The Cheltenham Festival is the ultimate week for the horse racing fans and bettors, bringing together the leading horses, jockeys and trainers in the National Hunt for the biggest races of the season.
No prize is more prestigious than the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday March 13, although there are other crowns the elite of the sport are chasing, including the Champion Hurdle on the opening day Tuesday, March 10, the Champion Chase on Wednesday and Stayers’ Hurdle on Thursday.
If you love horse racing it’s non-stop action for a solid week. You’ll be knee-deep in form guides and tips from the professionals to pick the winners for the events. However, the best place to get the right answers is here, where we’ll break down our top picks for four of the leading races of the week.
2020 Champion Hurdle
The Champion Hurdle is the first major race of the week. Its prize money is behind only the Gold Cup, although the prestige of the victory is also a lure for owners, trainers, and jockeys alike. Between 2017 and 2018, Buveur D’Air was the dominant horse in the event, and last year went in search of a historic third win on the bounce, matching past greats such as Istabraq and See You Then.
However, Espoir D’Allen put forward an outstanding performance to snatch the victory, while Nicky Henderson’s charge fell for the first time of his career. Sadly, Espoir D’Allen passed away following an accident at the stables of trainer Gavin Cromwell and Buveur D’Air is unlikely to make the line-up because of injury, so the Champion Hurdle crown is wide open.
Willie Mullins’ Klassical Dream won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last year but disappointed over Christmas while last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner, Pentland Hills, could step up to challenge despite being beaten at Cheltenham on his reappearance.
Cheltenham Trials Day at the end of January and the Dublin Racing Festival in early February will make the picture a whole lot clearer.
Big runs from Willie Mullins’ Sharjah and Henry de Bromhead’s Honeysuckle will likely see them shorten in the Champion Hurdle betting behind current ante-post favourite and the one they all have to beat, Epatante, an impressive winner of the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
2020 Champion Chase
This race usually revolves around Altior and is will again this season – but not for all the right reasons. A step up in trip to 2m 4f didn’t work out at Ascot when beaten by Cyrname – his first defeat in 20 races.
Despite two missed engagements since, the nine-year-old should return to the Festival to defend an unbeaten record that includes back-to-back Champion Chases, an Arkle Chase in 2016 and the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2015.
Few horses have been so dominant at Cheltenham Festival but the signs are there that his dominance may be starting to wane. Willie Mullins’ Chacun Pour Soi is the big Irish hope but blotted his copybook a little when beaten by A Plus Tard at Leopardstown over Christmas on his seasonal bow. He shouldn’t be written off yet though in a division that lacks strength in depth and at 7/2 non runner money back in Paddy’s selected market now on the Champion Chase, could be the one to side with.
2020 Stayers’ Hurdle
Paisley Park 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle Winner
Paisley Park was the favourite going into the event last season and duly delivered with a fine display to beat out his nearest rival by a comfortable margin. Emma Lavelle’s charge appears to be on course to be another darling of Cheltenham. The Irish thoroughbred put down a marker at the racecourse before the Festival, winning the Cleeve Hurdle by 12 lengths.
Expectations were high entering the Stayers’ Hurdle, but Aidan Coleman in the saddle guided his charge over the line to claim the win. At 5/2 to he was not the biggest-priced winner to triumph, although from the bookies’ perspective there is no one putting their hand up yet to provide a serious challenge.
If The Cap Fits won the Stayers’ Hurdle at Aintree at the end of the last season, defeating Roksana and Apple’s Jade in the process. The quality of the victory demands respect, but the fact that he has not competed at Cheltenham is a potential red flag. Benie Des Dieux is ready to step up from the Mares’ Hurdle, although she fell in the event last term, failing to defend her crown. Until Paisley Park suffers a dip in form, back Lavelle’s charge to win the Stayers’ Hurdle at 6/4 in the ante-post market or 1/1 in the selected non runner money back market.
2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup
Al Boum Photo clears the last on the way to winning the 2019 Gold Cup
Al Boum Photo will be out to become the first horse since Best Mate to successfully defend the title and will likely take the same course as last season, having won at Tramore again as the year turned. His triumph was Mullins’ first in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, proving he had enough down the stretch to beat Anibale Fly by two-and-a-quarter lengths. Although his triumph was impressive, he failed to build on it at the Punchestown Gold Cup, losing out to his stable-mate Kemboy.
The win would suggest that Kemboy could be ready to master Cheltenham after an unseating David Mullins in the event last season and his run at Christmas was promising ahead of a potential crack at the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup at the Dublin Racing Festival. Lostintranslation received the early buzz from the bookies – but bombed out at Kempton in the King George VI Chase behind dual winner Clan Des Obeaux and will likely head straight to Cheltenham to try and improve on that.
Lostintranslation will need to prove himself again against elite competition – but may have to wait until the day to do it.
While Santini and Delta Work were beaten in the RSA Novices’ Chase last season, the latter in particular marked himself as one to watch when winning the Savills Chase at Leopardstown from a quality field over Christmas.
Clan Des Obeaux finished fifth in the Gold Cup last season, but does have quality wins under his belt in the King George VI Chase and the Denman Chase.
At 8/1 for the Blue Riband or 6/1 in the Non-runner Money Back market he has a great pedigree at the highest level as well as one of the most successful trainers in the history of the Gold Cup in Paul Nicholls in his corner.