Cheltenham Festival 2020
Prestbury Park, Cheltenham
Tuesday 10th – Friday 13th March
Racing Live on ITV1 HD from 1pm
Coverage from 9am on Racing TV HD
Opening Show on ITV from 9:30
It’s the greatest week of the racing year – and after all the talk, Cheltenham is finally here. That the 2020 Festival is on at all is something to be particularly thankful for this year. We have an excellent week to look forward to, with a whole host of exciting contests for both the purists and the pure punters alike.
The Festival will most likely start on soft ground, with 4-5mm of rain set to fall on Monday (or at the time of writing) with the rest of the week currently set to be dry, but we can assume that the ground will be reasonably testing for today, as it has been for much of the season in the UK.
The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (1.30) looks to be a tremendously strong renewal, with three Grade 1 winners facing at least two other horses of immense potential, and the Donelly’s have a top hand with Asterion Forlonge and Shishkin. The former was brilliant in taking apart the Channelle Pharma Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown and the latter sensational in winning the Sidney Banks by 11 lengths, it’s obvious that both will take the beating. Slight preference is for the latter, as he’s not edged right at his hurdles, but there’s plenty of strength in depth here.
Abacadabras, who was fourth in last year’s Champion Bumper, was second to Envoi Allen in the Royal Bond before winning the Future Champions Novice’ Hurdle in fine style over December and also ought to take the beating here, but two others get the vote.
Fiddlerontheroof was beaten on his first two hurdling starts but both those efforts stack up extremely well on a form basis and he’s looked an imporved horse in his two wins at Sandown, the latter being an impressive performance in the Tolworth Hurdle. He was outstayed by Thyme Hill (since unbeaten and a Grade 1 winner) in the Persian War on his debut and was caught by Edwardstone at Wincanton afterwards, but he made short work of a good opportunity at Sandown before then taking the Tolworth in excellent style. What was most taking about him there was how strongly he came up the hill at Sandown, where the sectional analyst Simon Rowlands clocked him completing the 425 yards from the second-last in 30 seconds flat.
He was never stronger than at the line there, and he ought to thrive for the test that Cheltenham should provide coming up the hill, especially with the guarantee of a half decent gallop likely to prove a huge boost for him, and that, combined with good ground, gives him a chance of overturning the form with Edwardstone.
Chantry House is a much more inexperienced contender here, and one has to take much more of a chance when backing him, but he has shown so much talent that he is the second selection here. He was a convincing winner over Edwardstone to the tune of three and a half lengths in a Warwick bumper, before then winning a novices’ hurdle over this course and distance when he was the beneficiary of weight from Silver Streak, who has since gone onto land the Grade 2 Rossington Main at Haydock. He’s only had the one run since, at Newbury on Trials Day, but the way he was brought through that 15 runner field before winning impressively should have thought him on a fair amount in terms of experience. The ground is a slight worry for a horse who has such speed, but his talent earns him a spot in the portfolio ahead of Edwardstone. Allart, a two time winner at Ludlow and Doncaster, and the promising Captain Guinness deserve respect.
Notebook is a very worthy favourite for the Arkle (2.10), having won all four of his chase starts, including two Grade 1 victories over Fakir D’Oudairies (Racing Post Novice Chase) and Cash Back (Irish Arkle). Much will depend on how calm he remains before the start, as he nearly lost the race before the Irish Arkle, where Rachael Blackmore did exceptionally well to restrain him and then coax a winning effort out of him over Cash Back. That will be many times harder to do here than at Leopardstown, and it is surprising to see Cash Back at such a big price in comparison. Fakir D’Oudairies appeared to be featen fair and square when the two met at Leopardstown over Christmas and will do well to reverse that form without an age allowance. Brewin’upastorm was fourth in the Ballymore and then second in the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree, and is a big player for the British defence. There is sure to be a strong pace here, with the prolific mare Maire Barnrigh, and the notorious front-runner Global Citizen likely to be on the lead with Put The Kettle on sure not to be far behind, and it might play to look at this race in running.
There are an almost limitless amount of contenders for the Ultima Handicap Chase (2.50) and The Conditional makes the most approval of the market leaders. He travelled like a horse who had plenty of scope to improve when he won a valuable handicap at the Showcase Meeting, and then he outran his odds with a fine second in the Ladbrokes Trophy. It’s understandable that he went off a 4/1 favourite for the Classic Chase, where he went well for much of the way before a mistake two out ended his challenge. The 22 lengths he was behind Kimberlite Candy was exaggerated by the 3m5f trip, and a drop down in distance should suit as evidenced by his previous course and distance form. Vinndication, who looked transformed when stepped upto 3 miles at Ascot earlier in the season, will take a huge amount of beating here, although this has the look of a race where he can be taken on.
Previous festival form helps a great deal when finding the winners of these races, and previous form in this race can count for double.
Big River was a very fair fourth in this last year, after which he was a very creditable fifth in the Scottish National when he was treated for heat stress afterwards. For some reason, he disappointed on his return here at the Open Meeting, but he was going very well when he fell in the Borders National and he made amends when he landed a decent enough handicap chase at Kelso, his sixth at the course. He’s just 1lb higher than he was when running in this race last year, and that looks to be one of the fairest marks in the race here. There’s a slight worry that he might be tapped for toe, but few should finish stronger and he looks overpriced once again. Cobra De Mai, Mister Malarky, Who Dares Wins, Vintage Clouds Discorama, and Cepage are all horses one can make a case for.
