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The opening Grade 1 at the Cheltenham Festival is the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle which has been divided 50/50 between British and Irish winners over the last decade. Willie Mullins has secured four of those victories and his team will be headed by seven-year-old and current favourite Appreciate It this year.
However, it’s been 13 years since the last horse aged over six years of age managed success, with Captain Cee Bee scoring for the Irish under jockey Robert Thornton. A guide in the betting market can also help with your selection as only one of the previous 10 winners returned at a starting price over 10/1 – Labaik for Gordon Elliott at 25/1 in 2017.
Appreciate It, Metier and Ballyadam are currently the only three horses in our antepost market at single figure odds. Elsewhere, nine of the past 10 victors had a previously raced within 59 days of the Supreme, with another nine managing to win before contesting this Grade 1.
Metier is unbeaten over hurdles, but is heading straight to Cheltenham after success in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown back in January. Ballyadam will be looking to give the Elliott team another success, but was only second to Appreciate It when last seen on the racetrack.
In summary, it’s obvious that at least one of those recent trends will be broken this year and perhaps looking outside the top three is the best way to focus. THEDEVILSCOACHMAN looks a speedy type, has previously contested a Grade 1 and will head to Cheltenham for Noel Meade following victory at Punchestown.
The 2021 Arkle Chase is now considered by most as a three-horse race – with SHISHKIN, Energumeme and Allmankind the leading contenders with the best form this season. Shishkin remains favourite and his supporters will be encouraged to know that six of the previous 10 Arkle winners went off favourite, with all six of them returning odds-on. Nicky Henderson has managed three of those winners, but remains one behind Willie Mullins, who has four winners over the past decade.
Energumeme is the Mullins representative this year and heads towards Cheltenham unbeaten over fences and, unlike Shishkin, has managed to win a Grade 1 chase prior to contesting this race. Allmankind has also claimed Grade 1 success over fences, but the major trend against Dan Skelton’s runner is his age, with the last 10 winners aged either six or seven years old. The last five-year-old to win the Arkle came in 2006, when Voy Por Ustedes claimed it for Alan King and Robert Thornton.
In summary, despite not racing in Grade 1 company over fences this season, Shishkin looks the most likely winner for Nicky Henderson. Nine of the previous 10 winners had a Racing Post rating of at least 149, which is a positive for last year’s Supreme winner against his two market rivals. The son of Sholokhov has plenty of positives with his age, being race favourite and the past record of the Seven Barrows team all standing out nicely.
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The Champion Hurdle field is headed by two talented mares’ with Epatante hoping to defend her title against dual Irish Champion Hurdle winner HONEYSUCKLE. Nicky Henderson is the leading trainer with a remarkable eight career wins since 1985 and has several horses entered, including former two-time champion Buveur d’Air. It’s generally been a good race for horses towards the top of the betting market, with only two winners at double digit odds over the past decade – Rock On Ruby (2012) and Espoir D’Allen (2019).
One of the more interesting trends comes when studying the Racing Post ratings is that nine of the previous 10 winners rated within 8lbs of the top-rated horse. Epatante and Honeysuckle both have RPR’s of 174, with Sharjah (170) and Silver Streak (169) the only other runners to meet that criteria among the field. However, a different trend goes against the chances of both Sharjah and Silver Streak challenging and winning the Champion Hurdle this year.
Nine of the past 10 victors had no more than 12 starts over hurdles, with the Willie Mullins trained runner racing 19-times and Even Williams’ eight-year-old competing 25 times over hurdles. Elsewhere, eight of the previous 10 champions secured success before contesting this feature race and that trend goes against Epatante. In summary, Honeysuckle ticks plenty of boxes here and can remain unbeaten to give Henry de Bromhead, Kenny Alexander and Rachel Blackmore the feature on day one.
There’s only one place to start when discussing the Mares’ Hurdle and that’s the wonderful record of the Willie Mullins team since its inception in 2008. The Irish champion trainer has landed this race nine-times with CONCERTISTA his leading contender and current antepost favourite. She comes into this race following success at the Festival last year and two good victories at Fairyhouse and Leopardstown this season.
Five of the previous 10 winners were seven-year-olds, which is a good positive for Concertista and stablemates Elimay and Great White Shark. This race has also been a positive one for horses who came here with a victory from their latest racecourse start. 2019 winner Roksana heads into the contest after success at Ascot in January, while Elimay was a recent winner for the Mullins team at Naas. There’s only been one double digit SP winner over the past decade, which is another trend pushing towards a match between Concertista and Roksana.
Ruling out the Champion Hurdle bound Honeysuckle and the ruled-out Benie Des Dieux, eight of the last 10 winners were within 8lbs of the top Racing Post rated runner. Roksana will likely be rated highest (RPR 165) on race day with only Concertista (161), Eglantine Du Seuil (159) and Elimay (157) getting anywhere close on those figures. In summary, it’s hard to get away from the overall record of Willie Mullins, and Concertista looks the most obvious winner who meets most of the trends to secure glory.
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