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Cheltenham: Five Horses to look for at the 2023 Festival

Another Cheltenham Festival is in the books and, as always, the Cotswolds showpiece did not disappoint this week with four incredible days of action at Prestbury Park.

As always, the countdown to Cheltenham 2023 begins almost immediately.

We've been looking at some of the standout performances from this week at Cheltenham and pondering where they might end up in 12 months' time.

Constitution Hill shatters track record in Supreme rout

It seems a long while ago now, but the curtain-raiser on Tuesday afternoon saw Constitution Hill blasting his rivals out of the water in imperious fashion for Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville.

All the pre-race talk centred on his clash with unbeaten stablemate Jonbon and Willie Mullins' hitherto unbeaten Dysart Dynamo. The Irish horse fell mid-race when travelling well and, briefly, a duel between the Seven Barrows pair looked on.

Constitution Hill had other ideas though and he powered away without ever being called on for maximum effort by de Boinville. They were 22-lengths at the line and, despite the rider taking time out to salute the crowd close home, Constitution Hill broke Annie Power's track record from her 2016 Champion Hurdle win.

It was a spectacular display and Constitution Hill is now 2/1 to win the Champion Hurdle next March, with two-time winner Honeysuckle priced at 5/2.

Owner Michael Buckley has now raised the tantalising prospect of sending Constitution Hill to Punchestown in April for a crack at the unbeaten Henry De Bromhead-trained mare on her own turf.

Facile Vega lives up to the family name

So good was Facile Vega at last month's Dublin Racing Festival that many had him marked down as a certainty for Champion Bumper glory this week. As the big race drew closer, doubts crept in.

Relentless rain on the second day meant the ground was heavy by Wednesday afternoon and a strong field of rivals ensured Facile Vega was a very uneasy favourite at 15/8 by the off.

As it turned out, there was no need to doubt him. The ground didn't blunt his speed and Patrick Mullins brought him alongside main market rival American Mile after Jamie Codd had taken up the running on that previously unbeaten contender.

Facile Vega kicked away in strides, and time will surely come to reveal he beat a very strong field in impressive style. He is 3/1 for the 2023 Supreme Novices' Hurdle, with American Mike in the market at 8/1.

He's his mother's son all right, is Facile Vega, and like Quevega before him, he may well be destined for great things at many Cheltenham Festivals of the future.

Exciting Galopin the moral winner

Thursday's Turners Novices' Chase was billed as a showdown between Ireland's two best up-and-coming chasers. Bob Olinger and Galopin Des Champs were both Festival winners over hurdles and unbeaten since going chasing.

Willie Mullins picked a fight in sending Galopin Des Champs for this 2m4f race, rather than going over three-miles a day earlier in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase, seemingly unperturbed in squaring up to Henry De Bromhead's highly talented inmate.

It played out as expected, Galopin Des Champs bold in front and setting the pace, Bob Olinger stalking behind and waiting seemingly to make his move.

With over half a mile to run, however, it changed as Galopin Des Champs raised the tempo and it quickly became clear Bob Olinger was under pressure. Paul Townend's mount jumped the second last with an increasing advantage and was clear before he slumped on landing after the last and came down - to audible gasps from the stands.

He walked away none the worse but has confirmed himself a huge talent. As De Bromhead remarked post-race, it was hard to believe any horse could make Bob Olinger look so ordinary.

Despite his hiccup, Galopin Des Champs is 4/1 to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2023.

Vauban powers away to Triumph glory

Friday got started with another impressive young hurdler as Vauban justified the hype around him to win the Triumph Hurdle for that 'dream team' of Mullins and Townend, who once more ended the week as leading trainer and rider.

Vauban was beaten by Pied Piper on New Year's Eve in their respective hurdles bows, but has now bagged two Grade 1 wins since and he had his revenge over Gordon Elliott's charge here, as he was third behind his stablemate Fil Dor.

Vauban generally produced his best hurdling performance on the way around but he fiddled over the last, offering hope to the Elliott pair. Those hopes was extinguished in a matter of strides as Vauban cleared away to win up the hill.

The Rich Ricci-owned Vauban has lots of speed and that's emphasised in the fact that the Melbourne Cup and York's Ebor were talked about as possible future targets for him. Ruby Walsh suggested such notions will only be entertained if he "fails as a jumper" and Vauban is now 7/1 to win the Champion Hurdle next March with big things ahead for him on this latest evidence.

A-Plus performance stands out

The Irish went through the card on day four with all seven winners and while she only had one winner, Rachael Blackmore starred as she guided A Plus Tard to Gold Cup success.

They were second last year as Minella Indo won, but Blackmore was ice-cool this time as she waited patiently despite seeing Robbie Power go for home on the defending champion after three out.

Those exaggerated waiting tactics paid off, Blackmore joining the leader at the last and then careered up the hill to win by 15-lengths as Henry De Bromhead again had the one-two, in the opposite order this time.

Lessons were learned from 12 months ago and also from A Plus Tard's defeat by Galvin in the Savills Chase at Christmas. Blackmore rode the perfect race, becoming the first female to win the Gold Cup, and on those tactics the champ could be hard to displace in 2023 when he will still only be nine-years-old. He is 4/1 to win a second Gold Cup next year.

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