This is the most competitive Champion Hurdle (3.30) in a fair few years, even if the quality doesn’t match that of other renewals. We’ve been blessed with top quality performers – and a gult of them – in recent years, and that should be remembered.
Epatante is deserving of her favouritism based on her very impressive victory over Ballyandy and Silver Streak in the Christmas Hurdle. She was a disappointment at the Festival last year when a weaker and much more immature horse than she is now, and the hood there might have hurt her chances too. As favourite, some might worry about her finish up the hill, but she made short work of Newbury’s straight and for all many in this field have questions, she has far less of them and is a worthy favourite.
Pentland Hills has shaped well in both starts, but his finish at Haydock combined with his juvenile efforts suggest that the better the surface, the better his chances, and he has something to prove on that score. Cliaos Emery’s move here looks a wise one by Willie Mullins, but he was receiving 7lbs from Darasso when he won the Red Mills Hurdle and will need to improve again on that today – not to say that he can’t – to win. His last run over hurdles at this level came in December 2017, when he was second to the surprise Ryanair Hurdle winner Mick Jazz.
Sharjah might have some of the best form in this field – he was desperately impressive when winning the 2019 Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown – but all his best form is on a sounder surface, and it might be best to wait and see what the jockeys say about the ground before backing him.
Supasundae’s best trip is probably 2m4f – he is a former Coral Cup winner – but last year’s Aintree Hurdle winner (when he beat none less than Buveur D’Air on soft ground) was a creditable second in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle afterwards and he warmed up for this perfectly when he was a running on fourth in the Irish Champion Hurdle on good ground. Cheltenham with more give should be just perfect for him and he looked as good as ever at the age of 10, and he makes the most appeal for an each/way involvement, although this is a race ripe for a shock – don’t discount any of them.
The clash between Benie Des Dieux & Honeysuckle makes the Mares’ Hurdle one to savour, with preference for Benie Des Dieux, although at 4/7 she is too short to recommend. Indeed there’s an argument for Honeysuckle being too big, but the betting strategy is to back last year’s winner Roksana each/way. Benie Des Dieux’s fall blew the race wide open last year and she eventually took the prize, having been left in front before wandering and then rallying when Stormy Ireland came back to her hind quarters to become just the second British trained winner of this event. Her season has been geared towards another tilt at this contest, and on two of three runs this season she’s put in strong efforts, finishing a neck second to Top Notch and then bouncing back from a poor run in the Ascot Hurdle when she was a good second in the Reelkeel to Summerville Boy. The Ascot Hurdle run would be a worry but Harry Skelton apparently said that she was rushed back from her seasonal debut whilst also racing too close to the pace, and the Reelkeel second was much more like it. Summerville Boy backed up that form when second in the Cleeve afterwards and if Roksana runs to form then few horses – bar the top two – can match her level of form she is an appealing each/way bet.
Stormy Ireland, Eflie and Lady Buttons are respected.
If any race shows us about how modern festival handicaps have evolved, then look no further than the Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase (4.50). Just 5lbs separates a 21 runner field which means that recent form can come right to the top and Hold The Note could be the one to back. His latest second in the Hampton Novices’ Chase showed what he could do after he was taken out of the race at Kempton on Boxing Day, coming a very creditable second behind Two For Gold. He was 13 lengths clear of the third – since fourth in what used to be the Racing Post Chase at Kempton – and the winner was a fair second to Copperhead in the Ryenoldstown. The drop back in trip ought not to be a problem – extra stamina is always a plus here – and Mick Channon’s record is a big encouragement – Mister Whitaker won this in 2018 and Knock House finished a fair fifth.
Carefully Selected is a very popular choice for the National Hunt Chase (5.30) and his form more than entitles him to go very close, but there are grounds for concern. His jumping has been sketchy and inefficient at times for all three of his chase wins and whilst he’s a resolute galloper, we saw that this test can do last season to even horses with the nicest profile. He’ll have to jump far better here and the distance is a technical unkown still, and he doesn’t make appeal at 9/4 for a race of this nature – few horses would.
Lord Du Mesnil is the only horse within 8lbs of his official rating (infact, he’s the top rated according to the handicapper) and there are no qualms about his stamina, after a wide margin win in the Last Fling Handicap Chase over the very solid yardstick Perfect Candidate, and then a really close second in the Grand National Trial at Haydock when he and winner Smooth Stepper were 19 lengths clear of Yala Enki. Those runs came on soft and heavy ground respectively and he looks tailor made for the race, making the 11/2 about him very appealing.
RECOMMENDED BETS (scale of 1-100 points)
BACK Fiddlerontheroof 1 pt win at 6/1 in 13:30 Cheltenham with starsports.bet
BACK Chantry House 1 pt win at 11/2 in 13:30 Cheltenham with starsports.bet
BACK The Conditional 1 pt each/way in 14:50 Cheltnham at 15/2 with starsports.bet
BACK Big River 1 pt each/way in 14:50 Cheltenham at 20/1 with starsports.bet
BACK Supasundae 1 pt each/way in 15:30 Cheltnham at 10/1 with starsports.bet
BACK Roksana 1 pt each/way at in 16:10 Cheltenham at 12/1 with starsports.bet
BACK Hold The Note 1 pt each/way in 16:50 Cheltenham at 15/2 with starsports.bet
BACK Lord Du Mesnil 2 pts each/way in 17:30 Cheltenham at 11/2 with starsports.bet
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