The countdown is truly on towards the pinnacle of the National Hunt season: the 2021 Cheltenham Festival.
This year is likely to be very different with no ‘Cheltenham Roar’ and limited attendees on site but that won’t stop the excitement of punters up and down the country.
From the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Tuesday 16th March, right through to the Martin Pipe Conditional on Friday 19th, expect no let-up when it comes to top-quality racing on the turf.
As always, we now have the annual conundrum of race targets for horse, trainer and owners and over the next eight weeks, we’ll try and unpick some of those questions… and hopefully put a few winners your way…
First up, our early Cheltenham Day 1 Racing Tips as we look at the key action from the first day of the festival….
CHELTENHAM DAY 1 TIPS | LATEST CHELTENHAM BETTING
Day 1 gets off to a flying start with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Arkle and Champion Hurdle.
Here’s our look at the ante-post betting…
Cheltenham Day 1 Racecard
1:20pm – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
1:55pm – Arkle Challenge Trophy
2:30pm – Festival Handicap Chase
3:05pm – Champion Hurdle
3:40pm – Mares’ Hurdle
4:15pm – Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle
4:50pm – National Hunt Chase
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Appreciate It was a banker for many in last year’s Champion Bumper but he was beaten by Wille Mullin’s second string Ferney Hollow, who is now out for the season after sustaining an injury before Christmas.
The former has won both his engagements this season so far and deserves to be towards the top of the market for this year’s curtain raiser.
Harry Fry’s charge Metier has impressed on three starts this season, most recently in the Tolworth at Sandown at the start of January where he won by 12L.
His trainer has said that he wouldn’t be in a hurry to run him on drying ground but admits good horses need to run on all grounds.
The sumptuous Shishkin – hailed as the next big thing – hasn’t yet put a foot wrong to suggest otherwise.
Two runs so far this season saw him win by a combined 36 lengths, and it is expected he will head to the Arkle before a tilt at the Champion Chase in 2022.
Elsewhere in the market, Allmankind has had a positive juvenile season, taking well to fences and could be the hot favourite’s closest rival.
Where do we start!
Epatante begun the season as favourite and, after her win at Newcastle where she won convincingly, there weren’t many people offering alternative selections for the first championship race of the festival.
She was then soundly beaten in the Christmas Hurdle by Silver Streak who was extremely unlucky in his first two starts of the season, where he was ‘carried out’ at Newcastle before low sun at Cheltenham meant hurdles were taken out and a difficult passage through meant he lost the race by a nose.
Then there is Goshen. Arguably, he would have produced one of the best Triumph Hurdle performances in recent years before disaster struck at the last.
He returned after a six-month break with a couple of runs on the flat before disappointing in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December (before subsequently being diagnosed with a fibrillating heart).
Plans are afoot for him to head to Sandown in early February, and he will need to run well to put himself back in the mix. Still, at current prices he could be each-way value…if he is back to his best.
Sharjah was second in this last year after Patrick Mullins held him at the back before being produced late, but Epatante quickened away after the last to win by three lengths.
However, a positive performance in a Leopardstown Grade 1 over Christmas shows he is still very much a contender.
There he beat more fancied horses including Mullins-trained Saint Roi and the wily Abacadabras.
Elsewhere former champion Buveur D‘Air and newbie Song for Someone also have each-way opportunities if the main protagonists fail to fire.
CHELTENHAM DAY 2 TIPS
Day 2 of the festival is headed up by the Queen Mother Champion Chase, but it’s not lacking for Grade 1 action.
Monkfish may be the one to reel in should he run in the Festival Novices’ Steeple Chase, while a certain Tiger Roll could take centre stage in the Cross Country Chase…
Cheltenham Day 2 Racecard
1:20pm – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
1:55pm – Festival Novices’ Chase
2:30pm – Coral Cup
3:05pm – Queen Mother Champion Chase
3:40pm – Cross Country Chase
4:15pm – Grand Annual Chase
4:50pm – Champion Bumper
Festival Novices’ Steeple Chase
Formerly known as the RSA Chase, potential candidates to take the 2022 Gold Cup will line up here to prove their credentials for the blue riband event.
2020 Albert Bartlett winner Monkfish heads the market and two wins in Ireland so far this season suggest he has leading claims, including beating Latest Exhibition by three lengths at Leopardstown.
Royale Pagaille put up a very impressive performance at Haydock in late January off top weight. Trained by Venetia Williams and owned by the Riccis, he could well go straight to the Gold Cup and be the first novice to win it since Coneygree in 2015. The jockey in that win at Haydock, Tom Scudamore, was very bullish about the horse, and who wouldn’t be!
The Big Breakaway started the season with a ten-length victory over Doc Penfro but then failed to fire at Exeter and Kempton. Jumping has been his biggest problem but there is no doubting he has an impressive engine and if it did come together; then he could be a big player.
