What the first day of the Cheltenham Festival has taught us for next three days
The first day of the Cheltenham Festival produced stunning performances from hot favourites Honeysuckle, Appreciate It and Shishkin, as well as an 80-1 shock in the Fred Winter. But what winner-finding clues did it reveal for the next three days?
Switch no worry to 'Elliott' horses
The late switch of the Gordon Elliott horses, some to other trainers and the majority to 'Sneezy' Foster, who is overseeing Elliott's Cullentra House operation during his six-month ban for bringing the sport into disrepute, appears to have had no impact on their ability to deliver on the day.
That will be comforting to Envoi Allen's supporters, not to mention the countless others with chances formerly under Elliott's care. For all Ballyadam was some 24 lengths behind the winner he was still second in the Supreme, and although Milan Native disappointed and Abacadabras fell, Black Tears proved to punters Mrs Denise Foster is merely a different name on the licence and they can proceed with all the confidence they would have placed in a horse prepared for the festival by Elliott.
The well-supported Riviere D'Etel ran with credit in the Fred Winter and then Galvin, another switched from Elliott's care in the wake of images emerging on social media of his posing for a photo sitting on a dead horse, landed the National Hunt Chase for new trainer Ian Ferguson, with Escaria Ten who remained at Cullentra, in third.
It's only going to get drier
Many were predicting very testing conditions after 10mm of rain on Sunday night, but the clock gives some reassurance the going is as described.
It is only some because with wide-margin winners in the Supreme, Arkle, Ultima and Champion Hurdle suggest plenty are struggling on the surface for all the course adjusted the description to good to soft, soft in places after the Mares' Hurdle.
The ground may not be as testing as expected, but it is likely riding dead and those winning margins suggest those able to handle it have a big advantage.
We all know Cheltenham dries out quickly and the healthy breeze should help, so how long that remains the case remains to be seen.
Irish novice hurdlers are dominant
The Irish novice hurdlers could have an advantage over their British counterparts, if the Supreme and Fred Winter are a guide.
In the Supreme, Metier and Soaring Glory were given every chance beforehand, but neither got within 27 lengths of the winner and, but for Blue Lord's final-flight fall, the Irish would have locked out the first three.
In the Boodles-sponsored juvenile handicap there was a 50:50 split between Britain and Ireland of those occupying the top ten positions in the market. Yet at the line it was another Irish one-two with horses who had to come over by boat filling five of the first eight spots.
It all suggests Bob Olinger, who accounted comfortably for Blue Lord last time, and Gaillard Du Mesnil could have an advantage over Bravemansgame, whose only defeat this season was administered by Soaring Glory.
All change in amateur rider races
The National Hunt Chase was not just vastly more palatable, as eight of the 12 finished under professional riders, but if this sample size of one is anything to go by, the races usually reserved for amateur riders are going to ride very differently this year.
We are used to seeing them going fast and less than half the field finishing in the National Hunt, yet here they went slowly. So slow in fact, that a horse who was second at the festival last year over two and a half miles, and unraced beyond three, was able to use that speed to power clear up the hill at the end of three miles six furlongs.
Thursday's Kim Muir and Friday's Hunters' Chase, both also staying tests, could play out similarly for all the New course is inherently more testing than the Old.
Expect more controlled early fractions, more horses having chances, and a deeper pool of riding talent making the shortlist far harder to whittle down.
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