Cheltenham 2021 off to cracking start with impressive Appreciate It #Cheltenham https://t.co/bnOAhb4a0g pic.twitter.com/delujO6127
— irishracing.com (@irishracing) March 16, 2021
No horse put more distance between themselves and their rivals at the Cheltenham Festival come the finish line this year than Appreciate It.
He gave the premier National Hunt horse racing meeting’s winningest handler and multiple Irish champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins a seventh success in its opening race, which also opened the floodgates for the Emerald Isle. The tide swept almost all British horses away and powerful domestic stables like those of Ditcheat maestro Paul Nicholls and Dan Skelton went without any victories.
This trend continued into the Grand National meeting and in the world’s most famous steeplechase itself. Each of the first five home in the Aintree showpiece, and all but three of 15 finishers were trained in Ireland.
Besides being the winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival day 1, Appreciate It landed two Grade 1 races at Leopardstown on his side of the Irish Sea earlier in the season. Whatever happens at Punchestown at the end of the campaign, this is a seemingly seriously smart horse on paper based on his results going forward.
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A modern record margin of 24 lengths for Supreme success, if taken literally, suggests Appreciate It is a horse with the world at his feet. Closer scrutiny of his form may give a different impression, however. Appreciate It was sent off odds-on for three of his first four hurdles starts, so the market thought there wasn’t much in the way of opposition.
The two-mile novice hurdle division has been particularly weak this jumps season, then. Repeat victories over previous Grade 1 winner Ballyadam showed the superiority of Appreciate It, but there was a big chance for his rival to advertise that form when stepped up in trip at Aintree.
“Ballyadam” and @jackkennedy15 win @BarOneRacing Royal Bond Hurdle for owners @CPStudOfficial and trainer @gelliott_racing with groom @camsharples
— Pat Healy (@patcashhealy) November 29, 2020
What happened instead was Ballyadam flopped, further denting the value of the Supreme. Appreciate It faced the smallest field in the race’s history with just seven rivals in total. The third home, For Pleasure, is a keen sort who also bombed out during the Grand National Festival.
There was also a final flight faller, Appreciate It’s stable companion Blue Lord, in the Supreme which may mean his comprehensive victory flatters him slightly. Nonetheless, bookmakers make him the early favourite for next year’s Arkle over fences. He is also prominent in the betting on the Marsh Novices’ Chase and could do no more than beat the horses put up against him.
Wins in an Irish point-to-point and in various National Hunt Flat races, plus second in the Champion Bumper, earlier in his career mean Appreciate It is clearly quite a versatile horse. Some of his prospective Arkle rivals could certainly be campaigned over longer trips if switching to fences, and you could also say the same about him.
Mullins initially had novice chasing in mind for Appreciate It long-term. Whether his exploits over the smaller obstacles could force his master trainer into a rethink and tilt at the Champion Hurdle next season remains to be seen. If tackling the Cheltenham Festival opening day feature, Appreciate It may end up against the formidable and currently unbeaten Henry De Bromhead trained mare Honeysuckle sooner or later.