Gary O'Brien: My gut says Honeysuckle is still the one to beat
The leading racing broadcaster runs through his picks for the first day of Cheltenham Festival 2023.
13:30 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
I’ve got maximum respect for Facile Vega but you’ve got to look against him at the current prices.
You can’t fault the performance of IL ETAIT TEMPS at the Dublin Racing Festival. I think his performance was overshadowed by the fact Facile Vega bombed out.
He jumped much better last time and I think that was due to them going a stride faster meaning he had to concentrate more, and I think they’ll get a good pace with High Definition likely to go off in front.
14:10 Arkle Chase
The Arkle is a fascinating contest. I’ve got marginal preference for EL FABIOLO .
But I don’t think there is much between him and Jonbon , I’m just going to side with the Willie Mullins runner. His jumping wasn’t foot-perfect at Leopardstown, but it had improved from his first run. Either way, it’ll be an intriguing contest.
14:50 Ultima Handicap
I don’t have a solid view on the Ultima but I do think INTO OVERDRIVE will run well. His form with Sounds Russian – who was second in the Cotswold Chase – is good. He tends to race close to the pace and think he’ll run well from the front end, which is where winners can come from in this race.
15:30 Champion Hurdle
Nothing original from me in the Champion Hurdle. The top three in the betting should finish in that order but it’ll be some race as they’re three very good horses. CONSTITUTION HILL should win.
I think State Man will come in second.
Vauban , meanwhile, will be in third in my opinion. I think Vauban will get closer to State Man than he did in Dublin, and I think he’ll finish ahead of the rest of the field.
16:10 Mares’ Hurdle
The Mares’ Hurdle is a smashing race this year. There is a fare bit of confidence from the Willie Mullins camp regarding Brandy Love . The consensus is that she needed a run, and they were happy with her third last time out as they needed to get it into her before this race.
My gut says that HONEYSUCKLE is still the one to beat. I don’t think she’s regressed a huge amount this season.
I think it’ll be between her and Marie’s Rock , who won this well last year.
16:50 Boodles Handicap Hurdle
The Boodles has an open look to it, but I’m keen on TEKAO from Willie Mullins’ yard.
McTigue being declared means Tekao doesn’t have to carry top weight and I’d say he’s better than a handicapper. I like the fact he’ll be ridden close to the pace and I hope it will be straightforward for him. Byker is another with a chance.
17:30 National Hunt Chase
Gaillard Du Mesnil is the one to beat in the National Hunt Chase, but he’s plenty short enough in the betting and I’ll be wanting to back one against him to get placed.
I’ve landed on MINELLA CROONER for Gordon Elliott. He was well-fancied for the Albert Bartlett last season but didn’t end up running in that race and I think he’s steadily improving over fences. The stamina test will suit him well.
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