The Unibet Champion Hurdle (3.30) field have a mountain to climb to topple huge favourite CONSTITUTION HILL. Day one’s headline act is on the cusp of becoming an all-time great, brushing aside classy opponents in effortless fashion.
Nicky Henderson, who trained See You Then to land a hat-trick in this Grade One in the 1980s, has been stunned by Constitution Hill’s performances. The laid-back thoroughbred has eased clear of former champion hurdler Epatante on his two starts this season.
State Man, 6lb behind on ratings, is a smart horse in his own right, but Constitution Hill looks to be on another level. Henderson’s other day one ace is JONBON in the Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy (2.10, nb).
A full-brother to 2016 winner Douvan, Jonbon pipped big rival El Fabiolo over hurdles at Aintree – and both are unbeaten over fences. The Irish raider has the strongest form, yet Henderson’s hope was in need of his warm-up run, having a good blow afterwards.
All the pre-race talk in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (1.30, Nap) is about Facile Vega and Marine Nationale. It appears, however, to be a wide open renewal, with a strong case to be made for fellow Irish raider HIGH DEFINITION.
Once favourite for the Derby, Joseph O’Brien sent Galileo’s son to Leopardstown for his jumping debut over Christmas. Market vibes suggested the run would bring him on, but he held off a Listed bumper scorer and the odds-on favourite by just over four lengths.
O’Brien, who has a 50 per cent strike rate with his British jumps runners this campaign, has since had time to brush up the five-year-old’s jumping. He has the class to figure in this company and won’t fail through lack of stamina.
While Honeysuckle puts her unbeaten Cheltenham record on the line in the Grade One Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle (4.10), this year’s offering is particularly strong – and improving mare LOVE ENVOI gets the vote. More professional in her racing manner of late, her loss to the reopposing Brandy Love at Fairyhouse came at the end of a long season.
Rain is in Love Envoi’s favour and she is fancied to follow up her 2022 Festival victory back against her own sex. GAILLARD DU MESNIL is a worthy favourite for the Wellchild National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Novices’ Chase (5.30).
The stamina-laden chaser has twice encountered Mighty Potter, one of the Irish bankers in Thursday’s Turners’ Novices’ Chase. Now given the chance over a longer trip, the Grade One-winning grey should be a cut above off level weights. Just two the past 20 renewals of the Ultima Handicap Chase (2.50) have gone to Irish-trained horses.
FASTORSLOW, one of just three from the raiding party, is an intriguing runner. JJ Slevin, who takes the ride on High Definition, will be aboard the close 2022 Coral Cup second. After a low-key introduction over fences, the Auteuil chase scorer may be 9lb higher, but he is unexposed and could be ahead of the handicapper.
In the wide-open Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (4.50), Tekao, Byker and Afadil all make the shortlist. Representing the same owner and trainer as last year’s winner, SUNDIAL catches the eye off a low weight in first-time cheekpieces.
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