It might not have the international pull of an event like Royal Ascot, nor gain the undivided attention of the non-racing public like the Grand National, but, increasingly, in the UK (and Ireland) the event that means more than any other is the Cheltenham Festival (10th-13th March). The national hunt racing showcase has grown in scope over the last couple of decades, and, while it can be difficult to measure these things, one would argue it has become a bigger draw than its flat racing counterparts across the summer months.
The build-up to Cheltenham takes place across various trials and festivals across the winter months. And, as such, the money starts flying in on the ante-post markets long before race day. Below we are going to look at who is moving and shaking the markets with just days to go until the big kick-off at Prestbury Park Racecourse.
Altior Has Stiff Competition
The Queen Mother Champion Chase has all the hallmarks of being a classic this year. On the one hand, we have the mercurial, record-breaking Altior who has 20 consecutive victories over this distance, and who is gunning for a third Champion Chase in succession. A blip in Altior’s perfect record in November (the race was 5 furlongs longer than Altior’s preferred two miles) caused the markets to panic, but a successful reappearance in February has put the money back behind him as 2/1 favourite. However, Defi Du Seul (9/4) and Chacun Pour Soi (11/4, all odds Betfair) also have the form and goods to take the crown from king Altior. A three-way tussle for the Champion Chase might just deliver one of the most talked-about races in years.
A Gold Cup Puzzle
By its very nature, the Gold Cup is a difficult race to call. But it looks even more open than usual this year. Last year’s winner Al Boum Photo leads the way in the markets along with the brilliant Santini at 4/1, but we could also make a strong case for Delta Work (6/1), Lostintranslation, Clan Des Obeaux and Kemboy (all 7/1). Who to back? It really is a tough call, so perhaps protect your selection with some Cheltenham free bets at https://www.freebets.co.uk/cheltenham-festival-free-bets/. Indeed, there is scope for a big price winner this year, with the likes of Chris’s Dream and Bristol De Mai (33/1, William Hill) having good chances for a place at least. In short, the Gold Cup seems like one of those races where the winner seems obvious after the fact.
The Short-Priced Darlings While the Gold Cup and Champion Chase look tough to predict, there are several races with hot favorites: Tiger Roll is even money to take the Cross Country Chase before heading for the Grand National; Paisley Park can perhaps claim to be the lock of the week, with a best price of 8/11 (Bet365) for the Stayers’ Hurdle; Envoi Allen looks like a future superstar, and he will likely take the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at 11/8 (Sky Bet); Benie Des Dieux also looks a brilliant bet for the Mares’ Hurdle at 4/5, but will face a challenge from the excellent Honeysuckle (9/4). Seeing any of those horses lose will represent a shock. But, more importantly, seeing them rack up the wins will mean a profitable Cheltenham for punters, and a tough one for bookmakers.