Cheltenham Festival 2020: Day-by-day guide

Brian O’Connor looks at the Irish contenders for next week's Cheltenham Festival

 Paul Townend rides Al Boum Photo to win the Gold Cup on the final day of last year’s Cheltenham festival. Photograph:  Getty Images

Paul Townend rides Al Boum Photo to win the Gold Cup on the final day of last year’s Cheltenham festival. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Tuesday

1.30 Skybet Supreme Novices Hurdle

Abacadabras (G Elliott) 4-1
Asterion Forlonge (W Mullins) 5-2
Berkshire Royal (W Mullins) 33-1

Captain Guinness (H de Bromhead) 10-1
Elixir D’ainay (W Mullins) 20-1
Soviet Pimpernel (P Fahey) 16-1

A race that often sets the tone for the week with Willie Mullins’ team. The festival’s most successful ever trainer has won it four times in the last seven years. He has been notably keen to run Asterion Forlonge despite the horse’s owner, Joe Donnelly, also having the ante-post favourite Shiskhin. Captain Guinness was beaten by Andy Dufresne in January but it was a notable performance considering how rank he was for much of the race. If settling better he can outrun his odds.

2.10 Racing Post Arkle Trophy

Cash Back (W Mullins) 7-1
Fakir D’Oudairies (J O’Brien) 4-1
Notebook (H de Bromhead) 2-1 Fav

Keeping a lid on Notebook prior to the race will be key to his chances too. He expended a lot of energy prior to his last start in the Irish Arkle but exuberance didn’t cost him as he repelled Cash Back in an exciting finish. Having also got the better of Fakir D’Oudairies at Christmas, Notebook is the Irish standard bearer. Henry de Bromhead won the Arkle a decade ago with Sizing Europe.

2.50 Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase

Discorama (P Nolan) 12-1
Elwood (G Elliott) 16-1

It is 14 years since an Irish trained horse, Dun Doire, won this race. Discorama found only Le Breuil too good at the end of a four mile slog in the four-mile National Hunt Chase a year ago. His trainer Paul Nolan was set to be double-handed with Fitzhenry towards the top of the ante-post betting, but he wasn;t declared on Sunday.

3.30 Unibet Champion Hurdle

Cilaos Emery (W Mullins) 7-1
Coeur Sublime (G Elliott) 14-1
Darver Star (G Cromwell) 20-1
Darasso (J O’Brien) 25-1
Sharjah (W Mullins) 12-1
Cilaos Emery (W Mullins) 9-1
Petit Mouchoir (H de Bromhead) 25-1
Supasundae (J Harrington) 10-1

Supasundae will be a contender in the Champion Hurdle.
Supasundae will be a contender in the Champion Hurdle.

Apparently as wide open a Champion Hurdle as has been seen in a very long time. That can easily translated into being an ordinary renewal, a view backed up by official ratings. The long time ante-post favourite Epatante was beaten out of sight at the festival last year and was the medium of a coughing scare last week. That may be nothing. But it further contributes to a sense of a championship waiting to be picked up. That’s why Cilaos Emery has been switched from fences and supplemented while Supasundae is also a contender despite the argument that his best form is at two and a half miles plus, including an attempt to win the Stayers. Coeur Sublime is something of a dark horse. Sharjah’s best form is at Leopardstown although a Galway Hurdle victory in 2018 suggests the hill should be no issue.

4.10 Close Bros Mares Hurdle

Benie Des Dieux (W Mullins) 4-5 Fav
Honeysuckle (H de Bromhead) 7-4
Stormy Ireland (W Mullins) 10-1
Elfile (W Mullins) 12-1
Popong (H de Bromhead) 125-1

Perhaps the week’s ultimate head-to-head between Ireland’s two star mares, Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle. Both would have been fancied in either the Champion Hurdle or the Stayers but the intermediate trip looks like supplying one of the festival highlights. The only blip on Benie Des Dieux’s nine race CV for Willie Mullins is her final flight tumble in this race last year. She won it in 2018 and her French Champion Hurdle victory last year has had Mullins comparing her favourably to other star mares he has trained such as Annie Power and Quevega. The argument that Honeysuckle is taking on a stiffer task here than if lining up in the Champion Hurdle is hard to knock. She is unbeaten in seven starts and evidence suggests she’s getting better. The presence of ‘Benie’ suggests she might have to be.

4.50 Northern Trust Novices Handicap Chase

Daly Tiger (N Meade) 25-1
Galvin (G Elliott) 6-1
Mitchouka (G McLouglin) 25-1
Lord Schnitzel (M Smith) 33-1
Trainwreck (H de Bromhead) 16-1

A contest traditionally unkind to the raiders has changed around in the last three years with two Irish victories. Tully East won in 2017 and A Plus Tard turned it into a 16 length rout a year ago. Hindsight makes him look a handicap blot and whether a similar proposition exists this time is doubtful. Galvin on his best hurdles form could be a contender but his chase career has been mixed.

