I realise we’re still eating leftover turkey sandwiches, but what if I told you that Christmas was somehow just eight weeks away? That’s right, Cheltenham is just around the corner and to celebrate, we’ve gone Non-Runner Money Back on all horses in the lead-up to the Festival.
Presumably, we can rule ourselves out, but there are a few horses headed to Cheltenham that you simply can’t. And there’s no better time to nail your colours to the mast, even this far out because you can take advantage of ante-post prices on selections with multiple entries because of the NRMB insurance in your back pocket.
Here are eight course specialists you’ll come up a few lengths short if you rule out this early.
Now, I can understand if you were disappointed on his seasonal reappearance at Down Royal, and he’s got his quirks – moreso than most, and far more than Gordon Elliott’s next ‘generational’ talent in Envoi Allen – but take a breath. His victory over another smart veteran in Melon in the Marsh Novices’ Chase last year exhibited just why he seems to enjoy it at a racecourse where he’s two-from-two – the son of Germany loves that hill, just like he did when he outsmarted Black Op in the Ballymore.
He’s all power. And with great power comes great responsibility, so don’t be responsible for ruling out another potential Festival win for Samcro in January because you didn’t like him being pulled up in the Savills Chase over Christmas. The Ryanair at 16’s with money back is definitely worth a punt.
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There aren’t too many more likeable sorts than Sire Du Berlais and coming off the back of consecutive Pertempts wins at the Festival – being just the second horse after Buena Vista to do so since the turn of the century – they’re now chancing him in the championship race he deserves. He’s a decent-priced shot for the Stayers’ Hurdle and while Flooring Porter clearly had his number in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him reverse that form as he was probably raced too prominently.
There aren’t too many hard luck stories more prominent than Min’s when it comes to the Festival. He’s run into Altior on three occasions and one the one time he didn’t, he overcame jumping right-handed to beat a very game Saint Calvados to Ryanair glory in 2020.
That’s probably a better indication of how much he enjoys it around the Cotswolds, when he’s not being bullied by one of the best horses we’ve ever seen flying out of Seven Barrows. Willie Mullins himself was probably somewhat surprised to see how close he got to Chacun Pour Sois over two miles at this time last year, and that form has naturally been given a boost since – that’s probably why he holds an entry to the Champion Chase.
But I’d be stunned if he didn’t defend his crown rather than dropping back in trip.
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There isn’t a horse that will be going to Cheltenham who gets more disrespect than Concertista. It actually echoes some of the scoffs that were surrounding Honeysuckle when she decided to take on Benie des Dieux.
Concertista in her own right is now rated closer to 160 than anyone ever thought possible and those consecutive wins over Minella Melody might not read like great success on paper, but the way she carried herself through the races was the most catching thing.
But for all her efforts nationwide, she’s at her best at Cheltenham, too – losing by just a short head off an SP off 66/1 in 2019, before taking the Mares novice event at the Festival last year in some style. While I can understand the noise surrounding Benie des Dieux’s for the Stayers and Honeysuckle’s potential date with Epatante, Concertista could comfortably put it up to both.
The quickest way to shut people up is by winning. The quickest way to ensure people never question you again is by winning consistently. So you’d imagine that there would be absolutely no way anyone would have any qualms about Al Boum Photo’s attempt to land three Gold Cups in a row.
And yet, we land at his preparation and the sceptics who wonder if a dance around Tramore on New Year’s Day is sufficient. Well, it was last year and it was the year before.
His only misstep since the calendar turned to 2019 was a second in the Punchestown Gold Cup – a race he really shouldn’t have run in after a gruelling Gold Cup where he saw off Anibale Fly. Al Boum Photo performing at Cheltenham is a proven commodity because he’s better-suited to Championship pace, and he gets that once a year. If it ain’t broke, etc.
In much the same way that Sprinter Sacre got the biggest cheer of the Festival a few years ago for picking up this race, the roar that would greet an Altior victory at the scene of his greatest days would be similar. The old boy is now 11 years old and the fact you’ll likely have to take a single-figure price about him on-track shows you how much respect there is for his engine.
Yes, his Cheltenham form might be massaged somewhat by his lame cert getting him out of a Champion Chase that actually fell apart in 2020 – but there’s every chance he could have won that race given how it panned out. I can certainly see why his run in the Desert Orchid Chase would cause concern, but it’s more down to people being snobbish towards the Spanish breeding story of Nube Negra – a horse for all we know could do his best work fresh.
I’m happy for anyone to lay me a big price about Altior when it comes to Prestbury Park.
I can make plenty of excuses for Santini, and while some of you might laugh at me saying he’s superb at Cheltenham when he’s never won at the track, I’ll remind you of a couple of things. His third in the Albert Bartlett was one of the slowest-run races I can remember on a Friday of the Festival and he was very convincing in the Grade 2 on-course where he beat Black Op at the January meeting beforehand.
You can comfortably make the argument that he was played too soon (losing half a length) in the RSA and that he was produced too late (lost a neck) in last year’s Gold Cup. He clearly has no problem staying on up the hill and if Nico can time the fractions right this year, he’s my idea of the winner.
There aren’t too many eight-year-olds who can claim six wins at Cheltenham. Defi Du Seuil is an absolute course specialist of the highest calibre but his no-show in last year’s Champion Chase – a race he was a heavy shade of odds-on for – will stick in people’s minds as they write him off.
I understand being pulled up in the Shloer Chase is head-scratching, but there aren’t many bigger guarantees than Philip Hobbs’ stable star giving you his running at the Festival if everything is alright.
Of course, there are some whispers that they could send him to the Ryanair – which is already looking like a stronger renewal than ever before – but our NRMB offer has you covered on that front.
Wherever he goes, it won’t be his indifference to Cheltenham that will let you down.
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