We move onto Day 3 of the Cheltenham Festival after a successful first two days of action – with the Preview articles +38.63pts to this point in time! Unfortunately my Laptop has decided to break on the worst possible weak, but I’ve put together the best article I could below. Good luck!
In any normal year Day 1 of the Cheltenham Festival is usually a clear highlight, but this season we are treated to a fantastic Day 2 card. We kick off this year’s Ladies Day with what many would call the ‘Irish Banker’ in Envoi Allen, an extremely exciting recruit to Hurdling for Gordon Elliot. That trainer is also responsible for another short-priced favourite on the day, as dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll bids to make it a hat-trick in the Cross Country Chase – setting up an unprecedented assault on Aintree to win three in a row. By far the most exciting contest on the day however is the feature Grade 1 Champion Chase, where three of the very best two-mile Chasers line up. Reigning Champion Altior will face his toughest task to date against young prodigies Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi. In what will hopefully be a battle for the ages, let’s hope that Day 2 of the Cheltenham Festival can be just as successful as the first.
We’ve had to overcome some obstacles in the build up the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, but we are racing, and it promises to be another exhilarating week of National Hunt action! Day 1 will get underway at 13:30 on Tuesday with the famous Cheltenham roar, and there really is no better curtain raiser in sport. The first day is traditionally my favourite of the four, with the feature Grade 1 Champion Hurdle taking center stage. It’s been well documented that this year’s renewal isn’t the strongest, and that notion is perhaps backed up by a field of 17 lining up, by far the largest entry in the last decade. Although coming into the race there doesn’t look to be a star, I do believe one will emerge – similarly to Buveur D’Air in 2017. Elsewhere on the card we have two further Grade 1s for two-mile Novice Hurdlers (Supreme) and two-mile Novice Chasers (Arkle), both packed with young improving Horses. To add further spice to proceedings, we’re also treated to a brilliant renewal of the Grade 1 Mares Hurdle, with the unbeaten Honeysuckle taking on superstar Mare Benie Des Dieux. It’s safe to say that I cannot wait to get to Prestbury Park!
2m1f Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1) – Friday 13th March 2020
It’s been a bit of a strange season in terms of Juvenile Hurdlers; in recent years we’ve come accustomed to JP McManus having the perceived ‘best’ four-year-old, with Horses under his ownership going off as Triumph Hurdle favourite in the past four successive years. Elsewhere high-profile trainers Gordon Elliot, Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins have a combined entry of two Horses in the 2020 Juvenile showpiece – a lowest joint entry since 2010. Despite the absence of famous connections, an intriguing trio of Juveniles emerged from quite an early stage; namely Allmankind, Aspire Tower and Goshen.
2m4½f Ryanair Chase (Grade 1) – Thursday 12th March 2020
The Ryanair Chase looks like a race which is going to cut up in my eyes, with the likes of Chacun Pour Soi, Delta Work, Cilaos Emery, Janika, Chris’s Dream, Bristol De Mai and Dynamite Dollars either running elsewhere, or skipping Cheltenham altogether. To be fair to the race however, these omissions won’t dampen the quality – with the top three in the betting all very good Horses.
3m½f RSA Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) – Wednesday 11th March 2020
There are two types of people in this world; those who are big fans of Champ, and those who cannot have him at all. I’m certainly in the latter camp. Continue reading “Cheltenham Festival Ante-Post: RSA Novices’ Chase”
2m½f Champion Hurdle (Grade 1) – Tuesday 10th March 2020
You don’t need me to tell you that this year’s renewal of the Champion Hurdle isn’t a vintage one – countless pundits and writers have been saying the same thing for months now. It’s funny how much a year changes a division in National Hunt Racing; it was only 12 months ago that we were licking our lips at the prospect of Laurina vs Apple’s Jade vs Buveur D’Air! As it turned out, the first two flopped and the latter named former Champion got injured on his sole start this season. In addition to the sad loss of last year’s brilliant winner Espoir D’Allen, the already fairly undistinguished 2019/20 two-mile Hurdle division has been blown apart – crying out for a new Champion to arise.
