Cheltenham Festival: 4 value plays to consider in the Championship races

Our racing tipster Andrew Cunneen looks ahead to the big races at the great festival.

Al Boum Photo Cheltenham Gold Cup

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This is your four-week warning – the Cheltenham Festival is right around the corner and there’s no longer any excuses to not grab the value before all the students scroll through the racecards and pick the runner with the prettiest silks.

While all 28 flag drops get our pulses racing, the feature on each day is where the attention will rightly focus and thankfully most big contenders in these have had their colours nailed to the masts from far out.

That’s not to say the mitigating factors around these races won’t change or there’s not trends you can’t capitalise on at this very moment. So with that in mind, here’s a runner in each of the four Championship races that you should be latching onto right away, as their price will likely shrink come March.

honeysuckle mares hurdle


Tuesday March 16: Champion Hurdle – Honeysuckle

The logic behind this is multi-faceted. Firstly, the closer you get to a race, the more you end up looking at formlines above everything else – and HONEYSUCKLE’s demolition of the field in the Irish Champion Hurdle will be what people cling to.

So many doubted Annie Power a few years back and those mistakes linger in the back of punters’ minds. The last time you saw Epatante on a racetrack, she was hammered by Silver Streak in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.

Nicky Henderson has come out since and pointed to a back issue, but she’s a buzzy mare at the best of times, and if she acts up going down to post, expect a tonne of money to come for Henry De Bromhead’s stable star. Oh, and let’s not forget the very live chances of Shishkin being pipped in the Arkle at odds-on. Will people move quickly to oppose the Master trainer off the back of it?

It’s also worth pointing out that Concertista probably doesn’t go here either, so that will automatically take another mares’ allowance threat off the table. There’s no time like the present.


Wednesday March 17: Champion Chase – Nube Negra

Yes, we’ll all be keen on a jolly come Cheltenham, but with the Wednesday looking the most competitive of the lot in terms of wide open races up until this point, I can see many punters trying to take on a favourite here and looking for value elsewhere.

When you’re looking through the runners that end up here, you’ll find that really only the favourite and NUBE NEGRA have won genuinely-run races last time out.

That, and the fact every broadcaster of the Cheltenham Festival will be doing a feature on the Spanish background of the selection’s breeding should make people realise that while the romp of Altior doesn’t hold as much weight as it might have two years ago, it’s certainly the second best piece of recent form on offer here.

Greaneteen is covered by Politologue in the Tingle Creek, and then Politologue is covered by First Flow in the worst Clarence House in recent memory. Senor, the smart money is put down now.

Thyme Hill Paisley Park Ascot December 19, 2020

Thursday March 18: Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle – Thyme Hill

This race should well fall apart by the time the Festival comes around. Kemboy is more likely to present ITV’s coverage of this race than he is to run in it, and at least one of the top-end mares should switch to battle their own sex exclusively.

It seemed for a week or so that Nicky Henderson’s hands were tied with Champ because he was running out Gold Cup prep opportunities – eventually having to settle for this weekend’s Grade 2 at Newbury over a 2m trip.

That would concern me, only he came out afterwards and reiterated that Champ will indeed go to the Friday. You don’t win Gold Cups on your first run of the season, and you only have to go back to Penhill a few years ago to see someone do it in this race.

However, with one less worry, I feel confident that, ground-dependent, one of THYME HILL or Paisley Park will be considerably shorter than they currently are on the day. Given the last time they met, Paisley Park won by the thinnest of necks on bottomless ground, it’s hard not to fancy Thyme Hill to make up that deficit on a slightly better surface – like he did at Newbury in November.

al boum photo wins cheltenham gold cup

Friday March 19: Gold Cup – Al Boum Photo

Is this turning into somewhat of a one-horse race? A Plus Tard has to be respected because he’s the best jumper of a fence bar Shan Blue and Monkfish at this entire Festival, but will the race be run to suit him?

He probably has to take somewhat of a lead to get the extra lengths out of his fences that he’d like, or he’ll travel three wide, and that tees up the favourite to catch him late on when he loses focus. Who else do you want to make a case for? Native River? This isn’t his primary target, no matter how impressive he was a week ago. Frodon? Won’t stay. Lostintranslation? It would be some training performance.

Keep going. Santini? Slow as a boat. Minella Indo? No excuses in defeat to Kemboy in the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup. Champ is running over the Queen Mother trip as seasonal debut prep. Delta Work hasn’t seen a fence he’s jumped this year. I can see AL BOUM PHOTO being slashed by the Friday, I really can.

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