Paisley Park and Aidan Coleman after winning last year’s Stayers Hurdle. The pair are money on to repeat the feat on Thursday.
I bet you’ve been like me over the last couple of weeks or so.
Dreading hearing the news or looking at social media in case there’s talk or announcement about the cancellation of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival due to Covid-19.
If you’re reading this (on Tuesday morning) then we’ve made it. I’m writing this Friday and there’s still a small chance that this 2,000 plus word piece will never see the light of day and be a complete waste of time but hopefully not.
Anyway enough of all that….let’s be positive. That’s the great thing about the Tuesday morning of the Cheltenham Festival, everyone is positive about their chances of having a good week. Nobody has, as of yet, resigned themselves to the fact that they’re going to have a losing week, even though most of us probably will.
I took the decision this year, mostly because my favourite….the Woodlands Hotel one didn’t go ahead….not to attend a Preview night.
Instead I dipped in and out of a few online ones. If you haven’t already done so then we have a day by day preview on our website, www.waterford-news.ie with thanks to Tote Ireland.
Anyway all that you’re going to read from here on is a collaboration of all those pundits and tipsters that I’ve listened to an a bit of my own opinion from watching the National Hunt season, both in Ireland and England, over the past six months or so.
DAY ONE – TUESDAY
The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is the one that brings the biggest roar of the week as the opening race and as usual it looks like a tricky affair. It was made even muddier on Thursday night when Gordon Elliott said that there’s a big chance that Envoi Allen, the long time favourite for the Ballymore, is now likely to line up here. I find that a little strange but where ever he lines up he’ll be a worthy favourite as he’s done nothing wrong this season and of course won the Champion Bumper here last year. The big danger looks to be Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin (owned by Joe Donnelly, who also owns Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo), while Willie Mullins’ Asterion Forlonge also looks a big player. Remember that the ground, especially on Tuesday, will be soft so make sure your chosen selections like a cut in the ground. It’s hard to call it at the time of writing with the uncertainty over Envoi Allen but I like Shiskin.
The Arkle has local horse Notebook from the Henry de Bromhead yard as the favourite. He’s four from four over fences this season, including winning at the Dublin Racing Festival the last day so to me he’s a worthy favourite. The big dangers are likely to be Olly Murphy’s Brewinupastorm, who looks to be the best of the home team and Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir D’Oudaries. I’d be slow to depart Noebook as he’s been brilliant this year with Rachael Blackmore in the saddle.
I have no view on the Ultima but it’s often won by a horse around 14-20/1 with a bit of form over the previous 12 months. A few tipsters have been sweet on Kildisart from the Ben Pauling yard.
The big race of the day is the Champion Hurdle and I think it’s fair to say that this is the weakest looking renewal of this great race that I’ve ever seen. I am surprised than neither Benie Des Dieux or Honeysuckle line up here as they’d surely have a huge chance.
For me the favourite, Epatante for Nicky Henderson and JP McManus stands out. She has only five lifetime runs but four of them are wins and I thought she was super impressive at Kempton on St. Stephen’s Day. Both trainer and owner have a great record in this and I’ll be siding with her. She could be as big as 5/1 by the off and I don’t think she’s caught the imagination of the punters but she’ll do for me.
The Mares Hurdle is next and this could be one of the races of the week if Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle line up at the start. These are two quality mares and their battle could be epic. Benie fell at last year’s Festival as a money on shot but she’s been super impressive in her two starts since then. I wouldn’t rule out Honeysuckle for Henry de Bromhead though. She’s had seven starts over hurdles and has won them all, including the Irish Champion the last day at Leopardstown. Stormy Ireland and Lady Buttons look like the best of the rest.
The Northern Trust is the second last race of the day and I like the favourite here (not very original I know). Imperial Aura is the horse and he’s trained by Kim Bailey. He’s been just touched off on his last two starts, both at Cheltenham. Paul Kealy of the Racing Post has been raving about this horse all the winter and I think he’s got a big chance. Hold The Note and Galvin look the obvious dangers.
The final race on day one, the National Hunt Chase is the first of the week that’s confined to amateur riders and the favourite here is Carefully Selected for Patrick and Willie Mullins. I know the Mullins camp are very confident about this lad and after winning three from three over fences they have every reason to be.
One that catches my eye is Battleoverdoyen. He seems to be a bit of a forgotten horse. He fell the last day in a race won by Faugheen but he’s a beautiful horse and he did win his two races before that. Raven Hill, Forza Milan and Sprigfield Fox are also worth a second look.