5.30 National Hunt Chase

Carefully Selected (W Mullins) 9-4 Fav
Forza Milan (J Nash) 12-1
Ravenhill (G Ellliott) 6-1
Smoking Gun (J O’Brien) 16-1

The marathon amateur contest is a famous graveyard for ‘good things’ that supposedly just have to jump around. It’s rarely that simple although the subsequent Gold Cup runner up Minella Rocco won in 2016 and no less than Tiger Roll scored a year later - albeit at odds of 16-1. Carefully Selected is the eagerly anticipated hot-pot this time although his record of jumping blemishes will have plenty looking elsewhere. Springfield Fox is a proven stayer in winning form and may be a value alternative.

Wednesday

1.30 Ballymore Novices Hurdle

Envoi Allen (G Elliott) 5-4 Fav
The Big Getaway (W Mullins) 6-1
Longhouse Poet (M Brassil) 14-1
Aione (W Mullins) 33-1
Easywork (G Elliott) 14-1
Decor Irlanadais (N Kelly) 33-1

Envoi Allen has looked an exceptional prospect in seven unbeaten starts to date. They include last year's Champion Bumper so course form is proven.  If lining up here he will be tough to beat. The Big Getaway and Longhouse Poet, owned by the sponsor, are good enough to pick up any pieces while The Big Breakaway and Sporting John look best of the home team. 

2.10 RSA Chase

Allaho (W Mullins) 6-1
Easy Game (W Mullins) 16-1
Minella Indo (H de Bromhead) 9-2


Champ and Copperhead head the home defence but both look vulnerable. The latter had a gruelling test in the Ascot mud just a couple of weeks ago while Champ’s jumping has left plenty to be desired. Minella Indo won the Albert Bartlett at 50-1 last year but comes here on the back of just two runs over fences. This will be a major test of his jumping. Allaho is regarded as Willie Mullins’s number one hope but Easy Game could again exceed expectations if tried over this longer trip.

2.50 Coral Cup

Sempo (J O’Brien) 12-1
Bachasson (W Mullins) 10-1
Column Of Fire (G Elliott) 12-1
Concertista (W Mullins) 20-1
Cracking Smart (G Elliott) 14-1
Floueur (G Elliott) 16-1

Kilfenora (E Harty) 25-1
Janidil (W Mullins) 12-1
Canardier (D McLoughlin) 11-1

In 2019 William Henry brought an end to three years of Irish dominance in an ultra-competitive handicap that included Supasundae’s 2017 success. Cracking Smart returned to something like his novice form when landing the Boyne Hurdle at Navan last month although there was perhaps even more encouragement in Bachasson’s comeback performance in third. Birchdale could emerge as the biggest threat.

3.30 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

Chacun Pour Soi (W Mullins) 3-1
 

Chacun Pour Soi is part of a trio of top-notch performers that also include Defi Du Seuil and the reigning two-mile champion Altior.
Chacun Pour Soi is part of a trio of top-notch performers that also include Defi Du Seuil and the reigning two-mile champion Altior.

Potentially the race of the week with Chacun Pour Soi part of a trio of top-notch performers that also include Defi Du Seuil and the reigning two-mile champion Altior. The latter is pursuing a fifth successive festival victory and looked okay - but no more than that - when winning at Newbury. Chacun Pour Soi will try to fill in the final gaping gap remaining in Willie Mullins’s festival CV. The form of his superlative novice success at Punchestown last year, when beating Defi Du Seuil, gives him a clear shout. That came at the end of the season however. Defi Du Seuil is a dual-festival winner and looks to be still improving. He appears the one to beat.

4.10 Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase

Tiger Roll (G Elliott) Evs Fav
Yanworth (E Bolger) 12-1
Josies Orders (E Bolger) 20-1
Neverushacon (J Harrington) 12-1
Peregrine Run (P Fahey) 16-1

Tiger Roll is the most popular horse in training, has a historic Aintree National hat-trick in his sights next month, a third win in a row in this, and a fifth festival victory in all. On official ratings this singular long-distance challenge looks his for the taking again. There was plenty in his comeback run over hurdles to suggest the fairytale scenario can unfold.

4.50 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

Aramax (G Elliott) 4-1 Fav
Tornador (G Elliott) 10-1
Saint D’Oroux (G Elliott) 20-1
Bajan Excell (G Cromwell) 25-1
Instant Return (J Harrington) 20-1

Usually a tough race for favourites. Band Of Outlaws last year was the first winning market leader in almost a decade. Prior to him Veneer Of Charm was a 33-1 winner for Gordon Elliott whose Tornador looks the sort of tough customer ideally suited to this. His biggest threat could be his stable companion Aramax, a winner at Naas last month with plenty to spare.