Next Destination last appeared at Cheltenham in 2018 when finishing third behind Samcro in the Ballymore. He has since switched from Willie Mullins to Paul Nicholls and not finished outside the top two (after a 920-day break), winning his last two outings at Newbury and Warwick respectively.
Queen Mother Champion Chase
The outlook for Wednesday’s main event took a turn on Saturday 23rd January when 14/1 shot First Flow beat Politologue at Ascot to further strengthen the claims of Chacun Pour Soi supporters, who is now a short-priced favourite.
The latter missed out at last year’s festival and whilst he has won both starts this season he hasn’t got the swagger of Champion Chase greats like Master Minded or Sprinter Sacre and is still lightly raced compared to his challengers.
Despite that Ascot defeat, Politologue can’t be ruled out given he is the reigning Champion Chase and Tingle Creek winner. Despite his career the grey probably hasn’t had the credit he deserves, yet will come into the festival with course form and hasn’t been outside the top two in his last three runs at the Gloucestershire course.
Nube Negra won very well in the Desert Orchid chase at Kempton over the Christmas period. It was his first run for 11 months and he may just improve again. Runner up that day was Altior who ran a credible race despite giving the winner 6lbs. The once unbeaten superstar is getting older and doesn’t owe anyone anything. Should he arrive close to his best, then he has a chance of regaining his crown.
For an outsider, don’t write off Rouge Vif just yet. The Harry Whittington-trained 7yo won well in October but two subsequent appearances haven’t lived up to that performance. However, they were both on soft ground and a change in conditions for the festival on better ground could bring him into an each-way reckoning (current price 27/1).
Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase
Everyone loves the Cross Country; 32 obstacles to clear across 3m and 6f. Tiger Roll has been synonymous with this race alongside his Grand National exploits, yet he was undone last year by 3/1 shot Easysland. Despite going off as the 8/11 favourite at the November meeting, last season’s Cross County champ was beaten into fourth place, albeit giving a lot of weight away to the three home in front of him. He and Tiger Roll (PU in the same race) still remain at the top of the market but there will be plenty in behind with a chance.
Potters Corner, the 2019 Welsh National winner has an entry in this race and finished a credible third over the same fences in November. His stamina credentials are not in question but despite this he didn’t jump with fluency that day; although he may come on for the experience.
Elsewhere in the market, Amazing Comedy won two races in France last year on very soft and heavy going. Whilst age is not on his side, ground conditions may suit if heavens open come race day.
CHELTENHAM DAY 3 TIPS
The stars are expected to be out in force on Day 3 of the festival, with Envoi Allen and Paisley Park among the big hitters looking to burnish their reputations on the penultimate day of action…
CHELTENHAM DAY 3 RACECARD
1:20pm – Marsh Novices’ Chase
1:55pm – Pertemps Final
2:30pm – Ryanair Chase
3:05pm – Stayers’ Hurdle
3:40pm – Festival Plate
4:15pm – Mares Novices’ Hurdle
4:50pm – Kim Muir Challenge Cup
Marsh Novices’ Chase
Envoi Allen looks set to line up as a lot of people’s banker in the Marsh, and the seven-year-old is odds-on to win at Cheltenham for the second consecutive year. Three runs and three wins this season suggest he will take all the beating.
As for main challengers, Dan Skelton’s Shan Blue impressed in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase before finishing 2nd behind Sporting John at Sandown earlier this month. He went off the 2/1 favourite for that race and looked the likely winner two out, putting in an impressive jump over the last before being ground down and beaten 3 3/4 lengths. Whilst well beaten by the market favourite in the Ballymore last year, he still has each-way claims.
Last year’s winner Min is expected to lead the charge again. Until his recent run at Leopardstown he hadn’t finished outside the top two since March 2019 when convincingly beaten in the Queen Mother Champion Chase by star two-miler chaser Altior. He jumped poorly in his latest outing and his connections will be hoping that was a one-off.
Prior to that, after a long lay-off he returned to win at Punchestown in December, his first race since the Cheltenham victory in March. Earlier, he had finished second behind Chacun Pour Soi in the lead up to winning in the 2020 Ryanair Chase.
In that John Durkin Memorial victory in December he beat Tornado Flyer by one length, though no one has any idea how the race played out due to poor visibility. He could be a big player again in a race he edged last year.
Elsewhere, Allaho – who like Min doesn’t appear to get three miles – won recently over 2m 4f at Thurles. He’s highly thought of by his trainer and has experience around Cheltenham, finishing third in last year’s RSA Chase.
2020 Novices’ Handicap Chase winner Imperial Aura franked that performance when winning his first two starts of the season. A visit to Kempton in January wasn’t as successful when he unseated jockey David Bass at the second fence.
He also has an entry in the Gold Cup but looks more likely to head for the Ryanair Chase. If you forgive him for his last outing, he’s still very much a contender.
