Cheltenham Festival 2020

Cheltenham Festival 2020 Ante-Post Portfolio

Foxhunters Chase: Hazel Hill 5-1

Queen Mother Champion Chase: Altior 3-1 

Gold Cup: Clan Des Obeaix 8-1 e/w (NRNB)

The Jolly Double: Mares Hurdle: Benie Des Dieux Stayers Hurdle: Paisley Park 2-1 

Supreme Novice Hurdle: Shishkin 5-2

Cross Country: Easysland 3-1 (NRNB)

Arkle: Notebook 5-2 (NRNB)

Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase: Imperial Aura 6-1 (NRNB)

Champion Hurdle:  Epatante 7-2 (NRNB)

Triumph Hurdle: Solo 3-1 (NRNB)

RSA Chase: Champ 100-30 (NRNB)

Top Festival Jockey: Barry Geraghty 6-1  

And its all over for another week and I finish +14.4 to level stakes, a bit weird with all that has been going on, but a cracking week as ever and brilliant fun. Back to reality and hunting for a toilet roll! 

Friday:

As I have said before, no need for silly gimmicks or names for today it is simply Gold Cup day! The Festival is no place for the faint-hearted and the pace doesn’t slacken on day-four. I go into the day +18.3 to level stakes which I am delighted with but hopefully I have a winner or two yet. to build the bank up. My fancies can be found below. Here we go again…………

1.30 Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle 2m1f  

Solo was massively impressive at Kempton winning the Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle and reportedly Nicholls and the team were worried about him going right-handed on a tight track! He won at Autieul as a 3yo in similarly impressive fashion and this race could be run to suit. Allmakind, Aspire Tower and Goshen are all likely to make the pace pretty damn strong and I fancy the selection to pick them all off late on. I have the carpet 3-1 ante-post.

2.10 Grade Three Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle 2m1f  

Dan Skelton has a terrific record in this, winning three of the last four runnings — including with Mohaayed in 2018, just 3lb higher this year he has to be on any shortlist. Dual code operator Buildmeupbuttercup caught my eye having put in a couple of solid performances having reverted back to hurdles for the winter. If the chestnut mare is there or thereabouts over the last I thinks she is going to place-up at the very least and she is an each-way punt at 14-1.

2.50 Grade One Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle 3m  

Fury Road was described by Elliott as ‘particuarly well with himself’ in a spin last week and that sounds good to me. The six-year-old was having a good season before blotting his copybook at Leopardstown in February but I can forgive him that. I think he has a great shout at 7-1 and that is what I have done.

3.30 Grade One Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase 3m2½f

It’s the big one and it’s quite an open affair. I am on Clan Des Obeaux ante-post 8-1 each-way and I am quite happy with the bet. He had an away day to Wincanton at the end of February which Paul Nicholls described as ‘a proper work out with Frodon over two miles. It was part of their prep to go somewhere this week. I was thrilled with how this lad worked this morning.’  Everything appears to be going to plan. Talking about this race Nicholls said ‘We rode him very to the fore last year and this year we will ride him with a bit more restraint and take our time with him and deliver him late.’  

4.10 St. James's Place Foxhunter Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase 3m2½f

I am of course all about Hazel Hill ante-post for this at 5-1, won it for me last year and I expect him to repeat. I honestly think he is head and shoulders above the rest he won this last year by 4 lengths and I can see him doing it again! I am not concerned that he was beaten by Minella Rocco recently as that was a bit of a tactical affair in a small field at Wetherby and the bigger field here will suit the selection.

4.50 Grade Three Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase 2m½f  

It don't get any easier as we have another heat with several in with a chance. Lisp has been on my mind for a while and the chestnut six-year-old gelding could be on a nice mark on his handicap debut. Tipped up in several write-ups pre-festival he is short enough at 13-2 but is open to improvement yet and the pick.

5.30 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle 2m4½f  

The lucky last of the four days; it goes by so fast........  Gordon Elliott spoke of Column Of Fire last week saying of his charge 'he’ll run in the Martin Pipe. He ran great at the Dublin Racing Festival considering it was his first run in a big-field competitive handicap like that. He should come on from that experience and two-and-a-half miles will suit him well.’  I fully agree and think the lightly raced 6-y-o has to be backed at the 6-1.

Thursday:

We have reached the halfway point, 14 races down, 14 to go. I am currently running at +9.3 to level stakes. Bit of a rollercoaster yesterday and a big bit of WOW factor from Champ! On into day three we go......

