10 to Follow For Cheltenham
One of the most eagerly anticipated fixtures on the sporting calendar, the curtain goes up on this year’s show on Tuesday 13th March.
The sport’s biggest names will be in attendance, from star trainers and jockeys to the main attraction, the horses themselves. With millions of pounds set to be wagered on bets again this year, it’s little surprise to see bookmakers vying for your business. It’s a real buyer’s market, one of the few occasions where the power is with the people. There’s also no lack of special offers and deals doing the rounds to lure you in and Timeform’s free bets page serves as a handy index of the best available.
We take a look at the leading cast, picking out 10 horses sure to be popular with punters in the run-up to the festival.
Current favourite for the Arkle Chase on Tuesday and one of a talented Willie Mullins squad, the six-year-old bay ended 2017 with victory in the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown, destroying the field. The nearest finisher Any Second Now slumped across the line a full 11 lengths behind in second. Not done there, he then went and won the Arkle Novices Chase at the same venue, again winning with plenty in hand. Petit Mouchoir was best of the rest but could get no closer than five lengths when it mattered. A real form horse, he’ll go as a strong play on day one.
Well quoted for the Champion Hurdle, another Tuesday race, Buveur D’air, for Nicky Henderson, landed the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown to get 2018 off to a flyer. Starting as a 1/16 favourite, there was little interest in it for punters, serving as nothing more than a chance for race-goers to catch a glimpse of a modern legend as he sharpens his tools for an assault on Prestbury Park. He didn’t win as convincingly as the SP said he would, but Buveur D’air got the job done and there’s much more to come in the weeks and months ahead.
A real favourite of the casual punter, Apples Jade famously won the Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham last year, upsetting Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini in a stunning finish. She was written off that day, but traders won’t make the same mistake this year and the six-year-old mare is currently the odds-on favourite. She won the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown, edging out Supasundae in another classic. Nothing can be taken for granted in this race but there’s no doubt she deserves to be the price she is and will attract plenty of support from those in the know.
It remains to be seen which race Samcro will be entered into, Gordon Elliott having a couple of options for him, but oddsmakers expect the Ballymore Novices Hurdle to be the target. He opened his account at Leopardstown with an impressive win in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle in early February, scalping a talented field, including runner-up Duc Des Genievres. That result took his career stats to six wins from a half-dozen starts and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. He’ll be the banker of many on Wednesday if he goes.
Another from the Henderson string and bookmakers have Altior picked as the winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase. The eight-year-old gelding was doing the rounds at odds-on in winter, a February check-up finding him available at 4/6. He's another who wasted no time getting the year off on the right foot, claiming the three-runner Exchange Chase at Newbury. Nothing more than a show of fitness when push came to shove, there will be sterner challenges ahead, but there’s a real belief in the camp that they have a great horse here. He's in with a competitive field, including Min and Douvan, but he’s easy to like.
Un De Sceaux
Team Mullins; that alone will ensure the experienced 10-year-old has plenty of friends in the betting ring this year. He started with a record reading 15 wins and three seconds from 20 starts, proving a profitable horse to follow. He won at Ascot in January when picking up the Clarence House Chase, run over two miles, living up to his short odds and smashing his rivals into submission, strolling to a seven-length lead over silver medallist Speredek. He barely got out of first gear that day and will be primed for the Ryanair Chase.
Winner of this year’s Mares Novices Hurdle, if odds compilers get their way. An inexperienced sort with a lot still to learn but she has done nothing but impress to date, going two from two with a win in a Mares Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse at the end of January, a grade three event. She didn’t put a foot wrong that day, giving punters just a taste of her true ability, opening-up on the run in to beat Alletrix by 11 lengths. Devastating, but those who watched the race were in no doubt it was only the start. Connections will be hoping she stays unbeaten before the festival.
Henderson’s progressive filly and, although she’s not exactly a household name at the minute, connections hope that will all change come the spring. One of the stable’s worst kept secrets, she started her career with three wins in-a-row, winning on her debut at Cheltenham in a trial, enhancing that with more of the same next time out, before going three for three at Prestbury Park in January, banking the Trial Juvenile Hurdle over two miles. It's no surprise she’s being aimed at the festival, the team getting her used to the surroundings early. Triumph Hurdle shot looking likely.
One for Jessica Harrington, Supasundae is shaping up like a horse with a big festival in him. The product of Galileo was runner-up in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown, beaten half a length by Apples Jade. No disgrace there, but the bay fought back to take the winner’s cheque in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in February, taking odds-on race favourite Faugheen down a peg or two. Stayers Hurdle winner, according to the market.
The highlight of the week, the Cheltenham Festival Gold Cup, is run on Friday afternoon. This year’s renewal promises to be something special and the early thinking is that Might Bite is worth taking a chance on. He’s won nine of his first 14 races and shown both his good and bad sides already. A fall at Kempton in the Kauto Star Novices Chase was followed by a stunning unbeaten run, including gold in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day. A tough race to win but Might Bite has the talent to drag them home.