Big Buck’s was the king of the staying division, earning over £1.3m in prize money and very few came close to beating him at Cheltenham. However, perhaps for the first time since he vacated the stage in 2014, we finally have an extremely competitive race in which the front two in the market look set to jump the last together.
2019 champion Paisley Park showed his quality when reversing the form with Thyme Hill in December’s Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, less than a month after the latter beat him at Newbury. Experts suggested that the nine-year-old would come on for the run at Newbury and he outstayed his market rival to win by a neck. Some thought Richard Johnson may have gone a little early on Thyme Hill that day and he may adopt alternative tactics come March.
Third that day was Roksana, who recemented her claims with an eight-length win over Magic of Light in January. With a 7lb advantage, she could get a lot closer to her two main market rivals than anticipated and maybe spring a surprise.
CHELTENHAM DAY 4 TIPS
As always, Cheltenham saves the best until last with the Gold Cup the highlight of Friday’s racing.
Will Al Boum Photo be in the picture as he bids to become the first horse since Best Mate to land three consecutive Gold Cups?
Read our Cheltenham Day 4 betting tips below…
CHELTENHAM DAY 4 RACECARD
1.20pm – Triumph Hurdle
1:55pm – County Hurdle
2.30pm – Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
3.05pm – Cheltenham Gold Cup
3:40pm – Foxhunter Steeple Chase
4.15pm – Mares’ Chase
4.50pm – Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys
The traditional Grade 1 opener on the final day of the festival looks to be as hotly contested as ever, with Zanahiyr the early favourite to get day four off to a flyer.
The four-year-old looks set to swerve the Supreme for this one as he looks to build on a hat-trick wins over the Irish Sea.
Quilixios‘ chances can’t be discounted either. He sent out a warning shot for this race on his last outing at Leopardstown, a 5 1/2 L win in the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle.
Alan King could have a final day winner in waiting if Tritonic can turn on the style in the Triumph.
He warmed up strongly for his potential Cheltenham bow with a commanding run at Ascot at the end of January and is expected to return to action at Kempton as King firms up his preparations for the festival.
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
Bobs Worth, Penhill and Minella Indo are just some of the illustrious names to have landed this Grade 1 race since its introduction in 2005… will another future star be born in the Albert Bartlett this year?
This renewal looks one of the harder to call on day four, with Stattler shading the betting after posting some fine form in Ireland this winter.
The six-year-old looked smart enough when a gallant third on his outing at the Dublin Racing Festival and would be one of the big stories of the final day, given his owner is none other than Ronnie Bartlett – the chairman of the race sponsors.
Adrimel looks hard to argue against if he can bring his A-game to the biggest stage of them all. Tom Lacey’s livewire made it a hat-trick of wins from his last three starts at Warwick in January and could be primed for a show-stopping run here as he bids to make amends for a disappointing outing in last year’s Champion Bumper.
With many UK racing fans wistfully dreaming of a beach holiday right now, it could be up to Barbados Buck’s to add some sunshine into proceedings on day four.
Paul Nicholls’ six-year-old has been in sizzling form this winter, adding to his back-to-back wins at Southwell with a 4L victory at Kempton in January.
Cheltenham Gold Cup
Cheltenham is a course where legends are born and made, and they wouldn’t come much bigger than Al Boum Photo if he can pull off that rarest of things: a third straight Gold Cup win.
Willie Mullins’ two-time champion was a surprise winner in 2019 at 12/1 and proved that run was no fluke last year as he squeezed out Santini by a neck.
The Irish trainer has been keeping his star turn under wraps since that win, but Al eased to a 19L victory on his seasonal reappearance at Tramore on New Year’s Day. Mullins is confident his unconventional stayer has one last big Gold Cup run left in him given only one nine-year-old – Don Cossack in 2016 – has won this race since 2012.
A Plus Tard could be well positioned to thwart Al Boum Photo in his hat-trick bid.
He was a handy third here in last year’s Ryanair Chase but it was his post-Christmas showing at Leopardstown that has got plenty of punters excited about his Gold Cup prospects.
The seven-year-old expertly navigated a stellar field containing the likes of Kemboy, Melon, Minella Indo, Presenting Percy and Delta Work to scoop the Savills Chase and propel himself towards the top of the Gold Cup betting.
That run proved he’s equipped for a 3m trip; now his connections will be hoping he’s a natural over the gruelling Gold Cup mark.
Looking for a longer shot?
The front-running Frodon once again looks to be sneaking under the radar in the early Gold Cup betting, and at 14-1, at least looks one for the shortlist given his previous exploits in upsetting the odds.
Paul Nicholls’ gutsy nine-year-old was a surprise winner of the King George on Boxing Day and has impeccable credentials at this course as a previous winner of the Cotswold and Ryanair Chases.
Given his tendency to lead from the front, he looks one of the more likely each-way candidates – and longstanding partner-in-crime Bryony Frost will have the perfect game plan in mind to steal a shock win if the opportunity presents itself.