And so we meet again, at this great ampitheatre of sport, with the roar ready to engulf us once more. Things weren't all that 'facile' for Facile Vega in Dublin, as he charged off on his own in the Novice Hurdle. In trouble by the fifth, he was left in fifth by the finish. That said, it's a Willie Mullins whitewash in race one this week - the Supreme - as he bungs in Impaire Et Passe too.
A wake-up call for Arkle favourite Jonbon at Warwick, as Dan Skelton's Calico shoved his arrogance in the gutter, whooshing up his inside two out. Fighting back with contempt, Jonbon is a sure fire favourite today, showing no issues over fences: proved adequately with victory in the Henry VIII at Sandown in December. Let's not ignore the El Fabiolo challenge, though. He ran ten lengths clear of Banbridge at Leopardstown, and beat Jonbon only by a neck at Aintree last April. Elsewhere, the white-faced Reynoldstown winner Oscar Elite fights back Scottish warrior (and defending champion) Corach Rambler in the Ultima, as Britain looks to secure an early tally on the Prestbury Cup scoreboard.
The Champion Hurdle goes off at 3:30pm, and it's a parade for Constitution Hill. Full marks to State Man and Vauban for taking on hurdling's Frankel (... hang on, let's not get ahead of ourselves). But, though great horses in their own right (State Man proved it in the County last year; the Morgiana, Matheson and Irish Champion this season), they are but stragglers in the contrails of a Seven Barrows battle-axe.
Epatante takes on Honeysuckle in the Mares, and she'll join Harry Fry's Love Envoi in the placings. They won't catch the De Bromhead queen, and nor should they. Because yes, she might have whimped out of the Champion (really, who could blame her?), but this is the British swansong of a girl-power partnership that provided joy to millions. Later in the day, Gaillard Du Mesnil is our pick for the National Hunt Cup and, a race previously, we're going for Perseus Way... though our Racing Breaks Cheltenham Preview Panel gave us Bad (not advice, a horse) last week, running for Ben Pauling in the penultimate contest on Day One.
Matt Chapman's Ones to Watch
I'm perfectly happy for Facile Vega to prove a class above him, but I'm having a little each way on Tahmuras for Paul Nicholls in our opening race of the day. He was a good winner in the Tolworth and stays well. I've always been all over Jonbon, and nothing has changed as we look ahead to the Arkle. In the Ultima, Oscar Elite was a solid third last year, and came back with a winning run at Ascot (he's only a pound higher than twelve months ago).
The Champion Hurdle is simple: Constitution Hill will win by a distance, and in the Mares, the horse who has only been beaten once in her career is Love Envoi. I'll be backing Perseus Way each way for Gary Moore at 4:50pm, and in our closing race, it's Gaillard Du Mesnil. He jumps, he stays. Yes, he's slow. But when you're running over 3m6f, being slow as an old boat is exactly what you want.
-> Catch me in person this morning, and every day of the Festival, in the exclusive Racing Breaks Legends Lounge. I'll be dishing out tips with Sky's Mike Cattermole, ITV colleague Mick Fitzgerald and ace pundit Paul Kealy. Yeeehaaa!