The turn of the New Year means one thing for racing fans, the Cheltenham countdown is officially underway! We’re less than two months away from the Greatest Show on Turf and already punters are placing their ante-post bets.
bet365 are NRNB and Best Odds Guaranteed* on the five standout races of the Festival, giving you the safety net of backing a horse for a race you think they may run in, but if they don’t then you will get your stake returned. Here we preview each of those 5 races below. Please note that all prices are subject to change.
The Champion Hurdle is the main showcase of day one at the Festival, and the current favourite is Nicky Henderson’s Epatante (11/4). Fresh from a convincing win in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton she has just one blip on her CV, a ninth-place finish in the Mares Novices’ last year when she was said to be Nicky’s “best chance of the meeting”.
Envoi Allen (4/1) is clearly one of the top Novices’ this season, and it remains to be seen if connections will take a chance and step him up against the older horses. Whichever way Gordon Elliot chooses to go with him Chevley Park Stud’s star novice will be in with an almighty chance of becoming a two-time Cheltenham winner.
Honeysuckle (4/1) has won seven races in a row and is yet to taste defeat in her career, she does have an easier assignment in the Mares’, but an open-looking Champion Hurdle could tempt Henry De Bromhead for a shot at glory.
Willie Mullins has a trio of horses all with Grade 1’s to their names, but consistency has been hard to come by from Sharjah (8/1), Saldier (6/1) and Klassical Dream (9/1). Pentland Hills (6/1) enjoyed a fine debut season over hurdles having won three from three but will have to step up from his seasonal reappearance when 5th in the International Hurdle.
Altior (5/2) will be looking to make historic back-to-back-to-back Champion Chase titles, but his prep this year has been hampered to say the least. His unbeaten run was ended when stepping up in trip against Paul Nicholls’ Cyrname at Ascot and a spate of entries have been left unfulfilled due to injury. Henderson is now going down the tried and tested route taken with his star chaser in 2017 and 2018 – the Game Spirit Chase followed by Prestbury Park.
Looking at the rest of the field, Defi Du Seuil (3/1) looks most likely to race Altior the closest should they both go and you wouldn’t like to bet against the Philip Hobbs runner in what would be a mouth-watering clash. He has Cheltenham form, having won the Triumph Hurdle and the JLT previously. He’s currently two from two this season, having recently beaten Un De Sceaux in the Tingle Creek, however the pair are now set to lock horns again in the Clarence House.
Chacun Pour Soi (4/1) is likely to run a big race if fit, having beaten Defi Du Seuil at Punchestown, and aside from a minor setback in a thriller to A Plus Tard at the Rewards Club Chase at Leopardstown, his form suggests Willie Mullins’ charge will be sure to be there or thereabouts come race day.
One with major interest in the race is the legendary Douvan (10/1), a barnstorming run at Clonmel last year set tongues wagging asking if he could possibly do it again? It would be quite the spectacle should the nine-year-old roll back the years, storm up the hill and win at Cheltenham for a third time in the Rich Ricci colours, surely not a single racing fan would begrudge seeing such a sight. As Willie Mullins once said: ‘He’s one of the best on his day, you would be foolish to ever rule him out”.
2019 winner Paisley Park (Evs) was one of the great stories of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival for owner Andrew Gemmell and trainer Emma Lavelle. An unbeaten campaign culminated in Aidan Coleman navigating a tricky race and almost blundering the last to land the spoils for popular connections. This year’s race should prove to be just as competitive with Paisley Park looking to be the first horse since Big Buck’s in 2012 to win back-to-back Stayers’ Hurdles.
Opposition is difficult to predict given Paisley’s inclusion, but If The Cap Fits (7/1), who has had a nice start to his campaign, looks likely to be in the mix. Trainer Harry Fry has been bullish about his chances and with the pair set to clash in the Cleeve Hurdle, his horse, who is within 3lbs on official rating with Paisely, will be much shorter should he give a good account of himself at the end of January.
Eddie O’Leary has hinted that 2017 Mares’ Hurdle winner Apple’s Jade (7/1) could head to the race after her win at Leopardstown over 3 miles, beating the likes of Unowhatimeanharry, Penhill and Bacardys. If the Gigginstown mare takes this route her mares allowance will surely play a part come race day.
With no clear indications so far as to who will be running in Thursday’s race, last years’ winner, Frodon (6/1), led by Bryony Frost, landed a wonderful story for her and Paul Nicholls last year and will most certainly be hoping for the same this time around. A win in the Silviniaco Conti Chase over Top Notch gave connections a much needed boost ahead of the big day. Stable mate Cyrname (8/1) accounted for Altior famously last year, but it’s well known the Ascot specialist isn’t a fan of the hallowed Cheltenham turf.
Min (4/1), 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.
A Plus Tard (5/1) was sensational when beating Chacun Pour Soi in December and looks one of the main players here, a successful Dublin Chase will help Henry De Bromhead decide where he will end up running, whether it be the Champion Chase or Ryanair for the 2019 Close Brothers winner.
Defi Du Seuil (7/2) also has an entry for this, along with the Champion Chase, similar to last year where the Phillip Hobbs runner had two entries. A decision will be made closer to race day as to where and who the horse will face. Whoever lines up on the day will be hoping to join an illustrious list of past winners such as Vautour, Un De Sceaux, Uxizandre and Cue Card.
The showpiece event of the Festival takes place on the Friday, Willie Mullins finally landed his first-ever Gold Cup last year with Al Boum Photo (4/1), who made a wonderful reappearance at Tramore on New Year’s Day, with all roads now leading to Cheltenham, according to the Irish trainer.
Kemboy (5/1) 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.
Clan Des Obeaux (6/1) showed his class to win back-to-back King George’s, but it remains to be seen if Cheltenham suits, having never won at the track and finishing 5th in last year’s renewal. Lostintranslation (7/1) was easily beaten in the same race, but a stiffer test in the Gold Cup may suit the Colin Tizzard charge, who was so impressive when accounting for Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase.
Delta Work (15/2) is Gordon Elliott’s main hope and was very impressive when winning the Savills Chase LTO and was immediately shortened significantly in the betting. The Gigginstown charge, who was Ireland’s top staying novice last season, looks in lovely shape for a tilt at racing’s biggest prize.
Native River (12/1) has won once since his 2018 triumph and never troubled the winner in the race last year despite finishing fourth, while last year’s favourite, Presenting Percy (10/1), hasn’t shown anything to suggest he can win since victory in the 2018 RSA.
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