? If none of them go, it’s not great is it?”
Blackmore: A dream ending for Honeysuckle
Rachael Blackmore has been reflecting on Honeysuckle’s heroics yesterday, admitting that win has ensured she can enjoy the next three days a bit more.
“She’s great – what a day we had yesterday,” Blackmore told Betfair. “It’s just brilliant, a fairytale way for her to end.
“To come back into that reception was incredible. She has given me such incredible days throughout my whole career, but yesterday was so, so special.
“It’s hard to explain. To get to ride something like her for the last few years, to come to Cheltenham and have Honeysuckle to ride, that is what everybody dreams of. Every jockey dreams of that, being teamed up with something like her.
“She is definitely getting a lot of attention, she always does to be fair. It is just a fairytale that she gets to finish now on that note. It definitely just relaxes you a bit ahead of the rest of the week.”
Constitution Hill shines on opening day
Constitution Hill delivered and then some with a dominant run to win the Champion Hurdle yesterday in imperious fashion.
Going off at 4/11 on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, he became the shortest-priced winner of the race, taking victory by nine lengths to the delight of a raucous crowd.
State Man in second was unable to stay close with Constitution Hill, with the only danger the final hurdle and when that was just about cleared, trainer Nicky Henderson could breathe a huge sight of relief.
“That would bring tears to most eyes,” Henderson told BBC. “He is pretty unique.
“There is a brilliant team behind it all. You get a horse like this in a lifetime and we are lucky. That is only the sixth race of his life but this horse is going to extraordinary levels and we are lucky to be the custodians of it. He is so unflappable.”
Power backing Gerri Colombe
Gerri Colombe is currently an 11/8 favourite for Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, the second race of this afternoon’s card.
Grand National and Gold Cup-winning jockey Robbie Power is confident that a big performance in store, one that will prove too good for Willie Mullins’ Sir Gerhard.
“I think Gerri Colombe is one of the Irish bankers of the week,” Power told Cheltenham.
“I think stepping up to three miles will bring more improvement, the ground should be ideal for him so I’m very sweet on Gerri Colombe.
“I think the big danger could be from Sir Gerhard. Stepping up in trip to three miles could improve his jumping, he is a very classy horse. I just think Gerri Colombe could be a horse en route to a Gold Cup in 12 months time.”
Fairytale ending for Honeysuckle
Honeysuckle bowed out in the style as she won the Mares’ Hurdle on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.
The two-time Champion Hurdle winner teamed up with Rachael Blackmore for one last ride, looking to make it four from four at Prestbury Park, and did just that after a final push up the hill to get past Love Envoi.
It was a fairytale ending to a remarkable career, and an emotional Blackmore paid tribute to Jack de Bromhead in her post-race interview. The 13-year-old, son of Honeysuckle trainer Henry, died after a fall in a race last year.
“We all wish a very special kid could be here today but he’s looking down on her,” Blackmore said.
De Bromhead told BBC: “It’s the fairytale ending that doesn’t normally happen. I am so happy for everyone. You dream of it but this is what she deserves. She is an unbelievable mare. She is so special.
“I think we have had a terrible year with Jack but the support everyone has given us we are really grateful for that.”