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 Race at 17:30 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…
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. He has an entry in a handicap hurdle in February and may just stamp his credentials even further.
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 Gordon Elliott’s Abacadabras.
Elsewhere former champion Buveur D‘Air and newbie Song for Someone also have each-way opportunities if the main protagonists fail to fire.