1.30pm - Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m½f)
So much of that winter conjecture was directed towards this opening gambit. Will he/won't he subplots thrived as Ireland's champion trainer pondered how to play his excellent hand. In the end, Willie Mullins elected to split his aces, with Dysart Dynamo coming here and Sir Gerhard Ballymore-bound on Wednesday.
It's a wise move and reflects that the Closutton chief just wants to bag as many prizes as he possibly can - no surprise for a trainer with a record 78 Cheltenham Festival winners already.
It's not as if he's been left shorthanded here, with Dysart Dynamo joined by Kilcruit and Bring On The Night.
Paul Townend unsurprisingly is on board 19-length Moscow Flyer winner Dysart Dynamo. He's won all four starts, two bumpers and two over hurdles and hasn't yet come close to having a close finish.
He has, at times, been a bit keen in his races but with two stablemates in here, there shouldn't be any issue having this race run to suit. Major player for Ireland.
Kilcruit was all the rage for the Champion Bumper last March but only managed second to Sir Gerhard. He was twice beaten over hurdles to kick-start this season but recorded a fast time in getting off the mark at Punchestown in January and he remains a high-class prospect.
Completing the Mullins trio is Bring On The Night in the Al Boum Photo silks. Formerly with Andre Fabre in France, he made an easy winning start at Naas after 644 days off just over two weeks and it's intriguing to see him pitched in here.
With three classy entries here, it's not hard to see why Sir Gerhard was sent elsewhere.
Gordon Elliott's return to this arena begins with Mighty Potter, a Grade 1 Leopardstown scorer at Christmas when last seen and he's no afterthought, though it's easier to cage Shallwehaveonemore, Silent Revolution and Jpr One in that category given their formlines.
If this Festival is to start with a British-trained winner then it's going to fall to Nicky Henderson and he's double-handed with unbeaten pair Jonbon and CONSTITUTION HILL.
The former cost JP McManus £570,000 and is a brother to Douvan. He's won all his races and done so with minimal fuss, with three hurdles wins this season. The first two of those were run at farcically slow paces, but he got in a scrap last time at Haydock winning a Grade 2 under a penalty and responded well to the pressure.
Arguably, that's the best form and with this sure to be run at championship-pace, the prospect of a personal best is there to see.
Tolworth winner Constitution Hill looks the real deal and can take this for Seven Barrows. He's sauntered clear in two wins at Sandown and on heavy ground in January he set some excellent fractions in the closing stages.
Like Dysart Dynamo, the surface hasn't really been scratched with him and there may be lots more underneath. He can get the home side up and running.
Selection: Constitution Hill
Next Best: Jonbon
2.10pm - Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 2m)
Just four turned up to do battle with ante-post favourite Shishkin in the Arkle last March but this year lacks a perceived 'dead-cert' contender and we've got double figures, with 11 lining up.
Edwardstone heads the betting for Alan King and deservedly so. He's won his last four, including three at graded level, and has earned a reputation as being rock-solid. He is assured at his fences, with his only chasing defeat this season when he was brought down at Warwick in November.
He has looked comfortable and is the right favourite but if there's a reason to pick on him, it's that he just hasn't been defeating anything of the quality he will face here from the Irish challengers.
Brave Seasca was third in the Kingmaker last time - well held in fairness - and comes here around a 25/1 chance, while War Lord was second in his Grade 1 win at Sandown in December and is a bigger price again for this.
The raiding party may feel they can get him beat and it's a six-strong Irish challenge.
Blue Lord held off the mare Riviere D'etel to win the Irish Arkle last month though it was a fortuitous win. Jack Kennedy's mount made a mistake at the last, handing over the initiative and was then crossed by the eventual winner afterwards. The stewards' let it go but only a diminishing half-length split them at the line.
Saint Sam was behind in third at Leopardstown while Coeur Sublime was a long way behind the mare at Christmas when she was second to Ferny Hollow.
Riviere D'etel is a big player. The other mare, Magic Daze, represent a Henry De Bromhead yard that won this in 2020 with Put The Kettle On, though a front-running effort here could be hard to sustain.
