Given the ultra-competitive nature of the Cheltenham Festival, finding winners at the four-day extravaganza is never easy. However there are a number of key trials that take place in the build up to the big event in March which traditionally throw-up key contenders for the feature races.
Here we take a look at those Grade 1 contests and the current odds of horses that it could pay to follow.
Champion Hurdle – Tuesday, March 16
Epatante shot to the head of the bettong for the Champion Hurdle after taking the step up into Grade 1 company in her stride when impressively landing the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day. The race has thrown-up a whole host of subsequent Champion Hurdle winners.
In recent years they include Faugheen (2015) and Buveur D’air. The latter, like Epatante is trained by Nicky Hdnerson and carries the famous green and gold hoops of leading Irish owner JP McManus.
That duo are the most successful in the history of the Champion Hurdle having won it seven and eight times respectively. Given how she quickened clear to cruise home by five lengths in the Christmas Hurdle, Epatante looks a worthy market leader at 7/2 with William to add to those tallys.
Pentland Hills is currently second Champion Hurdle favourite in the Cheltenham ante post betting at 8/1 with Unibet. Also trained by Henderso, this five-year-old won the Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham Festival. However, winners of that race don’t have a good record in the Champion Hurdle, with Katchit the last to triumph back in 2008.
Horses that have run well in the Champion Hurdle often do so again, so that brings last year’s third Silver Streak into the mic. He chased home Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle and could well be the each-way value at 33/1 with?
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Queen Mother Champion Chase – Wednesday, March 17
The Tingle Creek Chase and Clarence House Chase are among the main trial races for the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Defi Du Seuil has won both this season and is currently 2/1 favourite with Paddy Power to land the day two feature at the Cheltenham Festival.
After idling when beating Un De Sceaux by a neck in the former, the Philip Hobbs trained seven-year-old could not have been more impressive when crusingt home to trounce the same rival by 2 3/4 lengths in the Clarence House. The JP McManus owned gelding, who is already a dual Grade 1 winner at the Cheltenham Festival having captured the Triumph Hurdle in 2017 and this year’s JLT Novices’ Chase, is clever jumper with a high cruising speed and potent turn of foot.
Those are the ideal attributes for the Queen Mother and Defi Du Seuil is a young and improving sort whose proven course form is another obvious plus – so there is nothing not to like about his chances. There have been plenty of multiple Queen Mother Champion Chase winners and Altior has triumphed the last two runnings. Trained by Nicky Henderson, this 10-year-old suffered his first defeat over jumps on seasonal reappearance in the 2m 5f Christy 1965 Chase at Ascotwhen going down by just over two lengths.
He had been successful in 19 previous starts over hurdles and fences combined, and is a four-time Cheltenham Festival winner having also won the Supreme Novices Hurdle and the Arkle Novices Chase. Altior has not been seen since Ascot and can be backed at 7/2 with 888sport.
Stayers’ Hurdle – Thursday, March 12
Reigning champion Paisley Park is a red-hot 5/4 favourite to retain his crown after looking as good as ever when winning on seasonal reappearance.
That success came in the Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury where Emma Lavelle’s stable star powered home under regular pilot Aidan Coleman to beat Thistlecrack, who won the 2016 running of the Stayers’ Hurdle, by a length.
Ingles Drever did the double in 2017/18, whilst Big Buck’s won both contests four times on the bounce between 2009 and 2012. Paisley Park looks to hold outstanding claims of doing the same.
Last season’s Liverpool Hurdle hero If The Cap Fits is the 8/1 second favourite with William Hill for the Stayers’ Hurdle. The Grade 1 Aintree race has been a good guide to finding the winner of Cheltenham Festival day three feature, as has the Grade 2 Coral Hurdle at Ascot in which the Harry Fry trained eight-year-old triumphed in 2018 and 2019.
It makes the Paul and Claire Rooney owned gelding a fascinating contender and he appeals as the one to give Paisley park ost to think about.
It’s hard not to see if The Cap Fits not hitting the frame at least, so at the current odds on offer he looks a decent each-way betting proposition.
Cheltenham Gold Cup – Friday, March 13
This year’s renewal of chasing blue riband contest has a wide-open look to it with the Willie Mullins’ trained Al Boum Photo currently heading the ante post betting.
The seven-year-old provided the Closutton handler with his first victory in the Grade 1 feature run over 3m 2f on the final day of the Cheltenham Festival when beating Anibale Fly by 2 1/2 length in 2019.
The great Best Mate (2002, 2003, 2004) is the most recent horse to successfully defend the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Al Boum Photo is 9/2 with Coral to follow in his footsteps following a convincing six length victory over stable companion Acapello Bourgeois in the Grade 3 Savills New Year’s Day Chase at Tramore which he landed last year before enjoying his finest hour.
The RSA Novices’ Chase often throws-up a leading contender of two for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Last year’s renewal was a strong one and the second and third home, Santini and Delta Work, both look interesting contenders.
Santino scrambled home on return to action at Sandown but is an out-and-out stayer who looks tailor-made for the Cheltenham Gold Cup and remains open to stacks of progress. Nicky Henderson’s charge is currently a 9/1 shot with BetVictor.
The Gordon Elliott trained Delta Work showed tremendous battling qualities to resume winning ways last time out in the Grade 1 Savills Chase over 3m at Leopardstown. Both Synchronised (2011) and Bobs Worth (2013) won that race before landing the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Delta Work, who can also be backed at 9/1 with BetVictor, could line-up in the Irish Gold Cup ahead of the Cheltenham Festival – and that race is also a good trial for the big one..
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