5.30 Weatherbys Champion Bumper

Appreciate It (W Mullins) 2-1 Fav
Ferny Hollow (W Mullins) 7-1
Darling Daughter (G Elliott) 14-1
Eskylane (G Elliott) 16-1
Five Star Brian (W Mullins) 12-1
Queens Brook (G Elliott) 12-1
Fire Attack (J O'Brien) 16-1
Julies Stowaway (M Mullins) 20-1

Willie Mullins is chasing a tenth win in the race and looks to have an outstanding favourite in Appreciate It who hosed up at the Dublin Racing Festival. It’s a combination that will do for many. Queens Brook won by over 20 lengths on her racecourse debut at Gowran. Gordon Elliott won with a mare - the ill-fated Fayonagh - in 2017 and Queens Brook may be an each way alternative to the favourite. Darling Daughter was a big priced winner at month ago and is another Elliott mare with a shout.

Thursday

1.30 Marsh Novice Chase

Samcro (G Elliott) 9-1
Faugheen (W Mullins) 9-2
Melon (W Mullins) 12-1
Salsaretta (W Mullins) 33-1

Tornado Flyer (W Mullins) 16-1

Willie Mullins won this in 2016 with Black Hercules, a horse that looked like he needed a stamina test but was successfully brought back in trip. Melon is a triple-Grade One runner up at the festival, including the last two Champion Hurdles, and is going up in distance. His quality isn’t in doubt but his jumping might be. Pretty much everything is in doubt about Samcro, once the ‘next big thing’ who has never recovered his novice hurdle class. Itchy Feet will be a worthy challenger to them all.

2.10 Pertemps Hurdle Final

Sire Du Berlais (G Elliott) 10-1
The Storyteller (G Elliott) 5-1
Relegate (C Murphy) 9-2 Fav
Rocket Lad (E Mullins) 20-1
Tout Est Permis (N Meade) 14-1
A Great View (D Cullen) 16-1

Mary Frances (M Hassett) 25-1

Last year’s winning favourite Sire du Berlais is back and won’t want for Irish company. Teasing out the handicap angles on this is one of the annual Cheltenham pleasures. But immediately after she won the 2018 Champion Bumper, anyone suspecting Relegate of lining up in a festival handicap off a mark of 137 would have been rubbing their hands.

2.50 Ryanair Chase

A Plus Tard (H de Bromhead) 2-1 Fav
Min (W Mullins) 4-1
Real Steel (W Mullins) 16-1
Duc Des Genievres (W Mullins) 25-1

A Plus Tard should start as favourite in the Ryanair Chase.
A Plus Tard should start as favourite in the Ryanair Chase.

Frodon won in hugely emotional style last year under jockey Bryony Frost and again looks the mainstay of the home side. The prospect of that partnership locking horns with Rachael Blackmore and A Plus Tard is one to savour. A Plus Tard ran away with a handicap here last year and graduated to Grade One level at Leopardstown over Christmas. The step up in trip should suit too. He looks the best of the Irish as Min has never quite convinced around here.

3.30 Paddy Power Stayers Hurdle

City Island (M Brassil) 10-1
Penhill (W Mullins) 14-1
Apple’s Jade (G Elliott) 9-1
Bacardys (W Mullins) 12-1

Ronald Pump (M Smith) 33-1

Paisley Park is the defending champion and may start the shortest priced favourite of the week. A successful defence looks in the offing but presumption regularly gets a smack at the festival. Apple’s Jade would be a hugely popular winner but her best days look in the past. Another former winner Penhill hasn’t fired yet this season. City Island looked a quality horse landing last year’s Ballymore. Two starts over fences this season were nowhere near that but he’s interesting back over flights.

4.10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate

Ben Dundee (G Elliott) 8-1
Death Duty (G Elliott) 16-1
Blazer (W Mullins) 20-1
Winter Escape (A Howard) 20-1

Robin Des Foret (W Mullins) 16-1
Chosen Mate (G Elliott) 14-1

Ben Dundee ran third to A Plus Tard a year ago and performed reasonably in a hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas. His stable companion Chosen Mate got off the mark over fences on very soft ground at Gowran and can boast some smart pattern race over hurdles as a novice.