HAUT EN COULEURS was an early faller in that Irish Arkle last month but December's defeat of Gentleman De Mee at Leopardstown certainly reads well given the easy manner of that stablemates' two wins since.
Coming into this after a fall isn't ideal but novice chasers make mistakes and it's what sharpens their focus. He's still a little bit raw but remains an exciting prospect and could become the first five-year-old Arkle winner since Voy Por Ustedes in 2006 if he gets his fencing right.
Selection: Haut En Couleurs
Next Best: Riviere D'etel
2.50pm - Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 3m1f)
A race the Irish haven't won since 2006 - this is tends to be a benefit for the home side and it may well remain that way.
Death Duty has been popular for Gordon Elliott and is potentially well-handicapped, while Jessica Harrington's Discordantly won at Leopardstown this month and comes here 7lb higher in the ratings. They may have a role to play but it's likely a supporting one.
Does He Know has loads of experience at this venue, with two hurdles wins and a novice chase score back in the autumn. He was second behind Threeunderthrufive on his most recent visit - excellent form given the winner has won two Grade 2s since - and could give Kim Bailey a major play in a race he went close in 12 months ago with Happygolucky as favourite.
Corach Rambler was still in the mix behind Does He Know at Ascot last time and is a course winner this season already.
Last year's winner Vintage Clouds is back for an incredible sixth run in this race and is rated only 1lb higher now. Fantastikas is another with potential while Lostintranslation was third in a Gold Cup here in 2020 and began this season with a return to winning ways. He's been disappointing since and the first-time cheekpieces need to perk him up.
The top-weight is the lovable Frodon, a Festival winner in the 2019 Ryanair and six times successful as a chaser at this track in total. He won a Grade 1 in Ireland in October from leading Gold Cup contenders Galvin and Minella Indo and while his burden of 11st 12lb is a major challenge, Bryony Frost's faithful partner won't got down without a fight.
FULL BACK is only 5lb higher than when scoring on New Year's Day and Gary Moore's seven-year-old posted an even better effort since when second to Yala Enki at Taunton that same month. He's still quite lightly-raced as a chaser and his reserves of stamina should kick in if they go a proper pace in this contest, which they invariably do. He's got plenty going for him.
A winner at Newbury in December on his second start over fences for Chris Honour, Grumpy Charley has since run a pleasing race back there in third behind Bravemansgame. That suggested there could be more to come from him. He does lack the experience of some of these but that's reflected in his price.
Selection: Full Back
Next Best: Grumpy Charley
3.30pm - Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1, 2m½f)
There appears a growing willingness in racing circles to doubt the outstanding HONEYSUCKLE as her Champion Hurdle defence looms closer. The mare is 14-14 so far, won her third Irish Champion last month and bolted up in this contest a year ago. Aged eight, she should entering her peak 12 months or so. And yet...the doubters are circling, as reflected in her price drifting somewhat in recent days.
She 'only' won by 6½-lengths at Leopardstown last month from re-opposing Zanahiyr, yet the race was in safe-keeping before she jumped the last and Rachael Blackmore hardly went for everything thereafter.
Any time Honeysuckle has got in a battle - the Mares' Hurdle here in 2020, the Hatton's Grace later that same year - she has given generously and won. Picking faults in her is a fool's errand. She can become the first mare to win this race twice.
The betting has Appreciate It as second-best. Last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner hasn't raced since. He is clearly talented but, even for Willie Mullins, it's audacious to be aiming at this without a run in 364 days.
Former winner Epatante just doesn't look equipped to deal with Honeysuckle, while thriving Tommy's Oscar would be a fairytale story even if he managed a place.
Five-year-old's Teahupoo and Adagio have shown progress this season and are well-placed to run big races. The former is respected for Gordon Elliott but David Pipe's charge did well when second in a hot Greatwood Hurdle here in November and his recent second to Goshen at Wincanton was a far better run than many give him credit for.
Next Best: Adagio
4.10pm - Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m4f)
Willie Mullins' stranglehold on this race has weakened of late and Benie Des Dieux in 2018 remains his most recent winner.
