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Cheltenham Festival gets underway with action-packed opening day

Sponsored by Virgin Bet
Sponsored by Virgin Bet
Cheltenham Festival gets underway with action-packed opening day

After months of anticipation, the wait is finally over as the Cheltenham Festival gets underway today.

The 4-day Festival is the pinnacle of horse racing in the UK, and the 'Cheltenham Roar' will be heard for the first time when the tapes go up for the Supreme Novices Hurdle at 1.30pm.

Willie Mullins' Facile Vega leads the betting at 5/2, but there are doubts about the Irish raider after his below-par performance at the Dublin Festival at Leopardstown last month where he finished fifth in a six-runner race.

Facile Vega runs in the Future Champions Novice Hurdle
Facile Vega runs in the Future Champions Novice Hurdle

That is his only blemish in an otherwise unbeaten career, and if back to his best, he will be the one to beat.

If Facile Vega is to be beaten, the likely winner could be a stablemate, with Mullins also saddling Il Etait Temps (9/2), while the best British hope lies with Paul Nicholls' Tahmuras (8/1).

The other lively contender still comes from across the shores in Ireland with Barry Connell's Marine Nationale, who is next best in the betting behind Facile Vega at 4/1.

It's certainly set to be a lively opening race though with a number in with chances, and Virgin Bet are offering Money Back as a free bet' up to £10 if your horse fails to win*

The action continues with the Arkle Chase, where it's a true battle of Ireland vs GB, with Mullins' El Fabiolo and Nicky Henderson's Jonbon pitting their wits against each other. There's little separating the two, which is shown with them both being joint favourites at 13/8.

Corach Rambler heads the market in a very open looking Ultima Handicap Chase, before the feature race of the day - the Champion Hurdle takes centre stage.

If Henderson hasn't already got a winner on the board with Jonbon, then his best chance looks to be Constitution Hill who is likely to go off as a well-backed favourite, and he is 1/3 to make it back-to-back Festival wins having won the Supreme Novices at last year's meeting.

Mullins holds the likely threat once again with State Man, who is next best in the betting at 5/2.

An action-packed first day continues and there would not be a more popular winner on the day than if Honeysuckle was to land the Mares' Hurdle.

The three-time Cheltenham Festival winner is likely to retire after this race and it would be a fitting end if she was first past the post under Rachael Blackmore.

She's not short of rivals looking to take her crown though, with Henderson having two leading hopes in the shape of Marie's Rock and Epatante.

Virgin Bet are offering your money back as a free bet if your horse fails to win the first race of every day of the Cheltenham Festival. Click here to check out the market.

*Max Free Bet £10. Bet must be placed within 48hrs of 1st race each day - 1st cash bet on the 1st race each day of Cheltenham Festival (main market, ex antepost & specials). Win part e/w bet. Selection must lose. Free Bet: non-withdrawable, use in 7 days on sportsbook only. Stake not returned. T&Cs apply.

18+ ' T&Cs Apply ' BeGambleAware

Tom Green
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