Cheltenham Festival 2020: Benie des Dieux better than ever on return

Can Benie be a serious challenger to Paisley Park if she ends up in the Stayers'?

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On Thursday, the Willie Mullins-trained Benie des Dieux made a scintillating return to action after eight months off in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran, taking her record to eight from eight when completing for the yard.

Admittedly, her main opposition in the race Apple’s Jade was well below form, but it was still very impressive the manner in which she brushed aside stablemate and 2018 Stayers’ Hurdle winner Penhill, cruising clear on the bridle after two out. The visual impression made was backed up by an excellent timefigure, too. That performance strengthened her position at the head of the ante-post market for the Mares’ Hurdle, a race she was sure to win 12 months ago before falling at the last flight.

The Galmoy Hurdle was over three miles and it is interesting that Benie des Dieux also holds an entry in the Stayers’ Hurdle for which she is as short as 2/1 with some firms. It is unlikely she will go that route – but she would be a serious challenger to Paisley Park – given Mullins’ record in the Mares’ race, and she looks one of the bankers of the meeting at this stage.

Santini back in the Gold Cup picture

Many pundits were against the chances of Santini in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday following his mediocre reappearance at Sandown in November. However, Santini proved a completely different animal (he had undergone a breathing operation since), putting up a far more convincing display to beat Bristol de Mai by three and a half lengths.

Santini showed a very willing attitude, his superior stamina on the day ultimately winning him the race, as Bristol de Mai looked the more likely winner for much of the last mile. A mistake two out didn’t help Nicky Henderson’s charge, either, and his strength on the run-in was all the more impressive with that in mind.

Bristol de Mai finished third in last year’s Gold Cup, so Santini clearly merits close consideration so far as that race is concerned now, similar claims on what he’s shown to both Delta Work and Lostintranslation, both of whom were also leading novices last season.

It is Paisley Park’s division

The staying hurdle division isn’t the strongest, but Paisley Park is definitely the best in it, and he proved so without having to be at his best when winning the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday. Several of his rivals were below form, particularly the well-supported If The Cap Fits, who wasn’t seen to best effect, caught in a bad position just as the pace was increasing. However, he will still have something to prove if reopposing Paisley Park in the Stayers’ Hurdle.

Paisley Park was a late non-runner in the Long Walk Hurdle due to bad ground, but he had little trouble in extending his winning sequence at Cheltenham. He deserves extra credit, too, as he was also not suited by the way the race developed, a slack gallop meaning he wasn’t able to show his abundant stamina in full.

Paisley Park also coped well with the most testing ground he has encountered, pushed along before entering the straight, and looking stronger than Summerville Boy who had led throughout heading to the last. Emma Lavelle’s progressive eight-year-old won readily in the end, and he’s not yet shown all that he can, a likely bigger field and strong pace at the Festival sure to eke out more. He is rightly a short-priced favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle now and will take the world of beating on all known form.

Put this info to the test in our Ante Post Cheltenham 2020 section