1:30 Grade One Marsh Novices’ Chase 2m4f

The Tizzard camp mentioned in the build-up that Reserve Tank ‘could be the forgotten horse’ and he is available at double figure odds. He got beat at Newbury last time, the jockey said gelding ran flat and vet said gelding lost its left hind shoe. They have been unable to get a prep-run into him due to the weather, but it would not surprise me to see the 6-year-old bounce back in this. Colin Tizzard has said ‘Don’t worry about the fact he hasn’t run as he has been away for a gallop and everything is coming right. He will be a fresh horse and I think two and a half is ideal for him.’ In an open looking affair, I am on each-way at 12-1.  

2.10 Listed Pertemps Network Final Hurdle 3m

Relegate has been very well backed for this, Colm Murphy’s charge was 33s initially before finishing fourth at Punchestown after over a year off. The 14-1 afterwards has long gone and she’s into 13-2. Sir Du Berlais landed this race from a 7 lb lower mark last year and ran a nice race to qualify for this year's renewal at Warwick. Looks like he is going to the boil at the right time. Blinkers replace cheekpiece and I am on at 8-1.

2.50 Grade One Ryanair Steeple Chase 2m5f

This looks competitive with several in with chances. A Plus Tard was hugely impressive when winning the Close Brothers last year and has a big chance but I can’t back him at the price he is now. Min has been mixing it with the best for a few years now and will be in the mix but might not be at the peak of his powers. Frodon was a very popular winner of this last year and bounced back to form winning the Silviniaco Conti Chase last time. As Paul Nicholls said in the build-up ‘He loves Cheltenham and he loves going left-handed and he loves the New Course. If it kept on raining it wouldn't do him any harm. He is in a good place with himself and really ready to defend his crown.’ I have the 5-1 as I think he can do it again.  

3:30 Grade One Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle 3m

Paisley Park was part of my Jolly Double but that's gone wrong. I can’t see anything getting near the Champ and fully expect the Emma Lavelle trained eight-year-old to retain his crown. No price at 4-6 but who you going to back aginst him!

4.10 Grade Three The Brown Advisory  & Merriebelle Stable Plate 2m 5f

I put up Imperial Aura earlier this week off the back of his second to Simply The Betts in January; that form was well and truly franked in the Novices Handicap on Tuesday. I have to back this one now simple as that, I fancied him before Tuesday, and have a bit of the 4-1.

4.50 Grade Two The Festival Mares Novices’ Hurdle 2m1f

Not the greatest race of the week but Minella Melody has obvious claims for Blackmore and De Bromhead going for a Mares double. Floressa was perhaps a little unlucky last time and has solid form in the book. She is a tentative pick at the nicer price of 8-1 with coral.

5.30 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Steeple Chase 3m2f

This can get a bit messy with the greatest respect to the amateurs and a little luck in running never hurts! It's a wide-open betting heat and you can make a case for several. Le Breuil had a decent season last year culminating in NH Chase victory here and the National is the plan after this. I have the 6-1. Champagne Platinum will be fancied but I am not convinced about his jumping.

Wednesday:

Day two dawns and I am suffering from the traditional opening day hangover. Great day down there yesterday, as ever, and I am running at +8 to level stakes so I cannot moan. I am up and at ‘em again for Wednesday and my seven fancies follow.  

1.30 Grade One Ballymore Novices' Hurdle Race 2m5f  

Envoi Allen has been all the rage for this and was also short enough for the Supreme and Champion Hurdle but he aint raced over the trip on soft or heavy ground and it’s going to be easy underfoot. I am looking to take him on. Joe Tizzard appears sweet on the chances of The Big Breakaway calling him ‘a special horse’ and at 8's he is a much nicer price. Colin Tizzard rates him just as highly saying recently ‘It is a big ask on only his third start under rules to go and do that sort of thing at Cheltenham and Envoi Allen is a hot favourite, but he is a very talented horse and takes everything in his stride. He is very relaxed and jumps for fun. Robbie is in love with him and so are we. We have got some lovely novices this season and this one is very exciting.’ Reportedly the subject of a very large single with Boylesports I think the big and strong looking five-year-old can get the better of the hotpot.  

2.10 Grade One RSA Insurance Novices Chase 3m½f

Faugheen has been a staple at the Cheltenham Festival since winning on his first start at the meeting in the 2014 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle. He has been winning in Ireland and he will prove popular with many, but I cannot see the fairy-tale ending. Champ might win this in a canter, he has looked very good at times, but equally he could fall as he did in the Dipper. I wanted to take him on but couldn’t get away from the fact a big performance is likely from Henderson’s charge and have took the plunge at 100-30 with Power last week as he was shortening.  

