Cheltenham tips: Brendan Duke’s 5 early fancies to score at 2021 Festival

Dukey got a fab fivesome for the big festival as Paddy goes non runner money back.

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Jack Frost has made my regular Sunday tipping piece redundant. Even at the best of times January is a rough month and the logical among you would go 11/1 the field about the month of my death. The actual price on me checking out in January is more like even money and it promised to be a cracking card at Naas too. Hopefully, the rescheduled card on Wednesday gets the go ahead.

I’m keeping busy though, and this week saw Paddy go non-runner money back on all races at the Cheltenham Festival. They have tasked me with unearthing some value in these markets. The brief is to concentrate on Irish runners, and I know there are real concerns about whether any of our horses will travel.

Let’s stay positive. They say an optimistic outlook is another way to banish the blues. They say a lot mind you.

March 16: Supreme Novices Hurdle – Mr Coldstone

As ever, The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle kicks off the meeting and Appreciate It is a worthy fav. He’ll hardly shorten much in the betting though, so I’m going to take a flyer on MR COLDSTONE. He probably won’t run but if he does, he can’t be a current outside odds.

This horse made a scintillating debut in Tramore recently and he was weak in the betting that day. He hadn’t run in a long time, and his trainer stated that we wouldn’t see the best of him until he got spring ground.

He hurdled immaculately, and put the short priced favourite away with the minimum of fuss. That horse had made a promising debut, so there is a bit of substance to the form. Mr Coldstone would need to find the guts of two stone to be winning a Supreme, while Appreciate It goes straight to the festival. Willie Mullins may adopt a scattergun approach to the 2m novices’ hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival, where Mr Coldstone could be one of his bullets.

If he wins, or goes close there, he’d have a live chance in Cheltenham. If he doesn’t, we get our dough back.


March 16: Champion Hurdle – Concertista

CONCERTISTA is another worth backing with the non-runner money back concession. If running in the Champion Hurdle, she wouldn’t be the colour of her current price. It’s unlikely I know but say Epatante suffers an injury. Concertista would probably be a similar price in the Champion as she would be against Honeysuckle in the Mares’ Hurdle.

In that case, connections would be sorely tempted to go for the crown jewel and Concertista has put up two massive efforts at the festival. Narrowly denied in 2019, she then bolted up last year. She has looked an improved model in two outings this season,  but that’s not massively surprising.

She may have taken a bit of time to fill her considerable frame, but she wouldn’t need to find a whole pile to take advantage of a weak division. I’d struggle to envisage any of the geldings 7lbs to her.




March 17: Ballymore Novices Hurdle – Ashdale Bob

ASHDALE BOB is the next poke and he’s up there in price for the Ballymore at the moment, but won’t be if he wins on Wednesday. I fancy him at Naas as he was seriously impressive last time out.

It’s possible to pick holes in that form, as some of the fancied horses underperformed. Fakiera, second that day, strikes me as a very solid yardstick though. Ashdale Bob ran him over and that was despite running with the choke out in the early stages.

Paddy Kennedy did really well to bury the horse in a small field. That should stand to the horse, and hopefully we will see a more relaxed model going forward. If he runs on Wednesday, I’d imagine connections will head straight to the festival.

That will mean he swerves the staying novices’ hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival and that would make it far less likely that Bob goes for the Albert Bartlett. If things work out as I hope, this horse will be vying for favouritism in the Ballymore come the day.


March 18: Festival Mares Novice Hurdle – Hook Up

Hook Up is probably a little overpriced in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle and she’s clearly held in some regard. Willie Mullins sent her to the Triumph Hurdle on the back of just one start for him. Granted, she was well beaten.

She returned this season with a bloodless success in Fairyhouse, as she was then a short priced favourite for a hot mares’ race last time out. She ran into a smart sort in Royal Kahala, but Hook Up travelled best of all that day and a mistake at the last proved costly.

I’d fancy Hook Up to turn the tables in Cheltenham. The drop in trip, and quicker ground, should be in her favour. Hook Up may not run between this and the festival, but I’d still be surprised if she goes off a double figure price on the day.

March 19: Gold Cup – Melon

Finally, to the Cheltenham Gold Cup and I’m already on Minella Indo for this. Despite the blip at Christmas, I remain hopeful. But, at the current price I can’t resist a little bit of MELON. Four times he has gone to Cheltenham and four times he has picked up a silver medal. That’s frustrating, but at least he peaks at the right time.

Given his owners have Al Boum Photo for the big race, Melon will probably be diverted to the Ryanair. Unless he wins the Irish Gold Cup that is and that’s far from impossible. He should have won the Savills Chase in my opinion. Patrick Mullins got a bit carried away, and made a premature move – his overexcitement was somewhat understandable.

Melon put in a superb round of jumping on the day. If he repeats that at the Dublin Racing Festival, and gets a more circumspect ride, it’s not hard to see him winning. 3m around Leopardstown is one thing, the extra 550 yards in Cheltenham quite another. Stamina concerns aren’t ideal, but there are a lot of positives though – far too many to make him his current odds.

Brendan Duke’s Cheltenham tips summary:

March 16: Supreme Novices Hurdle – Mr Coldstone
March 16: Champion Hurdle – Concertista
March 17: Ballymore Novices Hurdle – Ashdale Bob
March 18: Festival Mares Novice Hurdle – Hook Up
March 19: Gold Cup – Melon


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