Cheltenham Day 1 Tips: Kevin Blake's going for a Facile win and a bit of Love

Betfair Ambassador Kevin Blake
Kevin Blake has two tips for Day 1 at Cheltenham

The 2023 Cheltenham Festival has arrived and we have a cracking seven-race card on Champion Tuesday to look forward to. Our expert tipster Kevin Blake has two strong fancies for the opening day of action at Prestbury Park...

  • Kevin Blake has two tips for Day 1 at Cheltenham

  • Kev is backing Facile Vega in the Supreme

  • Brandy Love is his top tip in the Mares' Hurdle


  • It's here. After months and months of endless build up, analysis and anticipation, the Cheltenham Festival is finally here.

    The time for talking is over and now we have to try and make all the focus count in the shape of winners. Best of luck to you all, especially those of you that follow this column!

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    Vega set for Facile win in Supreme

    Back Facile Vega 2pts Win in 13:30 Cheltenham @ 3.412/5

    The Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle (13:30) will open the meeting and one that I've been keen on for many months is the Willie Mullins-trained Facile Vega.

    I was far from alone on board this particular express train for much of the season, but quite a few jumped off when it hit a bump in the tracks at the Dublin Racing Festival. Despite this, I'm more than happy to stay aboard until it pulls into Cheltenham Spa on the big day.

    The reasons for being with him are obvious. He was the outstanding bumper performer of last season, winning the three most prestigious contests in the calendar. His transition to hurdling was a smooth one, with near faultless displays in his first two starts including a Grade 1 at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting.

    His jumping technique was particularly pleasing, being fluent in the main and athletic enough to get himself out of trouble when meeting one on an imperfect stride. So far, so very good.

    However, as everyone knows, he proved very disappointing in the Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.

    Willie blamed the ride, with Paul Townend setting what the sectional times show was a slightly faster than ideal pace in front. However, more so than that, the fact that the horse came home lame from the race suggests to me that it is a run worth forgiving.

    Willie has had just over five weeks to get him back where he wants him and that is more than enough time for the master to work his magic.

    Willie has said that they will ride Facile Vega differently at Cheltenham and some have questioned the viability of this due to how free they perceived him to be at Leopardstown. Personally, I can't have this. Facile Vega didn't go faster than ideal due to being free, he went as fast as he was asked to go.

    Look back at his bumper form and he settled just fine under much quieter rides, so I don't anticipate any issues with him being ridden a bit more quietly in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

    As well as that, history has shown us that Willie Mullins is a builder when it comes to his young horses. Season after season, his novices may well go through the campaign unbeaten, but he doesn't like to really put the boot to the floor until the spring festivals.

    Think back to the likes of Appreciate It, Douvan and Vautour as novice hurdlers.

    They won their lead-up races and were leading contenders for this contest, but it wasn't until the big day that they really opened up and took their form up to another level. That's the way Willie trains them and I suspect those that have deserted Facile Vega might well be made to regret it.

    Back Facile Vega 2pt Win 13:30 Cheltenham @

    3.4

    Lots of Love for Brandy in Mares' Hurdle

    Back Brandy Love 2pts Win in 16:10 Cheltenham @ 8.415/2

    The Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle (16:10) is always a tough one for me. I strongly feel that it shouldn't exist in it's current format, but the fecking thing has a tendency to throw up a very engaging contest and that is very much the case this season.

    Honeysuckle will be the fairy tale result on what is likely to be her final start and I could certainly see it happening. Her run in the Irish Champion Hurdle was quite good considering the steady pace on a sound surface wasn't ideal for her, but her price is short enough for one that is steadily on the downgrade in what is a strong renewal of the race.

    The one I've had in mind for the race for quite some time is the Willie Mullins-trained Brandy Love.

    Those with long memories and/or that hold grudges might remember that she was one of my strongest bets for last year's Cheltenham Festival in the Mares' Novice Hurdle, but was ruled out very late after a minor setback.

    One can imagine the scenes in the Blake household when she returned to the track the following month and made mincemeat out of the eventual winner of the Mares' Novice Hurdle Love Envoi...

    The reason I've had such a long-term admiration for Brandy Love is a simple one. She has looked to be a mare of top-class ability to my eye from an early stage of her career.

    Before one delves into her form, it should be viewed in the context that this mare really doesn't like going right-handed. It can be seen as far back as her racecourse debut in a bumper at Fairyhouse where she ended up on the near-side rail in the straight, but it has been much clearer since she has gone hurdling.

    She has produced two remarkable performances over hurdling. The first was when she produced one of the most wayward performances one will ever see at Graded level over hurdles in a Grade 3 mares' novice at Fairyhouse in January 2022, jumping violently left throughout, but particularly badly at the fourth-last, third-last and second-last hurdles.

    It was incredible that she was still competitive after all that, but it was even more remarkable that she only just lost out to a mare as talented as Allegorie De Vassy.

    The second was her aforementioned victory in a Grade 1 mares' novice hurdle at Fairyhouse off the back of an interrupted preparation. Paul Townend did an excellent job in largely confining her will to jump left until she went left at the final two flights, but it wasn't enough to stop her hammering Love Envoi by eight lengths.

    Her preparation for this season hasn't been totally straightforward as she was late coming back to Mullins and took time to come to hand.

    She was expected to need the run on her belated return to action last month and duly shaped that was when below form in finishing third to Queens Brook at Punchestown, another right-handed track.

    Brandy Love will finally get her chance to return to a left-handed track in the Mares' Hurdle.

    The fact that she has been able to rise to an official rating of 149 despite her last three runs coming at tracks that have been so notably to her dislike suggests that she could well be potentially the best mare in training.

    She'll arguably need to be just that to win what is such a strong renewal of this race, but I'm prepared to back her to be just that.

    Back Brandy Love 2pt Win 16:10 Cheltenham @

    8.4

    Click here to find out what Kevin's Five Festival bets are across the week.


    Racing... Only Bettor. Day 1 at Cheltenham. Watch below.

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