It’s starting to get serious now as we countdown to Cheltenham 2020. The hard decisions have to be made about who will run where and why. The challenge for us is to see who stays in and subsequently drops in price.
Paddy’s non runner money back on all Cheltenham races so we’re covered if anything happens to our own selections below who have just one target in mind come mid-March.
Have a gander at some value plays in the four Championship races to try and stay ahead of the field.
This is an each-way shot to nothing. Let’s assess. The only guaranteed runners among the field ahead of him in the betting are the stablemates Epatante and Pentland Hills from Nicky Henderson’s yard. And you can pick plenty of holes in their form if you like.
Epatante has won four of her five starts under rules, with the only loss coming at the Festival last year in the Grade 2 Mares’ Novices Hurdle. That should be enough to keep you away from the price, mares’ allowance or no mares’ allowance.
Last season’s Triumph Hurdle winner Pentland Hills finished behind Ballyandy in a favourably-run race last time at Haydock and that doesn’t resonate with winning a Champion Hurdle. He looks like he needs company up top and the field could take advantage of that.
With Cilaos Emery likely to be supplemented by Willie Mullins, he obviously sees the field falling apart. That brings us to Sharjah despite a blip in the Irish Champion Hurdle.
The likelihood of better spring ground at Cheltenham and his run in the Matheson Hurdle on Stephen’s Day is the formline I’d prefer to be side with come the feature race on day one of the Festival.
It may seem strange to throw a sub 2/1 shot in a ‘value play’, but hear me out.
Altior has been possibly the best horse of his generation. His performances have eclipsed immortalised legends Sprinter Sacre in the 2m Chaser sphere.
The last time he was above even money for any race was his Supreme Novices’ Hurdle win in 2016. Since then, his combined SP’s would barely get you to 15/8, let alone it being his current price at a track he’s never lost at, over a distance he’s never been beaten over fences.
Defi Du Seuil is a class act, but his price here is based off his wins in two weak renewals of Grade 1 chases, those being the Tingle Creek and Clarence House Chase.
Of course Chacun Pour Soi could be anything, but he flopped on his only appearance on ground that didn’t have yielding in its title – nor has he ever been to Cheltenham.
That Ryanair Novices’ Chase win last May at Punchestown might mean something to someone and could yet be the formline that unlocks this race. But I’n not siding with his win in May over Defi Du Seuil being the standard bearer over Altior’s career delivering at the highest level.
Well, you’re guaranteed that Warren Greatrex charge runs here, which is more than you can say about a couple in the market ahead of him. The January blip in his form shouldn’t throw you off, either – that was on his reappearance over the minimum trip and he’s way more effective over three miles.
His Grade 2 Rendlesham Hurdle victory at Haydock last Saturday probably didn’t even show his full ability. If you tidy up a few jumping errors, he goes on to win that by even further than the eight-length margin.
Laurina probably doesn’t go to the Festival, Summerville Boy, of course, was very impressive last time over the trip but can be very hot and cold.
That leaves the rumours over the RSA favourite Champ being re-routed, who Emitom finished second to at Aintree last season in the Grade 1 Grand Sefton Hurdle – a placing the trainer’s Cole Harden occupied before his World Hurdle win at Cheltenham the following season.
Benie Des Dieux could also switch to the mares hurdle or whisper it, Champion Hurdle.
Given Emitom has only had eight runs in his short career, he’s very much open to more improvement to at least make a race of it with reigning champ Paisley Park.
While I completely accept the extra couple of furlongs make all the difference in this mammoth test of stamina, there is nobody on this dear planet who can tell me there’s a better jumper than this dual-King George VI Chase winner.
The fact he goes here fresh is also a major plus, given the famous Kempton Park chase is a burden in and of itself.
Paul Nicholls would admit that he got his prep wrong last season, and he’s plenty big enough in the market for me to dabble against reigning champ Al Boum Photo.
Of the others ahead of him in the betting, Lostintranslation blotted his copybook in the King George VI Chase when having to be pulled up after a smooth Betfair Chase win, but will that subsequent spell the sidelines hinder or help him? Clearly, it wasn’t the plan.
Gordon Elliott’s Delta Work had a tough battle to win the Irish Gold Cup and I’m sceptical that he can pull that out again in little over a month, while Santini’s jumping will come under pressure very early in the helter-skelter pace of a Gold Cup. He won’t get away with too many mistakes in this field.
Clan Des Obeaux will be played late and there’ll be plenty of traffic to bypass as the field begins to fall away in the final drive up Cleeve Hill.
Prices quoted are now non runner money back