Cheltenham tips: Four races to light up the Festival

We're just one month out from Cheltenham 2023 and things are starting to take shape.


We talk about value when it comes to horse racing quite a lot. Some ‘shrewdies’ like to act by taking a drift on a horse with a big reputation, while some will solely want each-way angles into races due to the tactical nature of certain renewals.

But I am here to tell you that the biggest value on offer to any racing punter is actually a calendar.
So buy one and remember that Cheltenham takes place in March – a long, long way after your gut instinct kicks in to back horses for the Festival in mid-October.


There are countless examples of horses being a wild price in October who then go and land the spoils in March. By the same token, for every one of those, there’s at least 10 examples of someone backing a horse at 4/1 for it to drift to 20/1 on the day because it didn’t put a foot right in the following four months.

Everyone take a breath. Only now are Cheltenham markets beginning to solidify with a month to go. And we still expect more shaking going on than Jerry Lee Lewis ever imagined.

Here are 4 races that have a totally different complexion than they had not so long ago.

Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Tuesday, March 14

Willie Mullins thrashing his stable jockey for his ride on Facile Vega was something I didn’t expect to be writing about, but here we are.

What’s even more alarming was he was hammering Paul Townend him for over-riding rather than the opposite. Facile Vega went off at a mad clip with High Definition and was “ridden like a machine rather than a racehorse”, according to Mullins. But there’s no pace that could have seen a horse of his pedigree fold like he did.

At very best, the once unbeatable (and probably close to unbackable for the casual fan if he had won at Leopardstown) Facile Vega has shown a weakness when really pushed. At worse, he won’t even get to Prestbury Park.

So that opens many doors. It’s not uncommon for the Supreme to be a dull betting heat in recent years, but this looks the most open for punters in recent years. Facile Vega is now big enough to be of interest to some, while you can comfortably make the case that there’s very little between Marine Nationale and Il Etait Temps, while Impaire Et Passe definitely has the profile of a horse Mullins will send here.

That’s before you even factor in the potential inclusion of Nicky Henderson’s Luccia – something that both owners and jockey are keen on. Suddenly, the opening race roar could go up a notch or two.

Arkle Chase, Tuesday, March 14

You wouldn’t always consider winning a Grade 2 by nearly six lengths to be an underwhelming prep for the Arkle, but such is the state that British racing finds itself in at the minute, the Kingmaker could never have done Jonbon any favours.

What it did do was seriously question him, though. Calico is a mid-level handicapper with scope, but his mark of 136 would need to be State Man-esque in its misappraisal for there to be any excuse for Jonbon’s inefficiencies at Warwick.

Perhaps if we had a field big enough to warrant even each-way punting, we could offer some insight into how Aidan read the race wrong, or how he got into a pace lull in behind a straggler.

But given Jonbon has been the antepost-favourite since Nicky Henderson confirmed Constitution Hill would stay over smaller obstacles, it feels like the second race of the Festival will really be a head-to-head between two mounts.

El Fabiolo’s Irish Arkle win was the total opposite to Jonbon in that the form worked out exactly as you’d want. The four market principles finished in the first four; it was truly run; he made a mistake – and genuine Grade One horses in behind were struggling at a finish when Daryl Jacob kept asking for more.

So while a lot of people might suggest that Jonbon is classier due to pedigree and his flashy jumping style, the Dublin Racing Festival has once again rubbished the idea of a British novice having a handy run around Cheltenham in March.

Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, Wednesday, March 15

Is this the race of the festival? For flashy types, probably not. There’s no horse in there that you think will go and win the Brown Advisory next year en route to a Gold Cup down the line. But the Ballymore isn’t a trial for a Gold Cup – it’s a test of novices over a middle distance in a tactical bout.

And sometimes you get the superstar pack – Sir Gerhard last year, Bob Olinger and Bravemansgame the year before and Envoi Allen in 2020. Then on other occasions, you have a whole host of horses who could be anything and this is merely their stage to show it rather than confirm it.

The timeline of an ante-post market can be fun and it’s usually led by an unbeatable British type at Christmas. Hermes Allen might have escaped the Denman comparisons, but he’s undoubtedly a good type.

But then Impaire Et Passe bolted up in the Moscow Flyer, Gaelic Warrior looked tailor-made for the Ballymore in his DRF tune-up and the pair of Good Land and Champ Kiely rounded out the strongest field we’ll have in March.

Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle, March 16

When I was growing up, I actually loved the Stayers Hurdle. Well, the World Hurdle as it was known then. But as it progressed and the pointers dominated, it began to lose its glamour due to the Ryanair producing freakish types – some even questioning the three-mile showpiece as the feature on the Thursday.

Well I can firmly say it’s back with a bang now and the quality on show that hold entries right now is astounding. The long absent Blazing Khal blew them away in the Boyne Hurdle on Sunday, while Teahupoo finally seems to be figuring the game out at the age of six.

That demolition job in the Galmoy might be played down by his SP but he was visually flush. In fact, you could argue his form coming into this race is the best on offer.

But then you’ve got out-and-out three milers like Home By The Lee, as well as two-time champ Flooring Porter. French fancy Gold Tweet caused a stir in the Cleeve Hurdle and looks like being supplemented.

This leaves the likes of Klassical Dream and Paisley Park as rank outsiders in the betting. Imagine that for a second.

*Paddy’s gone Non Runner Money Back for all races at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival which means if you back any horse in any race and they don’t show up  where you expect for any reason you’ll get a full refund



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