Envoi Allen looks to be one of Ireland’s best chances of a winner, whatever race he lines up in.
DAY TWO – WEDNESDAY
The opener on day two is the Ballymore and this should be Envoi Allen’s if he goes here, if he doesn’t then it’ll be wide open. The Philip Hobbs trained and JP McManus owned, Sporting John is second favourite, while another two with big shouts are The Big Breakaway (Colin Tizzard) and The Big Getaway (Willie Mullins). Confused? Me too.
The RSA is one of my favourite races of the week and this year’s running looks set to be a cracker. The joint favourites are Champ, named after AP McCoy, for Nicky Henderson and Henry de Bromhead’s Minella Indo who won at odds of 50/1 at last year’s Festival. Just behind them in the betting is the one I like, Copperhead for Colin Tizzard. But this could be a cracker.
The Coral Cup is lottery of a race with 8/1 co-favourites at the moment.
Nicky Henderson and JP McManus have two live chances in here with Birchdale and Dame de Compagnie. One I like is Thosedaysaregone from the always dangerous Charles Byrnes yard at around 12/1. Unlike most horses in this, he has only one Festival entry and you know he’s going to be ready to go.
The Champion Chase is the highlight of day two and could be the highlight of the whole week. It looks to be a three horse race between the multiple winner of this race, Altior for Nicky Henderson, Chacun Pour Soi for Willie Mullins and Philip Hobbs’ Defi Du Seuil.
This is virtually impossible to call. One thing for sure is that Altior will need to be back to his best to win this against two real up and coming horses. If I was put to the pin of my collar, I’d go for Defi Du Seuil.
The Cross Country is next and in that the brilliant Tiger Roll is looking for a hat-trick of wins and at evens he could be the bet of the week. The big danger looks to be the French horse, Easysland, but it’s the great Tiger Roll for me. He loves it around those fences and it should be the perfect prep for another tilt at a third Grand National in a row.
The old Fred Winter is now known as the Boodles and it’s another tough one to figure out. Gordon Elliott doesn’t train too many for JP McManus but they do have the favourite here in Aramax. Watch out too if Joseph O’Brien has one for JP in this because he has a couple entered that should have a big chance. Instant Return and Repetitio might be worth a look at big prices.
The final race on day two is the Champion Bumper and this race is home to my banker of the week in Willie Mullins’ Appreciate It. Amazingly Mullins is looking for 10th career win in this race…how mad is that? They thing the world of this lad and the way he won the last day at Leopardstown looked very impressive to me. He’s short enough but a winner is a winner.
His stablemate, Ferny Hollow and the Gordon Elliott pair of Queen’s Brook and Easkylane could be the dangers.
DAY THREE – THURSDAY
The opening race of day three, the second-half, of the Festival is the Marsh Chase and it looks a good one. To me, if they all turn up here, it’s a two horse race between Willie Mullins’ Alaho and Itchy Feet. Both are really good horses and it’s really hard to split them especially as both were third at last year’s festival. Could be a cracker.
The Pertemps Final is race two and this is an absolute minefield. Flicking through the various preview nights and previews I’ve heard at least ten tips for this one. I’ll definitely be siding with The Storyteller for Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell but there’s so many more. Relegate would be a fairytale comeback to the training ranks for Wexford’s Colm Murphy, while I know Jessica Harrington is very keen on the chances of Silver Sheen who won at Warwick recently. Welsh Saint and Third Wind are others to note.
The Ryanair is a race that Henry de Bromhead has already won and he looks to have a serious chance again this year with A Plus Tard who won over hurdles at last year’s Festival. Since then he’s ran three times and won once but is still likely to go off as favourite with Rachael Blackmore on board.
The big danger looks to be Min from Willie Mullins’ yard. This fella seems to be around forever but he’s still only nine and his form is hugely consistent and he has to have a huge chance in here. Last year’s winner, Frodon and Nigel Twiston Davies’ Riders On The Storm look to be the best of the home team and both have big chances.
The Stayers Hurdle is the big race of the Thursday and there’s one of the good things of the week in here in last year’s winner, Paisley Park for owner Andrew Gemmell, who must be one of the nicest men in racing. What a horse this lad is. I can’t see him beaten to be honest. Summerville Boy and Emiton might be the ones for forecasts or the tricasts.
The Brown Advisory Plate is next up on day three and the favourite is Simply The Betts from the Whittington yard and he has to have a good chance in a wide open race.
