It’s only January, but this year’s Cheltenham Festival is already at the forefront of most trainers’ minds with racing’s showpiece event just a matter of weeks away.
Here’s our look at the latest Cheltenham ante post betting as we sift through the potential stars to look out for in the feature race on each day of the festival.
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Champion Hurdle – Tuesday 10th March 2020
After a commanding five-length win in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, Epatante looks to be making much of the early running in the Cheltenham ante post market for the Champion Hurdle – another 2m race. Little surprise, then, that he’s currently favourite with Marathonbet to fulfil his potential around Prestbury Park after disappointing last year.
Willie Mullins-trained Saldier could have the staying power after impressing on his return to competitive action after a year away with victory at Punchestown in the Morgiana Hurdle.
Finally, Pentland Hills could pick up another Cheltenham win if trainer Nicky Henderson puts him forward for the Champion Hurdle after victory in the Triumph Hurdle last year. Henderson is already talking up his chances as the five-year-old builds up towards March’s big festival.
Queen Mother Champion Chase – Wednesday 11th March 2020
Could he make it three on the bounce? After dominating this race in both 2018 and 2019, Altior heads the betting in the ante-post market for this race and will aim to put the disappointment of being beaten by Cryname at Ascot in November behind him by landing a third Champion Chase. It’s only been done once before, by Badsworth Boy in the mid-eighties.
Away from Altior, the strongest challenge could come from Defi Du Seuil, who has form around Cheltenham after wins in the JLT Novices’ Chase at last year’s festival and the Shloer Chase in November.
A Plus Tard could still offer some early value after impressively shutting out Chacun Pour Soi under the guidance of Rachael Blackmore at Leopardstown just before the turn of the year, though the 25/1 available before that race has long gone.
Stayers Hurdle – Thursday 12th March 2020
2019 winner Paisley Park still looks the one to beat after showing no signs of slowing up in his one-length victory over Thistlecrack at Newbury in November. Now undefeated across two calendar years, he remains a strong pre-race favourite with Marathonbet and looks set to warm up for the festival with an outing at the Cleeve Hurdle later this month.
If anyone can keep the pace with Paisley, you wouldn’t back against Benie Des Dieux. The nine-year old was a notable absentee from Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting but looks set for a January outing around Cheltenham after consecutive wins at Punchestown and Auteuil last summer.
If the Cap Fits could throw his hat into the ring after steady improvement in 2019 which included wins at Aintree and Ascot. A fascinating duel with Paisley Park was on the cards in the Marsh Hurdle at Ascot, before both horses ultimately ended up skipping the race. That battle looks to have been saved for the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Cheltenham Gold Cup – Friday 13th March 2020
It’s the one every trainer wants in their trophy cabinet – but even the best horses can be found wanting on Gold Cup day. As last year’s result shows, this race is still capable of throwing up the odd surprise.
With much of the pre-race hype centred around Native River, Clan Des Obeaux and Presenting Percy, the relatively unfancied Al Boum Photo snuck past the chasing pack to claim a maiden win for Willie Mullins in this most famous of races. That experience sees him installed as the early favourite to pull off a repeat performance.
Current second favourite, Kemboy, fluffed his lines as he unseated David Mullins at the first in the 2019 Gold Cup but his form elsewhere hints at a far more promising run this time around if preparations go to plan. The eight-year-old notched up impressive victories at Aintree and Punchestown in April and May, holding off challenges from Gold Cup rivals Clan Des Obeaux and Al Boum Photo respectively.
Finally, could a comeback story be on the cards for 2020? Santini has arguably slipped off the radar after a stripped-back 2019 but returned to winning ways with a gutsy run at Sandown in November. He showed his Cheltenham credentials last March with a narrow second place in the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase and could be Nicky Henderson’s secret weapon on Gold Cup day.
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