2.50 Grade Three Coral Cup Hurdle 2m5f

As open as Billy Bunters fridge as usual, I have a shortlist as long as your arm! Sempo was entered in a couple of the Grade Ones and has been going in the right direction and could be in here off a nice mark but Joseph O’Brien did say in the build-up ‘We’d want the best ground possible for him’ and it is soft enough. The very lightly raced Birchdale headed the ante-post market his chasing career having been put on hold. He won well here last year in January but was then pulled-up in the Ballymore at the Festival. At his best he would go close surely, but is he back to his best? Geraghty has chosen to ride Dame De Compagnie and she has a fair course record, won a Mares Hurdle here in December, but I think he has made a mistake and I am on Birchdale at 16-1 each-way.

3.30 Grade One Betway Queen Mother Champion Steeple Chase 2m I

I was on the Champ Altior at 3-1 ante-post but sadly he does not run. That surely leaves it Defi Du Seuil and I have a bit of the 5-4 about him. Having won the Tingle Creek and Clarence House he is the form pick now plus he has a great record here and won't mind the going.

4.10 The Glenfarclas Cross Country Steeple Chase 3m 6f

Tiger Roll will be soooooooooo short for this going for the treble and his fifth Festival win; the question is how fir is he? If anything is going to spoil the party, it will be Easysland surely who won over the course at the November meeting and has a bundle of experience in these races. A recent purchase for J P McManus there is only one reason he is in the famous green-and-gold-hooped racing colours and that is to win this. I am on at 3-1.  

4.50 Grade Three Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle Race (Fred Winter) 2m½f

I couldn’t help but notice Gordon Elliott stated ‘He’s one that wouldn’t want too much rain’ when talking about Aramax which makes me wonder about his chances. Another J P McManus owned one Mick Pastor caught the eye winning at Ludlow with the tongue tied fitted having blotted his copybook racing keenly in the Triumph Trial here at the November meeting. Paul Nicholls revealed he was found to have quite bad ulcers after which he was treated for and that’s when he went to Ludlow and he absolutely bolted in. I have the 10-1 about him  

5.30 Grade One Weatherbys Champion Bumper 2m½f

Appreciate It will be short, and I aint betting a short one in this. He does look the one to beat, but there are a hatful of unexposed types who may well improve significantly on their previous form. One that Mullins used to train, now with David Pipe, Panic Attack must be considered and is in fact my tip. Impressive on her sole start at Market Rasen winning by ten lengths, when trained by Mullins, I think the Irish maestro might be kicking himself after this. Pipe mentioned pre festival Panic Attack's filly's allowance could prove to be a big factor saying "She gets 15lb weight allowance off the boys – that’s a lot,”  At 10-1 I think she can beat the hotpot.

Tuesday:

Day one for the Festival and right now we all think we have 28 winners, and this is going to be our week! Time will tell. As is now a long-held tradition for Champion Hurdle day Triple G is up at sparrows fart with the usual suspects Mr Wilson and Mr Griffiths. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again the Old Restoration in the High Street does a lovely fry-up and a decent pint and let’s be honest there will be little sleep from now until Friday evening anyway. Four days, twenty-eight races, bets, bets and more bets, let’s have it!

1.30 Grade One Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 2m½f

The roar will go up at 1.30 as they set-off for the traditional curtain raiser of the four days, always a good race to have the winner for if you can. I took the 5-2 about Shishkin a little while back and I am happy with that. Impressive at Newbury and Huntingdon I think there is more to come yet, and he is strongly fancied to get me off to a winning start. Asterion Forlonge, in the same ownership, is the danger.  

2.10 Grade One Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Steeple Chase 2m  

Notebook went into a lot of notebooks in the build-up and looks a fair jolly being unbeaten over the larger obstacles including when winning the G.1 ERSG Arkle Novice Chase last month. He has beaten Fakir D'oudairies before and I think Brewin’upastorm needs to have improved bucket loads to get near him. At 5-2 he looks a solid punt to me and Racheal Blackmore can strike an early blow in the battle to be top jockey. Talking in the build-up Henry De Bromhead said ‘He’s in mighty form and will go for the Arkle. He hasn’t put a foot wrong this season’ I have to agree.  

