The Cheltenham Festival from March 10th to 13th is already firmly printed in the diary of all National Hunt racing fans. The early trials have provided more questions than answers. The King George meeting at Kempton will hopefully provide more definite clues for the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle.
Both races already have new favourites since the start of the new season. A freak injury sadly proved fatal for reigning Champion Hurdler Espoir d’Allen. Buveur d’Air was tentatively moved to the head of the Cheltenham betting to regain a title he won in 2017 and 2018. Unfortunately he has also been side-lined after picking up a serious injury in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Klassical Dream has featured in plenty of ante-post Cheltenham bets. The jury is out on him after he suffered a surprising defeat behind stable companion Saldier in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in November. The winner was having only his second start since winning a Grade 1 at the same course in April 2018.
Triumph Hurdle winners have a modest record in this race but Pentland Hills has shortened in price, despite being beaten in his first two starts this season. He was 20-1 after winning at Aintree in April but is now as short as 8-1 in the Cheltenham betting. He looked to have the Haydock Champion Hurdle Trial in safe keeping but found very little on the run-in and was caught on the post by Ballyandy.
Bookmakers have been prepared to go earlier than ever with their Cheltenham special offers in recent years. With doubts about so many of the participants, it may pay to check out the free bets for the Cheltenham Gold Cup Day. The exclusive free bets for the exciting fourth day of the race will be introduced early in March. There are already ante-post betting offers on nineteen Cheltenham Festival races and special odds on selected horses to win any race during the meeting.
The picture for the Cheltenham Gold Cup is only marginally clearer. Willie Mullins broke his Gold Cup hoodoo with Al Boum Photo last season and he goes straight to Cheltenham following his easy comeback victory at in the New Year. Stable companion Kemboy was an early casualty 12 months ago but lowered the colours of Al Boum Photo at Punchestown in May.
The home defence is led by Lostintranslation who denied Bristol De Mai a hat-trick of victories in the Grade 1 Betfair Chase at Haydock. Last seasons form with Defi Du Seuil has worked out well but Colin Tizzard’s seven-year-old disappointed in the King George behind Clan Des Obeaux. Other Gold Cup hopefuls include Gordon Elliott’s Delta Work and Nicky Henderson’s Santini.
Altior’s is set to revert to two miles and attempt a third successive Queen Mother Champion Chase victory. He will be trying to equal the record set by Badsworth Boy (1983 – 1985). Altior made very hard work of winning this race last season and Chacun Pour Soi is thought to be the pick of the Willie Mullins-trained entries. The Queen Mother is the only championship race to elude Mullins at the Cheltenham Festival.
Altior’s biggest danger is Defi Du Seuil who was so impressive when storming to victory in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot. The former Triumph Hurdle winner quickened away from Un De Sceaux with his rider able to ease down before crossing the line.
Cheltenham accounts for over half of the top forty betting races of the year in terms of turnover. With over half a billion pounds expected to be staked during festival week, punters will be looking for their Cheltenham “banker” bet. One horse who has kept to the script is Paisley Park, already a hot favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle.
Emma Lavelle’s gelding landed one of the gambles of the meeting in 2019 and looked as good as ever when winning at Newbury on his reappearance. He followed up in similar style when repeating his victory in the Cleeve Hurdle in January. The likes of Baracouda, Big Buck’s and Inglis Drever have dominated the stayers’ division in the past and it will take a good horse to lower Paisley Park’s colours.
Tiger Roll is another horse that the bookmakers will be wary of. The dual Grand National winner is due to run in the Cross Country Chase as he targets an unprecedented Aintree hat-trick. With many punters keeping their powder dry until the trials have been completed, 2020 promises to be another record-breaking Cheltenham Festival.