The Novice Mare’s Hurdle is next up and once again Henry de Bromhead has a leading chance with Minella Melody who has won four of her five career starts. There’s another Waterford connection in here too with Colreevy, the third favourite, who is owned by the Flynn Family from Dungarvan. Nicky Henderson’s Floressa and Dermot McLoughlin’s Santa Rosa are others in with a shout.
The Waterford theme continues in the final race of day three, the Kim Muir as one of the leading fancies is Deise Aba for Philip Hobbs and Trevor Hemmings. Milan Native for Gordon Elliott is another in with a chance (especially if Jamie Codd rides as he has won this four times) and also whatever Derek O’Connor rides – looking like Champagne Platinum for Nicky Henderson and JP McManus.
Al Boum Photo and Paul Townend on their to winning the 2019 Gold Cup. He is a two time Tramore winner and he bids to retain his title on Friday. Photos: Inpho.
DAY FOUR – FRIDAY
The Triumph Hurdle as always kicks off the final day of the Festival and one of the big plunge horses of the week is Solo for Paul Nicholls who now looks certain to go off favourite after being a huge price for this all winter.
Gary Moore is always a man to keep on side and he looks to have a serious chance here with second favourite Goshen who is three from three this term. Also three out of three this season is Dan Skelton’s Allmankind and despite falling the last day, Henry de Bromhead’s Aspire Tower has to have a big chance if running his race. Goshen is the one I like.
The County Hurdle is next up and again this looks like a lottery. There are a few tied for favouritism around 8/1, including Willie Mullins’ Ciel De Neige. He also has Aramon towards the top of the betting and Eglantine Du Seuil. Dan Skelton has won this the last two years and he looks to have a big chance again with Mohaayed. Eldorado Allen for Colin Tizzard might have a chance too at a decent price.
The Albert Bartlett is third up on Friday and the biggest story here would surely be if Latest Exhibition could win for Paul Nolan. The Wexford trainer has had very lean times in recent years but he has a real chance here after his stable star won last time out at Leopardstown.
Philip Hobbs’ Thyme Hill is favourite having won his last three and is followed not far behind in the betting by Willie’s Monkfish. I think Latest Exhibition has a big chance here but two to keep an eye out for are Fury Road and Lieutenant Rocco.
The Gold Cup is of course the biggest race of the week and it looks a very interesting renewal. Last year’s winner, Al Boum Photo, twice a winner at Tramore on New Year’s Day is favourite but is bidding to become the first horse since Best Mate in 2003 and 2004 to retain the crown.
The challengers are Santini from the Nicky Henderson yard, Gordon Elliott’s Delta Work, Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation, Clan Des Obeaux for Paul Nicholls, Kemboy for Willie Mullins and Pat Kelly’s Presenting Percy.
I really don’t like the record of winners coming back trying to defend this crown so that would put me off the favourite.
Of the rest I’m struggling to make a huge case for any of them so the one I think I’ll go for Clan Des Obeaux at around 7/1. A lot has been made of the fact that he’s never won around Cheltenham but he has been second three times and he absolutely hacked up (by 21 lengths) in the King George at Kempton on St. Stephen’s Day. The big plus for me is that he has had no run this year between then and now and I think he’ll run better fresh.
The Foxhunters always follows the Gold Cup, over the same course and distance, for amateur riders and I love this race.
There’s been an absolute monster of a gamble in this race over recent weeks in the form of JP McManus’ Staker Wallace, trained by Enda Bolger, especially after the news emerged that he will have the help of Derek O’Connor. This is a surprise as he looked set to ride former Gold Cup runner-up, Minella Rocco, after he helped him to beat last year’s winner of this race, Hazel Hill (4/1 fav for this), recently at Wetherby. That is surely a tip in itself. I’ve heard a few tips too for Billaway for Willie and Patrick Mullins and Waterford trainer Vinny Halley is set to run Arctic Skipper at a big price.
The Grand Annual is the penultimate race of the week and there’s a real talking horse in here in Greaneteen for Paul Nicholls, who has been apparantly tipping him up all over the place. Alan King’s Lisp is next best in the betting. Brelan D’As, also Paul Nicholls and Henry de Bromhead’s Paloma Blue are also live contenders.
The final race of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival will be the Martin Pipe and again this looks a wide open affair but I think there could be a short enough favourite come the day. Joseph O’Brien’s (who won this last year with Early Doors) Front View is currently the 5/1 favourite but he could be a lot short than that on the day, especially if Envoi Allen wins earlier in the week. Johnjo O’Neill Jnr will be on board and he won’t harm his chances. One I like is Pileon for Philip Hobbs.
So there you have it. I hope this helps. Best of luck and of course bet responsibly.