Tuesday, March 14, 2023

By Pat Costello

THE famous Cheltenham roar went up not once but twice at 1.30pm on Tuesday to mark the start of the famous National Hunt Four Day Festival and less than ten minutes later the roar went up again to welcome in Nurney based trainer, Barry Connell’s Marine Nationale, winner of that opening race, the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle with young Michael O’Sullivan on board.

Nurney based trainer, Barry Connell, celebrates after winning the opening race at Cheltenham with Marine Nationale Photo: INPHO/Tom Maher

The Royal Bond winner pulled away at the last from Willie Mullins’ 9/4 favourite, Facile Vega, owned by the Clane Hammer and Trowel Syndicate and ridden by Paul Townend, to win in style at 9/2.

“Barry Connell is very sweet on this horse,” Niall “Slippers” Madden told us in this week’s Kildare Nationalist, in your shops now, and after the race the Boherbaun Stables owner was full of praise for both horse and jockey. “I told the whole of Ireland to back him,” a clearly excited Connell said after the race. “I had the best horse and jockey in the race,” he added.

Young jockey, O’Sullivan, wasn’t finished for the day as he was on board Jazzy Matty to win the Boodles Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle for Gordon Elliott, the second last race of the day.

Connell and O’Sullivan will team up again on Day 2 of the Festival when Good Land goes in the first race of the day, the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and once more the trainer is very positive about his horses chances.

While Constitution Hill lit up the Cotswolds, as far as the English were concerned, it was the mighty mare, Honeysuckle, who lit up the world by winning the Mares Hurdle for Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore in what was her farewell race, although, jokingly, the trainer mentioned Punchestown afterwards.

In addition to Connell and de Bromhead, Willie Mullins had two winners on Day 1 in El Fabiolo and Gaillard Du Mesnil to leave him just ten short of 100 for the Festival.

Read Niall “Slippers” Madden’s Cheltenham predictions in this week’s Kildare Nationalist, out now.


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