Cheltenham Festival is the leading event on the jumps racing calendar where the leading horses, jockeys, trainers and owners pit their wits against each other over the four days of races.
All the leading trainers are battling to come away with the elite prizes – most notably the Cheltenham Gold Cup. However, there is a prestige that comes with being the most successful trainer of the week.
Gordon Elliott has dominated the four-day event for the last two years, training a combined 14 winners in his last two appearances at Cheltenham Festival. He is primed for another run to be at the top of the pile come the end of this year’s event.
Elliott trained eight winners at Cheltenham Festival last season. The headline act was Tiger Roll, who won the Glenfarclas Chase and then went on to win the Grand National. However, there were also excellent performances from Samcro in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and Shattered Love in the JLT Chase. Delta Work also put forward a fine display to win the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle by a nose. The French-bred horse is one of Elliott’s best hopes for another run at being the most successful trainer once again. Delta Work is one of the leading contenders for the RSA Novices’ Chase behind Santini, and he has good form head into the Festival.
Apple’s Jade is the one to watch, which could define the week for Elliot. He faces off against two-time winner Buveur D’Air in the Champion Hurdle and that could swing the battle against Nicky Henderson. Tiger Roll looks to have the monopoly on the Cross Country Chase, while Samcro’s hopes have been boosted in the Stayers’ Hurdle by the withdrawal of Penhill. Good runs could see Battleoverdoyen and Commander of Fleet win the Ballymore and Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle respectively. Shattered Love is Elliott’s best hope for the Gold Cup, although he ranges in the 33/1 realm for odds. However, there are enough quality competitors there for Elliott to lead the way.
Henderson will take a strong number of contenders with him to Cheltenham, including his two prized-assets Buveur D’Air and Altior. Bar anything strange from occurring Altior is a lock to win the Champion Chase as he did last season. He has won 17 races on the bounce and it would be a huge shock to see him fail at Cheltenham Festival with no serious contenders in the field. Buveur D’Air could have more of a challenge on his hands in the Champion Hurdle. He was beaten by his stable-mate Verdana Blue in the Christmas Hurdle, and although that will give Henderson confidence, the presence of Apple’s Jade will be a concern.
In the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Angels Breath is one to watch, although his lack of experience on the track could hold him back. Champ is one of the leading contenders for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle along with Champagne Platinum, giving Henderson two bites of the apple at the event, although Battleoverdoyen will provide a threat. Santini is a talented horse and appears to be the favourite for the RSA Novices’ Chase, but he will still need a strong performance in a competitive race. The rest of the week is entering unknown territory, although Might Bite could find his form to win the Gold Cup, but it would be a surprise.
Willie Mullins enjoyed a four-year run of being the most successful trainer between 2013 and 2016. There aren’t many guarantees from his yard, although Benie Des Dieux is in prime form for another run at Cheltenham Festival glory. She claimed the Mares’ Hurdle crown last season and should in line for another triumph in the event. Blue Sari is one to watch for the Champion Bumper, although the lack of race time on the track makes it a tough race to predict despite the bay gelding’s potential. Uradel has had an up-and-down season, but he is considered the favourite for the Coral Cup. It is a competitive race and Mullins cannot afford to take anything for granted.
Sharjah and Laurina are the best hopes for Champion Hurdle, although Buveur D’Air will take some beating to end his reign. Apple’s Jade’s presence in the race will also make matters tough on Mullins’ two horses. Klassical Dream could contend at the Ballymore or Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and although he is down the pecking order in both races, a good run could see him capture either crown.
The withdrawal of Penhill leaves Faugheen as the best runner for the Stayers’ Hurdle, but given his age it’s tough to see a challenge against Paisley Park. Footpad and Min face a daunting task against Altior in the Champion Chase that could see Footpad declare for the Ryanair Chase, where there is an open field for the crown. The Gold Cup sees Kemboy, Al Boum Photo and Bellshill deployed by Mullins. Kemboy has the best opportunity, having impressed in his win in the Savills Chase last time out, and another good performance could see him triumph.
Nicholls has elite talent in his yard, although his hopes of challenging to be the most successful trainer at Cheltenham Festival could be limited. He has one of the most exciting prospects for the Gold Cup in the form of King George VI Chase winner Clan des Obeaux. The French-bred horse backed up his performance with another fine win at the Denman Chase, sending him into the Gold Cup with momentum. Watch out for the seven-year-old in the contest. He could be joined by his stable-mate Frodon, although Nicholls may opt to deploy his other charge for a run in the Ryanair Chase.
Frodon is a good match for the other competitors in the contest and could pull off the victory. Give Me A Copper is the favourite for the Ultima Chase even though he was slightly off the pace in the 888Sport Masters Handicap Chase last time out. Topofthegame is among a litany of contenders for the RSA Novices’ Chase, where he has an excellent chance of competing for the crown. Grand Sancy could achieve a similar result in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, although his last winner in the event came in 2011. Quel Destin has a good shot at the Triumph Hurdle, which could round a good week for Nicholls.
Elliott and Henderson appeared to be locked in a battle to emerge as the leading trainer during the week. Mullins has impressive horses, but none of those are locks for their respective events, while outside of a couple of charges Nicholls does not have the depth. Henderson has intriguing options and has the better value than his rival. Therefore take him to lead the Festival at odds of +200 with Bet365.
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