2.50 Grade Three Ultima Handicap Steeple Chase 3m1f

A wide-open affair yet again with several in with chances. It is likely to be a real test of stamina so I am looking for one that will get the trip. Discorama goes well here, second in the Challenge Cup last year, and chased home Delta Work at Punchestown last year proving he can mix it with the big boys. Has had wind surgery and I am convinced he will be there or thereabouts at the last and then it’s anyone's race. I missed the big prices but at 9-1 wth Coral he is the pick with several feared.  

3.30 Grade One Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy 2m½f

This is a surprisingly open affair this year with no one horse having really stamped their authority on the division. Benie Des Dieux and Honeysucckle were both at the head of the betting and they aint even coming for this! Pentland Hills won last year but hasn’t looked anywhere near that form this season. Epatante won the Christmas Hurdle in nice style, having won at Newbury before that. She appears to have come on bundles since finishing down the field in the Mares' Novices' Hurdle last season and she only has to carry 11-3 for this with her allowance. By process of elimination the Henderson trained mare is the pick at 7-2 simply because I can’t fancy any of the others.  

4.10 Grade One Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle Race 2m4f

Benie Des Dieux broke my heart last year, I was open-mouthed as she fell at the last, along with thousands of others. I am on in the jolly double with Paisley Park later in the week which pays 2-1 if they both cop and I am sure compensation awaits. That said I will be holding my breath at the last! Honeysuckle is naturally feared now she comes for this and with her taking this route this race might now be one of the best of the whole week.  

4.50 Listed Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase 2m4f

This is a real headscratcher and I have gone through the form countless times and keep coming back to Imperial Aura. I have seen him tipped up in a few Festival guides and he is priced appropriately at 6-1. Kim Bailey put him up as probably his best chance at the meeting and his mark of 143 looks a very workable one as they say. His run when second here to Simply The Betts early this year was to get him qualified and he should come on for that.  

5.30 Grade Two National Hunt Steeple Chase Challenge Cup (Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Steeple Chase) 3m6f

Second in the Bumper in 2018 Carefully Selected has been going well in Ireland having gone chasing and is unbeaten in three starts, including winning a G.3 at Nass last time. I was waiting to be sure Copperhead wasn’t lining-up and he isn’t which surely leads the way open for the Willie Mullins trained gelding to win this. 13-8 is hardly generous but I wouldn’t lay you 3-1!  

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6th March 2020: I think Coral have dropped the ball and taken full advantage of the 6-1 for Barry Geraghty to be top jockey at the Festival. J P is odds-on to be top owner surely his man rider has a chance of beeping top jock! 

5th March 2020: I have taken the plunge on the opener for Friday the Triumph Hurdle. Solo was very impressive at Kempton in the Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle and I think the race will be run to suit him. I have also taken 100-30 about Champ for the RSA  as I think a big performance is likely from Henderson’s charge. 

4th March 2020: The Champion Hurdle this year is far from a classic and as it i now clear  Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle won't run I have taken 7-2 about the other mare Epatante as much as anything simply because I can’t fancy any of the others. 

3rd March 2020: Two more have been added to the ante-post list, both NRNB. Notebook looks a decent punt for the Arkle unbeaten over the larger obstacles as he is and I simply kept coming back to Imperial Aura for the Novice Chase on day one so he has been backed as well. 

2nd March 2020: It seems the world and their wife want Tiger Roll to win the Cross Country but I am taking him on especially at the prices. Easysland won over the course at the November meeting and has a bundle of experience in these races. A recent purchase for J P McManus there is only one reason he is in the famous green-and-gold-hooped racing colours and that is to win this and I am on at 3-1

24th February 2020:  I was pleased to see Paul Nicholls upbeat talking about Clan Des Obeaux to Nick Luck on Racing TV on Sunday morning. "He doesn't know what price he is and I think it's an open race between the top four or five. He's definitely in the form of his life and definitely better than he was last year...........We're hoping this year we've got a stronger horse, who will stay the trip well and be in a better place than last year. If you win two King Georges, you have to stay, so I don't think there's an issue with his stamina. We just have to get him to his very best and hope it's not bottomless ground, while we'll take our time with him this year and try to produce him late. I think he's got a leading chance."

The Festival is a long four days and one of the keys to survival is backing a winner as early as possible, I think I have one for the opener the Supreme. Nicky Henderson has hinted Shishkin might just be his leading hope at the Festival. The trainer said recently "You'd like to think he'd be one of our best chances and he's looked very good." I can't disagree with the master of Seven Barrows and have taken the 5-2 in his prep at Huntingdon he sauntered to an 11-length victory following a win by the same margin at Newbury, in fact barring his tumble early on at Newbury on his debut over sticks in December he has looked a class act.