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Cheltenham Festival 2020 Preview

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Champion Hurdle

The Champion Hurdle will see Benie Des Dieux installed as the market favourite as Willie Mullins has already seen injury casualties in Saldier, Klassical Dream and Douvan. Last year, his superstar mare tasted his first defeat across nine races, crashing at the final hurdle in the loss and Rich Ricci opined afterwards that CH was a realistic option, “We’ll have to see, but it certainly has to be on the table”. That said, Ruby Walsh has also declared she’s Willie’s “best chance of the week”.

The second market favourite is Nicky Henderson’s Epatante (10/3) who displayed an incredible turn of pace in the Christmas Hurdle, thus recording a convincing victory. She has just one blot on her resume, and that was when she finished ninth in the Mares Novices’ last year when she was regarded as Nicky’s “best chance of the meeting”. Epatante has a great chance here on race day despite drifting recently in the market, and take into consideration her cough ailment which her trainer Henderson had moved quickly to allay possible fears and assuring that it is nothing serious.

At 5/1, Envoi Allen stands out as one of the top choices this term, and should prove a handful for most of the older horses competing in this one.He stands a great chance of becoming a two-time Cheltenham winner here, should Gordon Elliot choose to go with him.

Another big value market option is Irish Champion Hurdle winner, Honeysuckle (4/1), who has led an invincible career so far, including winning eight races on the spin. She has already showed Grade 1 form and has beaten the best two-milers Ireland has to offer. Henry De Bromhead does seem to favour an easier assignment in the Mares’ where we could be treated to a showdown with BDD, but a Champion Hurdle looking ever open could tempt connections and tip things in the favour of Rachael Blackmore.

Pentland Hills (9/2), enjoyed a banner debut campaign over hurdles, winning three from three contests but fell to 5th in the International Hurdle, and then falling to Ballyandy by inches in the Unibet Hurdle, a recent upturn in fortunes may yet see significant improvements.

Darver Star (16/1) is another with an outside chance in this betting. His trainer, Gavin Cromwell won the Champion Hurdle last year with Espoir d’Allen and he looks worthy of backing for another impressive year, the marquee odds notwithstanding.

In his last two races, he fell by half a length to Honeysuckle before finishing four off Envoi Allen and Abacadabras. Such type of form is staggering and impressive enough and when one compares him against the other horses on shorter values, you simply feel it is a decent enough risk worth taking.

And then, you have Silver Streak with an even sizeable 25/1, whose trainer is Evan Williams. Despite a five-length defeat to Epatante, he looks worth backing. And with the field likely to cut off before raceday, such odds simply cannot be neglected.

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Champion Chase:

Altior (2/1) will be looking to make historic back-to-back-to-back Champion Chase titles, but his preparations this year has not been plain-sailing. His unbeaten run was ended when stepping up in trip against Paul Nicholls’ Cyrname at Ascot and a spate of entries were left unfulfilled due to injury. A third Game Spirit Chase victory restored some faith that Henderson’s star chaser is still the one to beat, he hit his usual flat spot during the race, but after clearing the last his renowned turn of foot saw him fly past Dynamite Dollars and Sceau Royal. So, history will be made should he go on to land a third Champion Chase and fifth Cheltenham victory.

Defi Du Seuil also on 2/1 is by far the biggest danger to Altior with the Philip Hobbs runner set for a mouth-watering clash against his older rival. Defi has Cheltenham form, having won the Triumph and JLT previously. He’s currently three from three this season, having won the Tingle Creek and Clarence House Chase, beating Un De Sceaux in wonderful fashion in both. A tilt at the Ryanair has been shelved by Hobbs – “He’s been competing at two miles all season and he’s won all of his races, so it makes sense to run him in the Champion Chase”. Defi notoriously loves the soft ground and with the recent weather in the UK his favoured turf may well be just that on day two.

A real big race beckons for Chacun Pour Soi (11/4) if fit, as he has already beaten Defi Du Seuil at Punchestown last May, and aside from a minor setback in a thriller to A Plus Tard at the Rewards Club Chase at Leopardstown, he bounced back with a four length success over Min in the Dublin Chase. “His jumping was electric. Jumping those fences down the back he was so slick and so fast. He was getting a length or a length-and-a-half at every fence without any effort”, Willie was quoted as saying after that morale-boosting victory.

