UK racing fans received a timely boost on the eve of the Cheltenham Festival with the government resisting the temptation to postpone major sporting events. There had been fears that the four-day festival of jump racing from 10th to 13th March would not go ahead as the worldwide threat of the coronavirus gathers pace.
The UK government has decided to remain in the containment stage, although the impact on sporting events is being felt around the globe. The Indian Wells tennis tournament and the Six Nations rugby match between France and Ireland have been postponed.High profile soccer matches in Italy have been played behind closed doors with France following suit for the Champions League game between PSG and Dortmund.
Ireland and GB set for Prestbury Cup clash
Ireland and Great Britain have the side-issue of the Prestbury Cup, based on the number of winners trained in their respective countries over the four-day festival. Honours were shared 14-14 last year and it looks like being equally competitive in 2020.
The OLBG website provides the ultimate horse racing tips guide with expert advice from their profitable resident tipsters. Every race at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival has been carefully scrutinised with no stone left unturned in the quest for winners. Ireland are odds-on to win the Prestbury Cup with favourites in well over half of the races.
The Irish challenge is led bysome of the best-backed horses of the week including Envoi Allen (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle), Appreciate It (Champion Bumper) and Carefully Selected (National Hunt Chase).The best of the home team are likely to include Shishkin (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle), Champ (RSA Chase), Paisley Park (Stayers Hurdle) and Defi Du Seuil (Champion Chase).
As well as the Championship races, there are also some fiercely competitive handicaps over hurdles and fences. Burrows Edge catches the eye in the Coral Cup and Sire Du Berlais is expected to go well despite his big weight in the Pertemps Network Final.
Anxious wait for Chasing stars
It has also been an anxious time for connections of some of the stars of National Hunt racing. Record-breaking Altior was reported to be lame just a few days ahead of his bid for a third successive victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Trainer Nicky Henderson and his team have been working around the clock to try to get their stable star to Cheltenham for a fifth successive season.
Henderson also reported that his Champion Hurdle favourite Epatante had been coughing but was back on track for the feature race on day 1. The brilliant winner of the Christmas Hurdle remains favourite with the bookmakers ahead of stable companion Pentland Hills.
The opening day also features a fascinating clash between Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle in the Mares’ Hurdle. Both had been considered for the Champion Hurdle but the scene is set for a head-to-head between two of the best mares in training.
Grand National could be under threat
Tiger Roll galloped his way into the history books with a memorable second Grand National victory last April. He now stands on the threshold of a remarkable hat-trick in the world’s greatest steeplechase. To qualify for the National, he is running in the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham, a race which he has won for the past two seasons. The Grand National is currently scheduled for 4th April but could be under threat if the UK government is forced to ramp up their response to the spread of the virus.
The highlight of the week is the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday, won by Irish-trained horses for three of the past four seasons. Al Boum Photo won last year for Willie Mullins and is back to defend his crown after a smooth preparation. He will be joined by stable companion Kemboy who defeated him at Punchestown last season.
Tiger Roll’s trainer, Gordon Elliott, is also represented with Delta Work, the winner of the Irish Gold Cup. Third-placed Presenting Percy compliments a very strong Irish challenge. He started favourite last year but finished lame and looks to be returning to peak form at the right time.