Under starter’s orders….stage set for 2020 Cheltenham Festival
The Cheltenham Festival is upon us once again. Our racing expert John Doyle gives you the low-down on ones to watch out for on days one and two of the Festival.
Day One – Tuesday 10th March
Supreme Novice Hurdle 1:30pm
The start of the 2020 festival is a high-quality race. The Novice Hurdlers are a strong bunch this year with Envoi Allen setting a strong standard.
Shishkin has been super impressive in his two wins for Nicky Henderson and looks to have a strong make up for this race.
The same owner has Asterion Forlonge, who has impressed in Ireland but looks to need a trip, so may get outpaced.
Abacadabras for the Gordon Elliott team has a good turn of foot but has not run since Christmas.
Fiddlerontheroof is an improving horse and won well at Sandown, but looks like he may prefer a longer trip too.
Arkle Trophy 2:10pm
The 2020 Arkle has seen the contenders fall away one by one to leave Notebook as a strong favourite going into the race. Notebook is a good jumper and has won his Novice Chases in a good manner.
However, in his last race, at Leopardstown, he boiled over on the way to the start and any repeat of that at Cheltenham will hinder his chance.
Fakir Doudairies is a young horse but jumps really well at speed. He lost out to Notebook at Christmas but there are grounds to think he can turn form around.
Brewinupastorm has impressed with his jumping in Britain and will be in mix too.
Selection: Fakir Doudairies
Ultima Handicap Chase 2:50pm
This Handicap is incredibly competitive and has been won in recent years by horses who have good recent form.
Deise Alba is just the type to follow up his win at Sandown and looks to be improving.
Kildisart ran a race full of promise at Kempton and looks like he has been laid out for the race. Vinndication and The Conditional are others to consider.
Selection: Deise Alba
Champion Hurdle 3:30pm
This year’s race is wide open renewal and it is easy to make a case for several runners. Equally, it is easy to find holes in all of them.
Epatante has been favourite since Christmas but she was a short price loser at last year’s Festival, so may not like the course.
Pentlands Hill won the Triumph Hurdle impressively last year but hasn’t seen his races out this year.
Supasundae and Coeur Sublime are outsiders to consider. With it likely to be soft on the day, Supasundae especially could be involved in the finish.
Alternative: Coeur Sublime
David Nicholson Mares Hurdle 4:10pm
This year’s Mares Hurdle has a weak overall look to it as the two top Mares, Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle, could be aimed at the Champion Hurdle.
Benie Des Dieux will be a strong favourite to repeat her 2018 win and would be going for a hat-trick if she had not fallen at the last in 2019.
Honeysuckle is unbeaten in all her starts and will be a big danger. While there is a chance she runs in the Champion Hurdle, this trip suits her better, so she is likely to run here.
Last year’s fortunate winner, Roksana, will be lurking again to pick up the pieces.
Alternative: Benie Des Dieux
Close Brothers Handicap Chase 4:50pm
This is a tough and tight Novices Handicap chase, but this year there are a couple of outstanding contenders who have strong form.
Imperial Aura ran second on Trials day in a handicap that has worked out well. He will be suited by the stronger pace and the Kim Bailey stable.
Hold the Note has improved as his campaign has moved along and running for same connections who won before, he must be considered. Galvin catches the eye for the Gordon Elliott team.
Selection: Imperial Aura
Alternative: Hold the Note
National Hunt Chase 5:30pm
The National Hunt Chase has had a reduction in distance and this race for Amateur riders has been won by some useful horses in recent years.
In a very unlike Willie Mullins approach, Carefully Selected has only been entered for this race.
The vibe from very early in the season is that Carefully Selected is the NH Chase mount for Patrick Mullins and he is a very strong favourite. Copperhead is an improving Chaser who will have a big chance if running here.
Selection: Carefully Selected
Day Two – Wednesday 11th March
Ballymore Novices Hurdle 1:30pm
Gordon Elliott’s Envoi Allen is the Irish Banker for the 2020 Cheltenham Festival. Last year’s Champion Bumper winner has won his Hurdle races impressively and will be expected to follow in the footsteps of Samcro two years ago.
The Big Getaway impressed in his recent start while the Big Breakaway and Sporting John are others to consider if looking for an alternative.
Selection: Envoi Allen
Alternative: Sporting John
RSA Chase 2:10pm
This Championship race for the staying Novice chasers looks another tough test. Champ leads the market but will need to overcome falling at the course on New Year’s Day.
Champ has jumped well to date, bar that blip, but he may not want a huge test of stamina.
Minella Indo is a dour stayer as he proved winning the Albert Bartlett last year. He will not be stopping as the going gets tough.
Alloha has looked good too but may not have the stamina reserves. Battleoverdoyen has won well but fell last time and ran poorly at last year’s Festival.
Selection: Minella Indo
Coral Cup 2:50pm
Another super tough handicap to solve. The Dan Skelton team have done well with Handicap runners and have targeted the Novice, Protekorat, for this race.
He has some strong Novice form and will be suit by the fast pace of the race.
Birchdale is another novice to consider for a top team and Sempo looks to have got a good mark too.
Queen Mother Champions Chase 3:30pm
The 2020 Champion Chase looks the race of the meeting. The two-time Champion, Altior, is back looking to win three in a row.
However, the young pretenders, Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi are not going to go down without a fight.
An attempt to step Altior up in trip backfired and he lost out at Ascot. Following time off, he won Game Spirit at Newbury before coming here.
Defi Du Seuil won the Marsh Chase at last year’s Festival before losing to Chacun Pour Soi at Punchestown.
Defi Du Seuil has been impressive winning all his starts this year, while Chacun Pout Soi put a Christmas defeat behind him with a super impressive win at the Dublin Racing festival.
Selection: Chacun Pour Soi
Alternative Defi Du Seuil
Cross Country Chase 4:10pm
Last year’s winner, Tiger Roll, is back again as a strong favourite, well clear on ratings, and will be going for his fifth win at the Cheltenham Festival.
Tiger Roll continues to amaze with his performances, last time running well in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan.
He will be hard to beat again. The French raider, Easysland, purchased by JP McManus after winning at Cheltenham, looks the big danger as he is well suit by the course.
Selection: Tiger Roll
Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle 4:50pm
This race has been a super competitive once since being introduced at the Festival. Gordon Elliot has the best overall record in it and has strong contenders again.
Aramax has been all the rage but listening to comments, the word is that Saint D’Oroux is the number one and Tronador could run well too. Mick Pastor and Palladium are other contenders from top stables to consider.
Selection: Saint D’Oroux
Champion Bumper 5:30pm
The Willie Mullins trained Appreciate has been a strong favourite for this since winning impressively at Leopardstown.
However, the stronger vibe from the stable looks to be for Ferny Hollow. Beaten twice as a short-priced favourite, blinkers were applied last time and he won with authority.
Israel Champ, Soaring Glory and Queens Brook are others to consider.
Selection: Ferny Hollow
Alternative: Appreciate it