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Horse Racing - Upping The Ante: Reflections on the Cheltenham Festival

The Cheltenham Festival is as far away as it ever was but Gavin Lynch & David Jennings are back for the final Upping The Ante episode of the season, where they review the 2022 Festival.

This week, DJ and Gavin talk through the highs and lows of a brilliant Cheltenham Festival. They look through their ante-post selections for this year's Festival and review their results, as well as provide two new ante-post picks for the 2023 Festival.

There are also some interesting stats about the results and the Prestbury Cup outcome as Ireland defeated Britain 18-10.

We've picked out some of the best bits from this week's show as Upping The Ante bids farewell for the season.

Better luck next time?

The lads started as always by answering some 'Questions From The Crowd' and one of those centred on picking a horse beaten last week at Cheltenham they'd be happy to have onside next time?

Gavin Lynch tipped up Winged Leader in the Hunters' Chase on Friday and, while beaten by an exceptional Patrick Mullins ride on Billaway, the Racing Post expert would stick with the younger horse next time.

"At Punchestown if Winged Leader is an each-way price I'd back him," says Gavin. "His jumping is fantastic and I'd say [jockey] Barry O'Neill won't be buying Jamie Codd a Christmas present.

"Jamie took him on a long way out and softened him up, he got very tired at the end."

Having put up Camprond at 33/1 for the County Hurdle (SP 10/1) David Jennings was left dejected by the rain that came down on Wednesday before the race, leaving the ground testing. He believes Philip Hobbs' runner may still come good, potentially at Aintree.

"I thought for a novice over that [2m5f] trip on that ground to run the way he did was exceptional," said DJ.

"I cannot wait for three-miles on good ground for this horse, potentially at Aintree. I think his jumping would improve and, off a mark 140, he is still a well-handicapped horse."

Constitution Hill vs. Honeysuckle the clash to savour

The Cheltenham Festival opener produced one of the performances of the entire meeting as Constitution Hill blitzed the Supreme Novices' Hurdle field by more than 20-lengths for Nico de Boinville and Nicky Henderson.

He received an official rating of 170 for his effort, having broken Annie Power's track record. Constitution Hill is now 2/1 to win the Champion Hurdle in 2023.

A clash with unbeaten mare Honeysuckle is being mooted as soon as Punchestown in April after owner Michael Buckley said that was in his thinking.

Constitution Hill's time on the day was some six seconds faster than Honeysuckle's in the Champion Hurdle – the equivalent of 24-lengths. Gavin has done some additional homework and says fans of the mare shouldn't be put off completely.

"I hand-timed the race from the last hurdle with a circuit to go, to the winning line. Constitution Hill was one second quicker – four-lengths. I think most of the [time differential] was in the first couple of furlongs [as they went so quickly in the Supreme].

"Her rating is now 165, plus the 7lb mares' allowance she gets, so he has to be an absolute freak to beat her, but he could be just that."

Honeysuckle trades at 5/2 to win a third Champion Hurdle in 2023, with connections confirming this week they intend to stay in training for one more season with her.

DJ then asked Gavin if the pair do indeed meet in April at Punchestown, who wins?

"At Punchestown I'd say the mare, but maybe next year it could go his way as she'll be turning nine, she's getting on!"

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Gold Cup just right for A-Plus performance

A Plus Tard won for the second time at a Cheltenham Festival, bridging a three-year gap to his stunning success as a novice in 2019.

Unlike last year's Gold Cup, both Gavin and DJ felt his jumping was foot-perfect this time around, while the pace of the race suited him perfectly to come with a piercing late run, reversing last year's placings with stablemate Minella Indo as Henry Dr Bromhead enjoyed a one-two for the second year running.

"This year he jumped brilliantly, very neat and tidy," says Gavin. "I'd say what suited him this year was the lack of a frontrunner – no Frodon, no Native River – they just went a nice gallop.

"He got into his rhythm and even though Rachael got blocked before they turned in, I'd say that probably helped her."

A Plus Tard is 4/1 to win a second Gold Cup in 2023, with Galopin Des Champs priced at 4/1 after he came down at the last when delivering what Gavin suggested might have been the 'performance of the week' had he stood up in the Turners Novices' Chase on Thursday.

Looking to the future

David Jennings apologised unreservedly for having failed to find a single ante-post winner at the meeting. Four of his 11 runners finished second last week, but the Racing Post pundit said he would take any criticism coming his way on the chin!

Gavin Lynch meanwhile saw three of his ante-post portfolio coming good. They were Elimay (8/1 advised), Flooring Porter (4/1 advised) and L'homme Presse (4/1 advised), while Winger Leader, American Mile and Fil D'or all finished second-best.

The lads also got to make one pick for Cheltenham 2023 before signing off for the season.

DJ reminded listeners his selection at this point last year was Stattler at 20/1 in the National Hunt Chase – with the pick coming good last week in the Cotswolds!

This time he's going for 20/1 Zanahiyr to win the 2023 Stayers' Hurdle after being impressed by the way in which the Champion Hurdle third travelled last week.

"He tanked through it, looked like he really enjoyed. He's only five-years-old so Gordon Elliott will surely give him another year over hurdles and I'd love to see him clashing with Flooring Porter early next season."

Gavin Lynch meanwhile pinpointed Galopin Des Champs as a novice chaser to be followed in this slot last year and he's heading down the same path with impressive Albert Bartlett winner The Nice Guy at 10/1 for next year's Brown Advisory Novices' Chase.

"I don't think he'd be quick enough for a Turners, but to win an Albert Bartlett having only had one previous run over hurdles shows what kind of talent he is."

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