Owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s National Hunt showpiece at Prestbury Park will have a different feel to usual, with no spectators in attendance as the event moves behind closed doors for the first time.
That should not detract from the usual thrilling action and racing drama, however, with plenty to look out for on opening day.
The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle kicked things off with short-priced favourite Appreciate It romping home for Willie Mullins, while the likes of Epatante, Honeysuckle and Goshen also square off in the Champion Hurdle.
Also on the schedule for day one is the Ultimate Handicap Chase, the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle, the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle and the National Hunt Chase.
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“She’s travelled over really well. She seems great. We’re just excited to get going,” says Rachael Blackmore to ITV on Honeysuckle. “She’s very straightforward to ride. It looks like there will be plenty of pace.”
We’ve 15 minutes to a trappy third race, with Happygolucky hot favourite at 4.7, Aye Right next in.
Nicky Henderson said: “We’ve been very lucky in the two-mile chases. Altior followed Sprinter Sacre and now there’s another one. It’s not the same without the people but it’s still scary with a short-price favourite.” He’s 6-4 to win next year’s Queen Mother.
Allmankind and Captain Guinness set it up for Shishkin, who absolutely bolted up. Nick de Boinville said: “He will be anything based on that performance. Massive shame Energumene did not come over – it would have been so match. I felt my lad was in fantastic form today. He would have taken a lot of beating.”
This isn’t a particularly attractive betting race. I’m playing Captain Guinness three places at 1.72 or so. Shishkin is now into 1.46 on Betfair.
The time of the race was three minutes, 56.32 seconds. As a comparison, last year’s race was four seconds faster and won by Shishkin, who is now hot favourite for the Arkle (1.49) in the 1.55.
“It’s on the slow side,” says Paul Townend. Willie Mullins added: “He was awesome. Paul exuded confidence all the way down the hill. He’s a big horse. He looks like a three-mile chaser!”