Cheltenham Festival: 7 high-profile picks to get your kicks in March

There's seven weeks and counting to Cheltenham 2021 and here's some big players you should hear plenty more of at the mid-March fiesta.

Paisley-Park-&-Faugheen

In the past, it may have paid off to sit and watch Cheltenham Trials Day next Saturday and Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival the week after before making your picks for March.

There was significant risk involved as countless runners Cheltenham plans can be thrown into disarray a few weeks out – but with Paddy’s Non-Runner Money Back offer, you’re covered if your Cheltenham Festival fancy  doesn’t line up on the day. In fact, jumping ahead of impressive performances over the next two weeks will be paramount to landing the value if your pick confirms your suspicions.

The last thing you need is to be a good judge then have your fancy’s price halved after he proves you right around the Costwolds in January or Leopardstown in February.

Here’s 7 picks that you should be hearing plenty more about come mid-March.

1. Metier (Supreme Novices Hurdle)

I love the Tolworth winner for the opening Supreme Novices Hurdle and while Appreciate It heads the betting this far out, it seems that Willie Mullins’ festival hotpot will go off a short-priced favourite in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown in a fortnight.

Obviously there doesn’t seem to be an immediate danger to him in the field, but I can’t help but feel that Ballyadam had something up with him when they last met over Christmas. That 15-length defeat isn’t reflective of Mullins’ runner superiority between the two, I’m sure of it. And given the lofty expectations that punters have with Appreciate It, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him drift a small bit if he isn’t as seemingly-dominant at Leopardstown this time around.

The big benefactor here could be METIER – the impressive Tolworth Hurdle winner who I believe is the best novice in Britain this year given how he both travels with relative ease and the emphatic nature he finishes off races to boot.

His price may still understate his chance.

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Metier Supreme Novices Hurdle - Non Runner Money Back

Latest Cheltenham Festival NRMB prices are right here

Nico de Boinville on Shishkin

2. Shishkin (Arkle Chase)

There isn’t a better novice chaser anywhere in these islands than SHISKIN. I’m sure Envoi Allen will have his supporters for that title if such an award existed but Nicky Henderson’s star novice is the real deal too

He made us all take notice when landing the Supreme Novices Hurdle despite everything going against him in the race as we looked in every single direction to oppose him. With a serious set of gears and a willingness to get up the hill, there’s no doubt in my mind that he can repeat the trick will relative ease over the large obstacles.  When no other 2m novices likely to impress in the next fortnight.

There’s only one way his price is likely to go before the off.

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Shishkin Arkle Chase - Non Runner Money Back

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3. Epatante (Champion Hurdle)

Reigning Champion Hurdler EPATANTE will go straight to the Festival now to try and regain her crown.  A disappointing run behind Silver Streak when a long odds-on second at Kempton in Christmas, she could see her star start to rise again as I suspect the Champion Hurdle picture will change in front of our eyes again at the Dublin Racing Festival. One of two things may happen. Either Sharjah runs riot and Honeysuckle is diverted to reclaim her Mares Hurdle crown or Honeysuckle beats Sharjah comfortably and eliminates a market principle from contention at Cheltenham.

There’s also the win-win scenario for Epatante if both are involved in a head-bobbing thriller at Leopardstown and punters start to favour the ‘fresher’ reigning champion, to go back-to-back in the day one feature.

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Epatante Champion Hurdle - Non Runner Money Back

4. Bravemansgame (Ballymore Novices Hurdle)

You’ll have picked up the them here of putting up horses that actually won’t run at either Leopardstown or Cheltenham before the Festival and Bravemansgame is no different.

He’ll more than likely go for the 2m 5f Ballymore Novices Hurdle on the Wednesday with the 3m Albert Bartlett a possibility. It’s startling that trainer Paul Nicholls has never actually won a Ballymore Novices Hurdle over the years, but this gelding is being compared to Denman after his win in the Challow Novices Hurdle at Newbury.

Now, he’d want to improve markedly from a rating of 143 to live up to that hype, but he’s on the riht track. I’d expect BRAVEMANSGAME to start a shorter price on the day than he is now as the Irish challengers’ – and particularly Willie Mullins’ pack gets shuffled over the next few weeks.

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Bravemansgame Ballymore Novices Hurdle - Non Runner Money Back

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5. Chacun Pour Soi (Champion Chase)

The more you see of his beast, the more convinced you are by the quality of his jumping and I wouldn’t oppose him for love nor money in the Champion Chase the feature race on Wednesday.

His price had generally contracted since his winning reappearance at Cork and with Politologue fluffing his lines in Saturday’s Clarence House Chase at Ascot, there seems to be only one way the Champion Chase crown is going. Let’s just hope lightning doesn’t strike twice and he’s a late withdrawal on the morning of the race like last year. But hey, we’re covered by Paddy’s NRMB offer so what’s to to love?

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Chacun Pour Soi Champion Chase - Non Runner Money Back

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6. A Plus Tard (Gold Cup)

There’s a real sense that everyone is going to be looking to take on the Gold Cup favourite Al Boum Photo when push comes to shove for the Blue Riband.

And while the extra few furlongs of the Cheltenham Gold Cup are a relative unknown, it stands to reason that A Plus Tard’s price will shorten – particularly if one of those behind him at Christmas, wins the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Leopardstown on February 7.

A Plus Tard won the Savills Chase at the same venue over Christmas on his first try at three miles and trainer Henry de Bromhead has indicated that he is likely to go straight to Cheltenham for a crack at the big one. The versatile seven-year-old  already has a Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase romp in 2019 and Ryanair third to Min under his belt at Prestbury Park so all important course form and racing at Championship pace is a given.

If there’s a time to bank a price on him for Gold Cup glory, it’s now.

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A Plus Tard Gold Cup - Non Runner Money Back

7. Zanahiyr (Triumph Hurdle)

After being a progressively smart Flat horse for Mick Halford, this son of Nathaniel made the switch to Gordon Elliott in 2020 and hasn’t looked back, taking all three racecourse appearances over timber with relative ease.

What’s most impressive to me is how he’s handled soft ground – as he’s bred-to-be a classy horse on the Flat and that’s often a question mark when it comes Cheltenham. But ZANAHIYR has proven his toughness with give in the ground with two wins in Grade 3 and Grade 2 company following his maiden hurdle win at Ballinrobe. He holds an entry for the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle on the Sunday at the Dublin Racing Festival and victory there – especially over the recent maiden winner and ‘could-be-anything’ French Aseel would see his price for the Triumph Hurdle contract even further.

The English horses may only be running for place money come the Friday’s opener at the Festival.

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Zanahiyr Triumph Hurdle - Non Runner Money Back

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What do you think?