Altior vs Defi Du Seuil vs Chacun Pour Soi going head-to-head in the showcase race on day two: this is pure bliss and encapsulates what Cheltenham is all about and it surely will have horse racing fans on the edge of their seats, and gasping in fun!

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Stayers’ Hurdle:

One of the success stories of 2019 Cheltenham Festival was that of winner Paisley Park (8/11), owned by Andrew Gemmell and trained by Emma Lavelle.

To cap off a flawless campaign, Aidan Coleman navigated a tricky race and despite almost fluffing the last, it just was enough to land the spoils for popular connections. He has since added the Long Distance Hurdle and Cleeve Hurdle to his list of win accolades, and put all opposition to the sword. He might not have the most prestige or finesse, but he just gets the job done every now and then, and he will now aim to be the first horse since Big Buck’s in 2012 to win back-to-back Stayers’ Hurdles. By some distance, he’s been most punters’ NAP of the week.

Thus, it makes that opposition is a tough one to call, given Paisley’s inclusion. Summerville Boy (7/1) could be a real threat, he was beaten just over a length (coincidentally by Paisley Park) when they took to the hurdles in the Cleeve Hurdle earlier this year. He’s now been aimed at this after a difficult time over fences, but Tom George’s 8yo has won at Cheltenham before (Supreme Novices’ 2018) and knows what it takes to get up that hill.

Emitom (10/1) is highly regarded by connections and a wonderful display in the Rendlesham enhanced the 6yo’s glowing reputation. Owner Warren Greatrex says he has the “world at his feet” – Greatrex famously won the Stayers’ with Cole Harden in 2015. Jockey Gavin Sheehan has since stated “he’s the one in the race who could really put it up to Paisley Park.”

Eddie O’Leary hinted that 2017 Mares’ Hurdle winner Apple’s Jade (14/1) could head to the race after her win at Leopardstown over 3 miles, beating the likes of Unowhatimeanharry, Penhill and Bacardys. But after being pulled up in the Galmoy Hurdle, Gordon Elliott suggested this race could be her swansong.

Martin Brassil, trainer of City Island (12/1), has described this year’s renewal as “very open if you take out the favourite”. His horse is yet to run further than 2m5f but Brassil is “confident” he will stay 3m – he has Cheltenham form as well, beating Champ in last year’s Ballymore.

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Ryanair:

This one has seen some wonderful scenes; a few names which includes Vautour, Cue Card, Uxizandre and Un De Sceux have a place in many race-goers’ hearts. Last years’ winner, Frodon (6/1), led by Bryony Frost, landed a magnificent story for her and Paul Nicholls last year and will most certainly be hoping to bring the house down again this year. A win in the Silviniaco Conti Chase over Top Notch gave connections a much needed boost ahead of the big day.

Min (3/1) who has been beaten by Altior in each of his last three races at the Festival seems to be best suited to 2m4f nowadays, racking up three wins from four when running over the distance. He may finally break his Cheltenham duck for Willie Mullins should he be entered here. Mullins will also run Duc Des Genievres (25/1) in the race, the winner of last year’s Arkle has since raced five times and hasn’t entered the Winners Enclosure.

A Plus Tard (9/4) showed talent in abundance when besting Chacun Pour Soi in December and looks one of the players to beat here. He still has entries for this race and the Champion Chase, but it may be that a red-hot Champion Chase may push Henry De Bromhead to target here for the Chevley Park Stud stayer. Rachael Blackmore steered him to a 16L victory in last year’s Close Brothers and she will be in the saddle again for more of the same.

Rider Onthe Storm (7/1) rather fortuitously accounted for Cyrname in an incident-packed Betfair Chase, it was not the greatest of victories given that Traffic Fluide seemed to be closing in on it before inevitably falling. Nigel Twiston-Davies has done a wonderful job with him, however, he joined the stable on a mark of 140 and now sits on 162, it remains to be seen how much that effort will have taken out of him come race day.

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Gold Cup:

The showpiece event of the Festival comes up this Friday, a three-mile two-furlong slog with the winner’s name firmly enmeshed in racing history and prestige, it is a race all trainers want to win, and that expectation of watching their horses fly up the hill to land the spoils will be at it’s utmost come Friday.

