Cheltenham Festival: An early Lucky 15 to set the scene for the four-day fiesta

If you don’t have a dream, how you going to make a dream come true?


*Odds quoted on the widget are Future Racing / Antepost prices which means that if your selection does not run in the race for whatever reason – you will lose your stake under traditional Antepost rules.

Following a good weekend of jumps action at Chepstow, Fairyhouse and Limerick on both sides of the Irish sea, the National Hunt season is now officially up and running for the 2020/21 campaign.

Further interesting clues will emerge this week at Punchestown and at several other jumps cards this month here in Ireland as we build-up to Down Royal at the end of October. Over the season ahead, I’ll be keeping a close eye on some of the stars of the future and looking at those hoping to enhance their already established reputations.

Mares Hurdle, March 16: HONEYSUCKLE

HONEYSUCKLE was one of the stars of last season – a mare who didn’t know how to lose by showing guts and spirit which saw her remain unbeaten with a total of eight victories from eight starts under national hunt rules. She won a Dromahane point-point in impressive fashion in April 2018 before changing hands for €110,000 and winning her first three starts over hurdles for Henry de Bromhead at Fairyhouse, Thurles and again back at Fairyhouse in the Solerina Mares Novice Hurdle. Despite missing the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, she put herself on the map when returning at the Easter Festival at Fairyhouse to win the Grade 1 Mares Novice Hurdle before a summer break.

Her open season started with a wide margin victory over Easy Game at Fairyhouse last November, before returning to the track for a comprehensive victory over Bacardys in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at the Winter Festival last December. The manner of that success encouraged connections to drop her in trip for the Irish Champion Hurdle in February where she battled to victory over Darver Star despite a poor jumping display.

Connections resisted the temptation of the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham and sent her for the Mares Hurdle were she out-mastered Benie Des Dieux and once again showed her battling qualities to remain unbeaten under Rachael Blackmore. Rated 158, trainer Henry de Bromhead reports her in great order with the plan to remain over hurdles this season and returning to Fairyhouse next month for another crack at the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle.

Five of her eight career victories over hurdles have come at Fairyhouse as she quickly becomes endowed with the Co. Meath venue. She’s got plenty of options at Cheltenham, from defending her Mares Hurdle title or toying with either the Champion Hurdle or Stayers Hurdle depending on how those races develop over the next five-months.

Willie Mullins 2020

Ballymore Novices Hurdle, March 17: APPRECIATE IT

Another former winner of a Dromahane point to point for the Doyles is also placed on my horses to follow list for the season ahead in the shape of the now Willie Mullins trained APPRECIATE IT. He found a few too good on his rules debut in a Fairyhouse bumper last November before landing back to back wins at Leopardstown last Christmas and in the Future Stars bumper back at the Foxrock track in February. The choice of Patrick Mullins in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, he couldn’t live up to the late speed showed by stable-mate and winner Ferny Hollow and finished a gallant second.

He’s one of many interesting novice hurdles for the Mullins team this season and looks more suited to middle-distance races considering his point to point profile and being a half-brother to both Pilgrim Way and Danny Kirwan. He could re-emerge at Punchestown in mid-November and, despite having plenty of options at the Cheltenham Festival, the Ballymore Novices Hurdle looks the obvious longer-term target. It’s a real cliché but this six-year-old looks a chaser down the line and any graded success over hurdles this season would only be a bonus to his stellar bumper campaign.

Marsh Novices’ Chase, March 18: ENVOI ALLEN

One of the most exciting prospects of the new season will be seeing how ENVOI ALLEN develops over fences for Gordon Elliott and Cheveley Park following two outstanding years in both bumpers and over hurdles. Having come out of the Colin Bowe school of pointers and securing success at Ballinaboola in February 2018, this horse has managed four wins in bumpers and four victories over hurdles, including the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle as the true Irish banker of the Cheltenham Festival for many a year. The now Marsh Novices’ Chase would look his main long-term option considering Elliott has won two of the previous three renewals with Shattered Love and Samcro.


Following the Samcro route with Envoi Allen looks the best direction with his debut over fences perhaps coming at Down Royal at the backend of this month – the same venue where he started his novice hurdle campaign with success last season. Elliott has reported the horse in great shape after his summer break and has described him as a natural over fences after some recent schooling sessions. It will be one-step at a time for one of the most exciting horses of the past few seasons with hopefully more magical days ahead from the six-year-old who cost €400,000 after that point to point win.

Gold Cup, March 19: AL BOUM PHOTO

Having knocked on the door for so long, two Cheltenham Gold Cups came like buses for champion trainer Willie Mullin. AL BOUM PHOTO is now hoping to follow in the footsteps of Best Mate this season with the dream of three consecutive victories in the feature race at the Festival.

His achievements over fences have been remarkable following two falls in his novice season. To go from that to become one of the best and highest rated chasers in racing is some feat. This amazing turn around comes down to the brilliance of Mullins and his team at Closutton who will use the Savills Chase at Tramore on New Year’s Day as his stepping stone to glory at Prestbury Park.

Al Boum Photo and Paul Townend winning the Magners Gold up for the second time. Cheltenham Festival. Photo: Patrick McCann/Racing Post 13.03.2020

Mullins, like most trainers, is a creature of habit and if it’s not broken, there’s no great need for change and it would be a surprise to see his stable-star reappear in 2020. The Mullins team will keep him fresh for January 1st at Tramore before returning to Cheltenham for another battle against Santini and some rising stars.

2020 RSA winner, Champ is one of those new kids on the block in his first season outside novice company, with Topofthegame (2019 RSA hero) hopefully back to his best after a long absence for trainer Paul Nicholls. Al Boum Photo sets the standard with plenty of old rivals also snapping at his heels again in what will be the biggest challenge of his career on Friday 19th March 2021.

Future Racing Lucky 15:

Cheltenham Gold Cup – Al Boum Photo
Marsh Novices’ Chase – Envoi Allen
Mares Hurdle – Honeysuckle
Ballymore Novices Hurdle – Appreciate It

*Odds quoted on the widget are Future Racing / Antepost prices which means that if your selection does not run in the race for whatever reason – you will lose your stake under traditional Antepost rules.

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