By now, you’ve been immersed in crowds of your mates pointing at consecutive 1’s on formlines and telling you their fancy has never lost a race, so it clearly never will.
Cheltenham’s not quite that simple a formula, though, it’s a more proven method than anything your WhatsApp group has come up with.
There are proven pathways to consult for races at the Festival – prep races, if you like, that have a strong history of exhibiting a will-be Cheltenham winner in March. At some point every year, you tell yourself that you’ll watch that Grade 2, or that novice hurdle next year and take note.
Well, luckily for you, I’ll do it instead.
Here’s 4 races you need to note before you go and place your Festival flutters.
Tolworth Hurdle, Sandown.
Much like other novice races of this type, it merely throws horses into a melting pot of multiple races they may like to enter.
L’ami Serge won the Tolworth in 2014 and finished fourth to Douvan in the Supreme Novices Hurdle that year – something anyone can forgive. Yorkhill saw off O O Seven of Nick Henderson’s in 2015 before taking down the heavily-backed Yanworth in the Ballymore Novices Hurdle two months later.
The 2017 winner Finian’s Oscar skipped the Festival, but went on to comfortably land a prep race at Exeter and then the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in April instead.
Summerville Boy gunned down Kalashnikov in the 2018 Tolworth, before the pair finished first and second in a heavy-ground Supreme Novices later that year, while Elixir De Nutz was withdrawn on the eve of the Festival when high up in the Supreme betting after his 2019 win at Sandown.
Which brings us to this year’s renewal. Colin Tizzard’s third Tolworth winner in four years Fiddlerontheroof was impressive and has the option of either the Supreme Novices Hurdle or the Ballymore Hurdle. His trainer has already said his decision is ground-dependent.
If it comes up soft, he’s a serious threat in the Supreme Novices at 11/2 that opens the 2020 Festival.
Selection: Fiddlerontheroof @ 11/2, Supreme Novices Hurdle.
Tingle Creek Chase, Sandown
Another Sandown showpiece that usually acts as an informative prep for Wednesday’s Champion Chase. That even makes what Un De Sceaux did in 2017 more remarkable – stepping up over half a mile further to win the Ryanair Chase at the Festival.
Part of the reason for its value as a ‘trial’ – is that there’s no hiding place in the Tingle Creek. It doesn’t have the biggest fields, so there’s little cover and your horse’s jumping needs to be rock solid.
Dodging Bullets won the Tingle Creek in 2015 and then duly obliged with an impressive round of jumping to see off Somersby in admittedly, a non-vintage Champion Chase.
Politologue took it in 2017 before an unlucky-in-running fourth to Altior, while Nicky Henderson’s legend won the Tingle Creek in 2019 before recording another highly-charged Champion Chase win last season.
Defi Du Seuil’s victory this season saw him silence the doubters about his jumping in a fast-run 2m race and he’s gone on to take the Clarence House Chase at Ascot.
It all points to a huge run from last year’s JLT Chase winner in the Champion Chase.
Selection: Defi Du Seuil @ 2/1, Champion Chase.
While we’re not going to be here shouting from the rooftops about the lengthy history of winners that this race has produced, it’s certainly trending in the right direction.
Envoi Allen was the standout in this race last year, landing it in some style before justifying strong market support in the Cheltenham Champion Bumper.
Of course he’s gone on to only further enhance his reputation since then – but I hear what you’re saying. Perhaps it’s the horse and not the race. That’s fine – I accept that.
But in 2018, Relegate went onto Festival success at a crazy 16/1 – drifting like a barge all day when he landed this same Leopardstown race only a month previously.
This year’s renewal highlighted Willie Mullins’ Appreciate It who is now the firm 13/8 favourite tin Paddy’s non runner money back market for the Festival.
If he wins, a three-in-a-row trend emerges and all of a sudden, this race becomes the de-facto ‘must win’ Bumper race en route to Festival.
Selection: Appreciate It @ 13/8, Champion Bumper.
JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle
In the last five years, the winner of this January trial has produced two Triumph Hurdle winners and a fourth-placed finisher in Friday’s opening contest at the mid March fiesta.
They were proper horses too like Fakir D’oudairies (4th last year in the Supreme Novices), Defi Du Seuil (2017 Triumph Hurdle winner) Peace And Co (2015 Triumph Hurdle winner ).
Unfortunately for our purposes, this year’s renewal looked like a bit of a stinker. Only one entry (Gerolamo Cardano, who finished third that day) remains in the Triumph Hurdle and is a big outsider, having finished last of six runners to Sir Psycho at Haydock since.
The winner in January though, Galahad Quest, has had his sights lowered a little and has an entry in the Boodles Juvenile Hurdle (formerly the Fred Winter) on the Wednesday.
If he can somehow repeat the performance of previous Triumph Hurdle trial winners, perhaps Galahad Quest is a bit of value at 14/1 for the Boodles Juvenile Hurdle, instead of the tougher-looking Grade One contest on the final day of the meeting.
Selection: Galahad Quest @ 14/1, Boodles Juvenile Hurdle.
*Prices and entries correct at time of publishing and are part of Paddy Power non runner money back market.