2m4½f Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase (Grade 3) – Thursday 12th March 2020
The Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase (Stable Plate for short!) is run over two-and-a-half miles on Day 3 of the Cheltenham Festival. The race takes place on the New Course, and is open to Horses aged five-years-old or over – providing that they have had at least three runs over Fences. Whilst the Stable Plate is a Handicap, there is no ceiling – which has allowed Horses with ratings as high as 158 to run over the past ten renewals. With the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase run over the same course and distance just over an hour prior, the race is aimed at Horses who are just below this level – and now also provides an opportunity for Horses who can’t get into the ever-competitive Northern Trust Novices’ Handicap Chase on Day 1 of the Festival. For many years this race had been considered a ‘British banker’ in terms of the Prestbury Cup, but the Irish have made a strong resurgence in recent times.
2m½f Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) – Wednesday 11th March 2020
The Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (better known as the Fred Winter) is run over two-miles on Day 2 of the Cheltenham Festival, and is the last Hurdles race of the week ran on the Old Course. The race is for four-year-old Horses only, and serves the purpose of taking lower rated Horses out of the Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle. Despite some seemingly less talented Juveniles running in the race, it is usually extremely competitive due to the nature of improving young Horses. The race has been won by some nice types in the past, with the likes of Sanctuaire, Diego Du Charmil and more recently Band Of Outlaws victorious. French recruits have an extremely good record in the race, but the last two winners have come off the Flat – including Joseph O’Brien’s 8/1 winner for this blog last year.
3m Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) – Thursday 12th March 2020
The Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle is run over three-miles on Day 3 of the Cheltenham Festival, culminating a 16 race long Qualifying series. Qualifiers for the Pertemps Final begin at Cheltenham way back in October of the current season, with races taking place across the UK from Exeter to Musselburgh, as well as Leopardstown and Punchestown in Ireland. In order to Qualify for the race a Horse must finish in the first six places of a Qualifier, which means that Horses with Handicap marks high enough to get into the race would usually rather finish sixth than first! This caveat means the Pertemps Final has a completely different dynamic to that of an ordinary Cheltenham Festival race, as it’s not all about finding a Horse with the best recent form. One factor that does remain constant in regard to finding a Festival Handicap winner however is that you need a Horse who is ahead of their mark, be that through careful plotting by connections, or untapped potential.
2m5f Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) – Tuesday 11th March 2020
The Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle is the first Handicap on Day 2 of the Cheltenham Festival, run over two-and-a-half miles. The race will inevitably have a bit of cross-over with the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle as they are run over the same distance, but the Coral Cup is aimed at Horses higher up in the Handicap. Last year William Henry saw off the top weight and much missed Wicklow Brave in a thrilling finish. Recently the Coral Cup has been contested by subsequent Grade 1 performers Whisper, Supasundae and Topofthegame.
2m4½f Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (Class 2) – Friday 13th March 2020
The Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle is the concluding race of the Cheltenham Festival, run over two-and-a-half miles. The race is for Conditional Jockeys’ only, and is named in honour of the legendary fifteen-times Champion Trainer. Certain trainers like to target this race due to their admiration and respect for Martin Pipe – especially Gordon Elliot. Whilst the race isn’t one of the most high-class affairs of the week, you can start to get a picture as to who is being targeted for the race around this time of year. The British and Irish Handicappers start giving marks to Novices’ who have had three runs over Hurdles (usually happens around January time), which gives a rough idea as to if a Horse is Grade 1 standard. Although some Horses might not be up to that level before the Spring Festivals, plenty will get a mark that looks exploitable in Handicaps – with further improvement likely to come. When you combine these sorts of Horses with trainers who like to win the Martin Pipe, betting angles start to shine through.
3m6f National Hunt Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase (Grade 2) – Tuesday 10th March 2020
The National Hunt Chase is the longest race run at the Cheltenham Festival, traditionally being dubbed the ‘four-miler’. After the controversies of last year’s renewal with only four Horses finishing the race however, a BHA review has made several changes to the race conditions for 2020. Significantly, the race distance has been reduced to 3m6f, with the number of fences jumped decreasing from 25 to 23. The participants also have more boxes to tick; Horses must have a minimum rating of 120, have ran at least twice over fences (including finishing in the first four of a Chase over 2m7f+), and have ran at least once during the current season. With the race being for Amateur riders, the Jockey’s also have new conditions to meet; they must have ridden a minimum of 20 times over fences, achieving at least five winners, all under National Hunt rules. Safety is clearly paramount in Racing, so fingers crossed these changes to the race conditions will provide a middle ground – as some fantastic Horses have graduated from this race in recent years including; Cause Of Causes, Minella Rocco, Rathvinden, Native River and of course the legendary Tiger Roll.
2m4f Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed) – Tuesday 10th March 2020