He saddles former Triumph Hurdle winner Burning Victory, Echoes In Rain and Stormy Ireland here. Paul Townend picks the last-named, winner of the Relkeel Hurdle on New Year's Day here. She benefitted from Brewin'upastorm coming down at the last there and has tried and failed twice before in this very race.
Last year's Festival is strongly represented - with Heaven Help Us, Mrs Milner and Telmesomethinggirl all winners at the meeting in 2021.
The first two are now in Grade 1 company having won handicaps last March. Henry De Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore can however have high claims with Mares' Novices' winner Telmesomethinggirl.
She was giving 8lb to Heaven Help Us when a length split them at Christmas in a Leopardstown contest won by Stayers' Hurdle contender Royal Kahala (also getting 5lb from Telmesomethinggirl). That's strong form and, on these terms, she is a massive player back in the Cotswolds.
QUEENS BROOK was second to Burning Victory at Punchestown in February - giving her 4lb - and looks very much like she will be sharper for that run.
Gordon Elliott appears sweet on her hopes and she's taken to ensure Ireland's domination of this race continues.
Selection: Queens Brook
Next Best: Telmesomethinggirl
4.50pm - Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 2m½f)
'Talking horses' are quite something in the run-up to Cheltenham and, this year, none have been whispering quite as loud as Gaelic Warrior.
The French import has never raced since joining Willie Mullins but connections haven't been a bit backward in admitting they felt he'd be rated about 10lb higher than the mark of 129 that he has here. A graded performer of the future, they say, and he could make short work of a good field if he's what the rumours suggest.
The one thing he won't be is the only well-handicapped horse in a field like this and, at around 9/4, there's surely no value in his price facing 21 rivals.
The unbeaten hurdler Petit Tonnerre made a pleasing start for Jonjo O'Neill at Market Rasen last month and could have more to offer, albeit he gives weight to the field now.
The Tide Turns was a massive eye-catcher behind Champion Hurdle-bound Teahupoo in a Grade 2 at Gowran Park last time and could be a big improver for Gordon Elliott.
This is a race Paul Nicholls has a good record, joining Elliot with three wins. Britain's champion trainer is bringing his smallest team to this meeting this year but the chances are they've all been carefully selected as such.
BELL EX ONE scored in two of three hurdles starts in Ireland in the autumn before moving to Ditcheat and it's interesting that he's seemingly been saved for a crack at this. He wears blinkers for the first time now and his Punchestown win in October was quite promising.
He's a huge price and could make a mockery of those odds. Whether he has the scope of a Gaelic Warrior is doubtful but there's more juice in finding out with him.
Selection: Bell Ex One
Next Best: Gaelic Warrior
5.30pm - Ukraine Appeal National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys' Novices' Chase (Grade 2, 3m6f)
Just seven have enlisted for the day one finale, likely a result of high-class trio Vanillier, Stattler and RUN WILD FRED having been aimed here.
Stattler had Vanillier behind in third in a Naas Grade 3 in January and both step up in distance now from three-miles. Gavin Cromwell's chare is 8lb better off but has the thick end of 20-lengths to make up over this marathon distance on the Mullins inmate.
Vanillier did though win the Albert Bartlett here last March and his hopes of a turnaround rest on the return here and his stamina kicking in.
A good pilot in these amateur races is worth their weight in gold and the top trio are helped by Derek O'Connor, Patrick Mullins and Jamie Codd - winners of this race seven times in 10 years prior to amateurs being ruled out by Covid-restrictions last March.
Codd might well have made it three in a row on Galvin last year had he been permitted and he can bring Run Wild Fred to the fore now. He won the Troytown at Navan in November easily and was second behind stablemate Fury Road in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas, with Vanillier third and Ontheropes sixth.
Second in the Irish Grand National last season, he'll get this trip and he has been aiming at this target for quite a while.
Pats Fancy is one of two Rebecca Curtis runners taking the Irish on and stamina is sure to be his forte. He's not discounted.
Selection: Run Wild Fred
Next Best: Vanillier
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