14 March 2023
By Elaine Murphy
It was a positive start for team Ireland on Day 1 of the Cheltenham Festival but it wasn’t the well-backed Facile Vega (9/4f) that prevailed as the winner. The Willie Mullins trained star could only manage second place in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle after a tremendous effort from Marine Nationale who ran out a strong winner at 9/2. It was a brilliant ride from Cheltenham Festival maiden jockey Michael O’Sullivan to give trainer Barry Connell the first winner of the week. It was a decent result for the book too, so BoyleSports got off to a positive start. Marine National has been introduced to the 2024 Arkle and Champion Hurdle betting markets at 5/1.
The positive start was short lived however as Willie Mullins landed the Arkle Novices’ Chase with the 11/10 favourite El Fabiolo. Ridden to victory by Paul Townend, this 6-year-old showed plenty of class to win by five-and-a-half lengths with the Nicky Henderson trained Jonbon back in second after failing to live up to the pace of the Closutton trained speedster. El Fabiolo was immediately installed as 4/1 favourite with BoyleSports to win the 2024 Champion Chase and has already been nibbled into 3/1.
The trend continued in the third race as the Lucinda Russell trained Corach Rambler obliged for favourite backers by landing the Ultima Handicap Chase in fine style at 6/1. Plenty looked to be in with a chance off the final turn at Prestbury Park, but jockey Derek Fox knew what he had under him as he chased up the hill to land the race for the second year in a row by the narrow margin of a neck to Fastorslow. Another high-profile victory is already being eyed by antepost punters, who backed the 9-year-old winner into 8/1 favourite from 12/1 for next month’s Grand National at Aintree.
The big one was next, the Champion Hurdle, and all people could talk about on the build-up to the Grade One spectacle was the magnificent Constitution Hill. Nicky Henderson’s superstar has been compared to National Hunt racing greats Istabraq and Arkle, and he didn’t disappoint, romping home by 9 lengths leaving Willie Mullins’ State Man in his wake and levelling the playing field at two each – Ireland 2, Great Britain 2.
Sarah Kinsella, Spokesperson for BoyleSports said: “Constitution Hill was simply sublime and what a day for young rider Michael O’Sullivan with a double, but the story of the day was Honeysuckle winning the Mares Hurdle. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, and it was a remarkable way for the multiple Grade One winning champion to bow out.
“Despite five Irish trained winners, the result could have been worse had Facile Vega landed the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle so we head into Day 2 with it all to play for.”
Jazzy Matty landing the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at 18/1 for trainer Gordon Elliott and jockey Michael O’Sullivan wasn’t enough to save the bookies from a bashing as Willie Mullins landed the last race in dramatic fashion with 10/11 favourite Gaillard Du Mesnil. He looked beat but he chased down Chemical Energy who was struggling to stay in front.