The last thing that the bookmakers wanted was for the favourites to get punters off to a winning start at the Cheltenham Festival.
But that’s exactly what happened as three red-hot fancies all hit the line in first place with the minimum of fuss.
Appreciate It and Shishkin absolutely flew home in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Arkle respectively, and in a week where more ‘casual’ punters than ever before are expected to have a punt on the meeting given that many are still working from home, it could spell a disastrous first day for the bookmakers.
Appreciate It went off as the 8/11 favourite in his romp home in the first race of the Festival, and his win was likely to have formed part of a daily double or treble for many punters.
Good news was to follow then as Shishkin – backed into an extraordinary 4/9 – demolished the field to land the Arkle in the next.
And acca backers would have been delighted when Honeysuckle produced an imperious display to win the Champion Hurdle by a country mile – earning Rachael Blackmore a place in the history books as the first female jockey to win the race.
The bookmakers were given some reprieve on day 1, with 10/11 favourite Concertista edged out by a head in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle by Black Tears. Saint Sam also finished as runner up with the final favourite of the day, Escaria Ten, third in the National Hunt Chase.
|13:20||Supreme Novices’ Hurdle||Appreciate It||8/11||1st|
|16:15||Juvenile Handicap Hurdle||Saint Sam||9/2||2nd|
|16:50||National Hunt Chase||Escaria Ten||11/4||3rd|
Blackmore the Bulldozer
Even before the Champion Hurdle, Honeysuckle was a horse that many were tipping for the top.
And the mare extended her unbeaten record to eleven races with another sublime turn, assisted by Blackmore who timed her charge’s bolt for the line impeccably.
Honeysuckle cruises to the Unibet Champion Hurdle
— ITV Racing (@itvracing) March 16, 2021
“Absolutely incredible. I am speechless to be honest. I really am. I can’t believe we just won the Champion Hurdle. Incredible! Unbelievable for everyone in the yard, they all work so hard,” an understandably delighted Blackmore told ITV Racing afterwards.
Former jockey Katie Walsh, no stranger herself to shattering the glass ceiling, told BBC Radio 5 Live:
“Absolutely brilliant. I just think it is brilliant. She deserves this so much. She works hard and it is history. I am delighted for the person she is, and she is a credit to the sport and a fantastic jockey.”
It was Blackmore’s fourth Cheltenham Festival victory and her second aboard Honeysuckle, and you wonder how many more will follow for both in the future.
The 31-year-old will ride Bob Olinger in the Ballymore on Wednesday, the fancied Allaho in the Ryanair Chase on Thursday and may well get the nod for A Plus Tard in the Gold Cup – could she become a history maker for the second time in a week by landing the flagship race?