Willie Mullins won his first-ever Gold Cup last year with Al Boum Photo (7/2), who made a wonderful reappearance at Tramore on New Year’s Day winning the same race the year before his Cheltenham success, with all roads now leading to Cheltenham again, according to the Irish trainer. No horse has won the Gold Cup two years on the spin since the legendary Best Mate 17 years ago and Mullins thinks he has a “fantastic chance” this year.

Nicky Henderson has not won the Gold Cup since 2013, his hopes this year rest on Santini (7/2), the horse that splits racing fans. After coming second to Topofthegame in last year’s RSA, he’s yet to win at the Festival in two attempts. Wind surgery last November followed by a much better victory over Bristol De Mai in the Cotswold Chase has seen him installed as the joint-favourite for Seven Barrows with Henderson stating that “he’s in terrific form” and “crazy fresh”. Well, hope it helps here.

Kemboy (7/1) showed the greatest level of form at the end of last season but unseated jockey David Mullins in the race last year. An enforced break from racing has also hampered preparation, coming 4th at Leopardstown at Christmas followed by a close-fought second to Delta Work at the Irish Gold Cup.

Delta Work (9/2) is Gordon Elliott’s main hope and was very impressive when winning the Savills Chase, following that up by landing the Irish Gold Cup so impressively LTO. He was immediately shortened significantly in the betting and thus looks the real form horse. The Gigginstown charge, who was Ireland’s top staying novice last season, looks in lovely shape for a tilt at racing’s biggest prize.

Colin Tizzard sadly had to scratch Native River from the betting, who he had talked up so much in the past few weeks. But he now has Lostintranslation (6/1) who was pulled in the King George on Boxing Day, a stiffer test in the Gold Cup may suit after impressing so much when accounting for Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase. Robbie Power has come out and stated he is “going under the radar” in the betting, something he says is the place you want to be on the grandest stage.

Clan Des Obeaux (7/1) won back-to-back King George’s impressively, but it remains to be seen if Cheltenham suits, having never won at the track and finishing 5th in last year’s renewal. And then Percy (11/1) in the biggest underdog, having not shown anything to suggest he can win since victory in the 2018 RSA, although he hasn’t been awful in any of his three outings this season, and so remains one to keep an eye on as an each-way chance.

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Supreme:

The opener of the Festival, the race that begins with the now famous roar from the thousands in attendance, and one that the likes of Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh used to dominate. With Ruby now retired, Mullins has Asterion Forlange (7/2), a relentless galloper who won the Chanelle Pharmer. Interestingly, four of the last five horses to attempt the Chanelle Pharmer-Supreme double have been successful in doing so, the most recent being the Willie Mullins-trained horse, Klassical Dream.

Shishkin (5/2) heads the market without Envoi Allen (who likely won’t go this route) and the Nicky Henderson charge looks a future Grade 1 type. The only concern being that his final preparatory run was at Huntingdon where horses are 0/128 when running there, Nicky has stated though “he’s got to be one of the best chances”. The Seven Barrows stable also have Chantry House (7/1), another exciting prospect who has been so impressive over hurdles who should be there.

Gordon Elliot looks set to unleash Abacadbras (9/2), another future Grade 1 horse that has the notorious form of Envoi Allen in his locker. Beaten only half length from his superstar stable mate he looks one of the main players in a hotly-contested race. He’s ran four times over hurdles, only succumbing to the mighty Envoi, he’s a speedy operator who will be hoping there isn’t too much give in the ground.

Fiddlerontheroof (6/1) has some of the strongest novice form in the race this year. He’s on a mark of 154 with the previous five winners of the race all winning off marks of 154 (Klassical Dream), 150 (Summerville Boy), 144 (Labaik), 155 (Altior) and (Douvan) 155, so ratings wise he is slap bang in there. He bolted up in the Tolworth in January and loves softer ground all of which combine into making him a serious contender here.

