Cheltenham Festival 2023: Champion Day Review
After plenty of build-up and anticipation from horse racing fans from across the globe, the 2023 Cheltenham Festival is finally underway! The atmosphere was electric as thousands of racegoers took in the world class horse racing action on the opening day..
The 2023 Festival is certainly off to a great start after the action on Day One, Champion Day.
The Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Race – 13:30
Winner: Marine Nationale
The Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Race was the race to open the festival, and it was some race.
Facile Vega was the favourite for many ahead of the race but it is never simple predicting who will end the race in front of the chasing pack. This was demonstrated by Marine Nationale, who ran out the winner of the opening race after a superb performance from jockey Michael O’Sullivan.
It was a very close race, and it was not until the closing stages that the winner became clear. It was a close battle between Marine Nationale and Facile Vega, but a stumble from the latter saw Marine Nationale take the lead to win the race.
The top two ensured it was a race dominated by Ireland, with Great Britain’s Diverge and Inthepocket coming third and fourth respectively.
The Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Steeple Chase – 14:10
Winner: El Fabiolo
The Sporting Life Arkle Chase came as the second race of the day, and it was an action packed race
To begin with, the race was not very tight at the front, which was until the final two hurdles of the race where the top three were nearly level with each other. It was El Fabiolo who finally emerged from the pack to take home the victory.
It was a fantastic performance from jockey Paul Townend. El Fabiolo finished ahead of Jonbon (France) and Saint Roi (France) in second and third respectively.
What was even better for Ireland is that they were ahead of British horses yet again, with their lead now at 2-0.
Unfortunately, Dysart Dynamo suffered a fall near the end of the race, but thankfully it was nothing serious.
The Ultima Handicap Steeple Chase – 14.50
Winner: Corach Rambler
Winning just one Ultima Handicap Chase is a fantastic achievement for whoever wins it. Corach Rambler was the winner of the 2022 edition of the race, and the challenge for Derek Fox would have been to try and win it yet again.
And win it again he did, he achieved the extraordinary feat of winning the race for the second year in succession. It was not easy, having to overcome a deficit and strong competition from across the field.
It was delight for all those who were backing Corach Rambler, who was eventually able to win the race just ahead of Fastorslow (France) and Monbeg Genius (Ireland), who finished second and third respectively.
It was yet another dominant performance from Ireland, who occupied two spots in the top three. Ireland now had a 3-0 lead over Great Britain.
Trainer Lucinda Russell (via BBC Radio 5 Live and The Independent) said:
“That was amazing. What a horse he is. He is absolutely brilliant. I was so nervous beforehand because the horse means so much but Derek is so cool.
“He has got a brilliant mind – the horse has got a quite interesting mind. I am so proud and pleased.”
The Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy – 15:30
Winner: Constitution Hill
In what is the most prestigious race of the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, the Unibet Champion Hurdle was won for the second time in a row by Honeysuckle in 2022. However, this year rising star Constitution Hill was many peoples’ favourite to win the race this year.
I like to move it gained an initial lead with the race taking on a steady pace which saw Constitution Hill move ahead of Not So Sleepy and just behind the leader. With a few fences to go, the top two were level with each other, making for an exciting conclusion to the race.
At the final hurdle, Constitution Hill made the race his own. Following a fantastic leap and a great turn of pace to win the race by a distance ahead of State Man (France) and Zanahiyr (Ireland) in second and third respectively. It was now 3-1 to Ireland after victory for Great Britain’s Constitution Hill.
The Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle Race – 16:10
It was an emotional race for Rachael Blackmore, with not a dry eye in the house. She rode Honeysuckle to a fantastic victory at the 2023 Mares’ Hurdle on Tuesday afternoon. Marie’s Rock was the winner in 2022, but did not make it into the top four this year.
Love Envoi took the lead early on, opening up a decent lead on Honeysuckle close to the halfway mark in the race. Love Envoi and Honeysuckle were neck and neck coming into the last few hurdles and it set up an enthralling finish.
It was the victory many people had hoped for to round off a stellar career when they saw Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle cross the finish line in first place.
Rachael Blackmore said (via The Independent):
“We all wish a very special kid could be here today but he’s looking down on her. As a jockey I am so grateful, she’s just phenomenal and been so important for my career. She’s just a credit to anyone. A brilliant day.”
The Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle Race – 16:50
Winner: Jazzy Matty
It was Brazil who won the previous edition of the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle race in 2022. And in the penultimate race of day one at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival it was Jazzy Matty who took the win – just.
It was Samuel Spade who took an early lead, but it was far from comfortable. Sir Allen and Bad were getting stronger and stronger. An incredible finish to the race was then in store.
The front three’s pace dropped off, allowing Tekao, Jazzy Matty, Byker and Risk Belle able to battle for the win! It was to be Jazzy Matty, ridden by Michael O’Sullivan who was to finish the race in the lead, but only a mere nose ahead of Byker and Risk Belle in second and third respectively.
The National Hunt Steeple Chase Challenge Cup – 17:30
Winner: Gaillard du Mesnil
Stattler won The National Hunt Steeplechase in 2022; this year’s edition was the final race on the opening day of the 2023 Cheltenham Festival.
The favourite for the 2023 race was Gaillard Du Mesnil, ridden by Patrick Mullins. The pressure did not affect his performance, with Gaillard Du Mesnil winning ahead of Chemical Energy and Mister Coffey in second and third, respectively.
Mahler Mission and Mister Coffey led the race as they went down the hill just before the final three fences. Mahler Mission soon lost the lead after falling at the second to last hurdle with Gaillard Du Mesnil in the hunt.
An extraordinary end to the race saw Gaillard Du Mesnil take the lead after a great turn of pace after the final fence, beating Chemical Energy to the finish line.
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