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Here’s five runners that you should hear plenty more about at Cheltenham 2021.
ROYAL PAGAILLE is progressing nicely this season over fences and has a nice profile to contest the National Hunt Chase for trainer Venetia Williams and owner Susannah Ricci. The Williams team has waited several years for more success at the Festival, with Carrickboy there last winner in the Byrne Group Plate in 2013. Three of the previous six-winners of this race were aged seven and this seven-year-old heads towards the Festival following success at Haydock and Kempton so far this season.
His victory at Kempton over Christmas was an eye-catching performance, having been put asleep out the back with an early mistake to boot, before travelling sweetly into the race and winning easily under Charlie Deutsch. The form of that race was recently boosted with Double Shuffle winning at Kempton and the Peter Marsh Chase back at Haydock is his next target. Royal Pagaille looks some value as one of the leading English challengers for the National Hunt Chase alongside Next Destination and Welsh National winner Secret Reprieve.
MONKFISH has done nothing wrong so far this season, winning both races over fences in stylish fashion at Fairyhouse and Leopardstown. He went away close home to win his Grade 1 over Christmas from Latest Exhibition and he’ll once again enjoy the uphill finish when returning to Cheltenham in March. The Albert Bartlett winner was always made for fences following his point-to-point win at Stowlin and he also looks a long team contender for the 2022 Gold Cup.
However, Willie Mullins and the Ricci family will take one race at a time and having already shown his ability to fight hard in a close finish and produce more when required, he’s the horse to beat. Envoi Allen will most likely contest the Marsh Chase for Gordon Elliott with Latest Exhibition, Shan Blue and former stable-mate, Next Destination looking his biggest rivals right now.
Willie Mullins has never won the Queen Mother Champion Chase and despite the favourite only winning two of the previous six-renewals, CHACUN POUR SOI clearly stands out against his ante-post rivals. His Grade 1 novice victory over Defi Du Seuil at Punchestown in 2019 put him on the map before landing the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown last February. Having missed the Festival last year, he beat very little on his return at Cork in early December before getting the better of Notebook and Put The Kettle On at Leopardstown over Christmas.
He showed more spark on that occasion and really attacked his fences in a very smart victory under Paul Townend. He might be a short-price now and we’ll likely see more back in Foxrock at the Dublin Racing Festival, but he’s the horse to beat with defending champion Politologue and recent Kempton winner Nube Negra the main opposition.
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I stay with action on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival and move away from a Rich Ricci owned runner to focus on SIR GERHARD for the Cheveley Park team in the Champion Bumper. Having managed to win the last two renewals with Envoi Allen and Ferny Hollow it would be nice for the Cheveley Park team to continue the winning sequence following the recent passing of owner, David Thompson. The son of Jeremy has the best form at present following his impressive 12-length victory at Down Royal on his rules debut in October and his listed victory at Navan before Christmas.
He made it look easy when winning at Navan, seeing off a good horse in Letsbeclearaboutit, who was unbeaten following two victories at Tipperary and Punchestown. Willie Mullins will be looking for his tenth career victory in the race and has good contenders with Kilcruit, Ramillies, Brandy Love and many others. However, Sir Gerhard stands out here and to me has a similar profile to Envoi Allen in also looking capable of progressing longer-term over both hurdles and fences over many years ahead.
Gordon Elliott has several leading contenders in the ante-post market for the Triumph Hurdle with unbeaten stars Duffle Coat, Quilixios and race favourite, ZANAHIYR. Noel and Valerie Moran are great supporters of Irish Racing and continue to invest heavily in the sport and it would be fantastic to see them rewarded with a Grade 1 winner at the Festival. He sets the standard to date following his somewhat surprise opening win over hurdles at Ballinrobe, before following up at Fairyhouse and landing the Grade 2 juvenile hurdle at Leopardstown.
He’s seen off everything put before him so far and remains progressive to suggest he’s open to further improvement and the horse to beat. Elsewhere, fellow unbeaten stable-mates, Duffle Coat and Quilixios have not been seen in some time, while French Aseel was seriously impressive when winning a juvenile hurdle at Leopardstown for Ellmarie Holden. Youmdor is another contender despite his fall at Fairyhouse and hopefully he’ll return next month to give the McNeill family and Willie Mullins more information before they make any decision regarding Cheltenham.
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