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Ballymore:

The opener on day two could end up being one of the races of the week. Envoi Allen (11/8), the unbeaten Chevley Park Stud star is unbeaten in all seven races he has contended. The winner of last year’s Champion Bumper is still prominent in the betting for three races at the Festival. It’s the Ballymore however, where the Gordon Elliot charge looks most likely to end up. His form lines are staggering with winner after winner coming out from behind him. He will most likely go off odds-on on the day of race, and he, alongside Paisley Park, will form the bedrock of many punters’ accumulators.

As like Paisley Park in the Stayers’, opposition is difficult to predict with most wanting to avoid Envoi, however, Sporting John (6/1) is one of the most interesting runners. Phillip Hobbs’ unbeaten charge has looked imperious in his four runs – most recently beating Master Debonair by 12 lengths at Ascot and with Barry Geraghty on board, he could push Envoi as close as he ever has.

Another with some strong form lines is Willie Mullins’ The Big Getaway (6/1), a win over Fiddlerontheroof last year and a 17 length success on Boxing Day puts him in the mix for the Ballymore, which Willie admitted is his likely route. He’s another where if the ground has some ease in it (which it likely will have) will be right in the mix.

Thyme Hill (15/2) is unbeaten this season and has beaten some nice types along the way including The Cashel Man, Fiddlerontheroof and Champagne Well – he may lack the star quality to win a Ballymore but he digs in and gets the job done. 

Envoi Allen vs Sporting John vs The Big Getaway – if all get to the Festival in one piece, the opening race on St. Patricks Day could well be one of the races of the week and one where Envoi will have to be at his very best to beat some strong opposition.

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A rundown of the other races:

Tiger Roll (10/11) is one of the main attractions of the Festival in the Cross Country, arguably the most likeable horse in racing and will be looking to win at Prestbury Park for a fifth time and land a third Cross Country Chase. If he storms up the hill and crosses the finish line in front yet again the celebrations in the stands will be a sight to truly behold. A French raider called Easysland (3/1) may well be one to try and spoil the party, the JP McManus-owned 6yo looks the real deal and a massive danger to Tiger Roll’s chances.

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The Mares’ could turn out to be one of the races of the week. If Benie Des Dieux (8/11) and Honeysuckle (6/4) both turn up, then get ready to witness something special. The two best mares’ in training going head-to-head is exactly what the Festival is about. Should either of them opt to contest an open-looking Champion Hurdle, expect the other to go off odds-on for this race and be right there at the business end of the race.

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The Triumph Hurdle pits a few interesting horses together with Solo (3/1), Goshen (7/2) and Allmankind (9/2) the three likely to be going stride-by-stride as they approach the winning post. Three horses that love to make the running in their races, they’ve won by a combined 124 lengths in their seven races between them this season and rightly head the market. Trainers Gary Moore and Dan Skelton will be hoping to register their first winner of the race at the Festival, whereas the Paul Nicholls runner will be looking to build on a stunning Adonis Hurdle success.

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The RSA Chase usually sees the winner talked up for the Gold Cup next year, Topofthegame was the winners last year, ahead of Lostintranslation, the former was sadly ruled out for the season but Colin Tizzard’s charge won the Betfair Chase and is now a short price for the showpiece event. The main players this year seem to be Champ (3/1), Allaho (4/1), Minella Indo (4/1) and Copperhead (7/1). All of which have won convincingly this season –It is interesting to note that eight of the last 10 winners of this race have been seven-year olds, with Minella Indo being the only one of those four listed who is seven.

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The legendary Faugheen (9/2) has won the Ballymore and Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham and will likely head to the Marsh Novices’ (previously the JLT) – after winning an incredible 11th Grade one at Leopardstown in February. The Machine winning on the grandest stage of them all, in what could be his farewell race, will be a sight to behold and something every racing fan would love to see.

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bet365 also have a Top Trainer market on site –always and interesting market, with the chances of the prize heading over the Irish Sea being highly likely. Willie Mullins (6/5) and Gordon Elliot (9/4) being the main two with the big guns in their stables. Nicky Henderson (3/1) has a list of star names in his stable ranging from Alitor, Epatante, Santini and Champ – he was the last trainer to win the award that wasn’t named Willie or Gordon, a whopping eight years ago. The price on Mullins however looks generous, he currently has *nineteen* horses going to the festival as a single price for their respective races, quite outstanding when you think most trainers wouldn’t mind two horses at a single price, the depth of his stables talent is endless.

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