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Cheltenham update: Rachael Blackmore still believes in Honeysuckle

The talking is almost complete, with the Cheltenham Festival 2023 now just a little over 24 hours away from bursting into action with that famous Cotswolds roar!

The fields are declared for days one and two at Prestbury Park and excitement is at fever pitch.

Follow our Cheltenham Festival Live: Build Up, Previews and Tips for all the latest from the Cotswolds this week - while you can watch the action on the track via the bet365 live Sports Streaming Service across all four days.

We're taking a look at some of the headline-makers and quotes making the news on Cheltenham Eve.

Rachael's still got belief in Honeysuckle

This season has been a new sort of feeling for Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle. Hitherto unbeaten, they've finished third in the Hatton's Grace in December and second in last month's Irish Champion Hurdle in two runs so far.

Two defeats, but two admirable performances and, in particular, the way Honeysuckle battled to fend off the challengers behind State Man last month was a sure sign her will to succeed still burns as bright as ever.

She's 7/2 to win a second Mares Hurdle (4.10) on Tuesday afternoon at Cheltenham in a red-hot renewal that also includes her fellow Champion Hurdle-winning peer Epatante at 5/1 and defending champ Marie's Rock at 11/4 - both trained by Nicky Henderson.

Blackmore believes Honeysuckle can protect a perfect record and make it four Festivals win from four visits to Cheltenham.

"She has been incredible for my career. All that she has achieved, and I have been lucky enough to get to ride her. As has been well publicised, this will be her last race, I won't be looking back. We can look back when it's over," said the most successful Cheltenham Festival female rider of all time.

"She has given us all the big days that she could have given us so far, the crowds have been brilliant and I would love her to have one more big day.

"She's in great form, she still feels like she is very well, she still feels like she has plenty of fight in her.

"She showed that when she battled to hold off Vauban for second place behind State Man in the Irish Champion Hurdle last month."

Mullins plays down record-breaking talk

He's got 88 Cheltenham Festival winners behind him and Willie Mullins is 1/8 to once more be crowned Top Trainer this week in the Cotswolds.

Despite his record-breaking track record at the meeting and a host of leading contenders travelling from his base in Closutton, Mullins admits he feels the pressure as much as anyone in trying to get a winner at this meeting.

"People expect us to have winners in Cheltenham, but we go there hoping rather than expecting and it's a relief if we get a winner and hopefully one or two more," he said.

Mullins has Arkle favourite El Fabiolo at 13/8 on Tuesday (2.10) and National Hunt Cup (5.30) hotpot Gaillard Du Mesnil (1/1) rounding off day one.

Later in the week, Galopin Des Champs is 13/8 to give the Irishman a third Gold Cup win in five years. Nothing is taken for granted when it comes to Cheltenham, says the trainer.

"Getting winners at Cheltenham is a relief," he said. "We're not going aiming to beat [last year's record of] 10, we're aiming to get on the board if we can and then hopefully a few of the right ones win.

"Someone said to me the other day we have 10 to 14 favourites and I always reckon only half the favourites win, so that's not a bad number and if we can get somewhere near that it'll be great."

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Nicholls desperate to end Gold Cup wait

Paul Nicholls is Britain's champion trainer and has won the Gold Cup four times. See More Business in 1999 was his first, while Kauto Star and Denman exchanged the Blue Riband for three years from 2007-2009 in a glorious spell for Nicholls.

Few would have predicted back then he'd be waiting for another win in the Festival's premier race come 2023 but that's the case as the balance of power has shifted towards Ireland in recent years.

King George winner Bravemansgame is 13/2 to win the Gold Cup on Friday afternoon and Nicholls, without a Grade 1 winner at this meeting since 2020, admits it is the Holy Grail and a race he craves more success in.

"I would love to win the Gold Cup," he said. "I've been lucky to win it four times, but I'd love to win it again.

"It's hard to describe what it feels like to go to that winner's enclosure when you win a Gold Cup. It is like a drug and you want it again."

His bet365 Charlie Hall Chase winner typically goes well fresh and Nicholls believes he has a solid Gold Cup contender in Bravemansgame.

"I think we have a lovely chance," Nicholls said. "It is a competitive race. We have got to step up again, but I think we are in there with a chance.

"He is good fresh, so we didn't need to run him in between his last run on Boxing Day and now.

"He won the Charlie Hall, he won the King George. You've got to stay to win those races, so I don't think the trip is going to be a problem."

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