4.50 Daylesford Mares Novice Hurdle

Minella Melody (H de Bromhead) 7-2 Fav
Dolcita (W Mullins) 8-1
Colreevy (W Mullins) 7-1

Santa Rossa (D McLoughlin) 12-1
Mount Ida (G Elliott) 20-1

Ard Abhainn (G Elliott) 16-1
Hook Up (W Mullins) 16-1

Yukon Lil (W Mullins) 14-1

Willie Mullins has won all four renewals of this race to date, the first three with hot favourites but last year with the 50-1 Eglantine Du Seuil. She beat her 66-1 stable companion Concertista. He will be heavily represented again this time but Henry de Bromhead’s Minella Melody looks to set the standard this time. Unbeaten in three starts over flights she was too good for Colreevy last time and shapes like relishing the final hill.

5.30 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Chase

Ravenhill (G Elliott) 8-1
At The Acorn (T Martin) 8-1
Plan Of Attack (H de Bromhead) 10-1
Cabaret Queen (W Mullins) 16-1
Roaring Bull (G Elliott) 33-1

Milan Native (G Elliott) 20-1

Plan Of Attack is a progressive sort who ran a fine race when third to Roaring Bull in the Paddy Power Chase over Christmas. That experience should stand to him in this amateur event and top rider Barry O’Neill reportedly will be on board. Ravenhill fell in the Troytown but goes well fresh and will like decent ground. At The Acorn justified significant support in good style at Fairyhouse in January.

Friday

1.30 JCB Triumph Hurdle

Aspire Tower (H de Bromhead) 9-1
A Wave Of The Sea (J O’Brien) 12-1
Cerberus (J O’Brien) 12-1
Battle Of Wills (G Elliott) 25-1
Leagan Gaeilge (B Duke) 25-1

Aspire Tower clearly looked to be Ireland’s top juvenile hurdler until fluffing his lines at the Dublin Racing Festival with a final flight fall. Had he stood up he looked like he might have fought back to win against Cerberus and A Wave Of The Sea but now has plenty to prove. Since then the juvenile picture has been transformed by the ex-French entire Solo who sluiced up on his British debut at Kempton. He may emerge as different class.

2.10 Randox County Hurdle

Aramon (W Mullins) 14-1
Ciel de Neige (W Mullins) 6-1 Fav
Front View (J O’Brien) 16-1
Eglantine Du Seuil (W Mullins) 22-1
Francin (W Mullins) 16-1
Buildmeupbuttercup (W Mullins) 25-1

Franco De Port (W Mullins) 16-1
Embittered (J O’Brien) 25-1
Saglway (W Mullins) 20-1
Stratum (W Mullins 14-1
Conflated (G Elliott) 33-1
Blackbow (W Mullins) 20-1
Moon Over Germany (H de Bromhead) 25-1
Thatsy (G Elliott) 16-1

Trend-bettors will target English trainer Dan Skelton who has landed this fiercely contested handicap three times in the last four years. The 2018 winner Mohaayed looks in good shape to try and follow up although Willie Mullins has a large squad to pick from. They include Ciel De Neige who was runner up in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last month. That was a messy race in which not everything went to plan for the sole Irish runner. His stable companion Francin is inexperienced in such company but shapes as progressive.

2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle

Latest Exhibition (P Nolan) 6-1
Monkfish (W Mullins) 13-2
Diol Ker (N Meade) 12-1
Cobblers Way (H de Bromhead) 14-1
Five O’clock (W Mullins) 25-1
Fully Charged (H de Bromhead) 33-1
Fury Road (G Elliott) 10-1

Lord Royal (W Mullins) 20-1
Run Wild Fred (G Elliott) 18-1

Thyme Hill is a local hope that looks ideally suited to what is always a dour stamina test. So too does Latest Exhibition who graduated to Grade One success at the Dublin Racing Festival when providing Paul Nolan and Gold Cup winning jockey Bryan Cooper with a popular success. Other Irish hopes such as Fury Road might look more stylish but three miles for novices is more about the grit that comes guaranteed with Latest Exhibition.

3.30 Bulmers Cheltenham Gold Cup

Al Boum Photo (W Mullins) 3-1 Fav
Chris’s Dream (H de Bromhead) 25-1
Delta Work (G Elliott) 5-1
Kemboy (W Mullins) 9-1
Monalee (H de Bromhead) 16-1
Presenting Percy (P Kelly) 12-1

Delta Work will pose a threat to Al Boum Photo in the Gold Cup.
Delta Work will pose a threat to Al Boum Photo in the Gold Cup.

No horse has won steeplechasing’s ‘Blue Riband’ back-to-back since Best Mate but the reigning champ Al Boum Photo looks to have good credentials to do so. He sprang a surprise last year off the back of just one previous run at Tramore and Willie Mullins has adopted an ‘if it ain’t broke’ approach. In contrast Delta Work has been busy, winning his last two Grade Ones, although is due to team up with jockey Mark Walsh for the first time. Both horses look to hold more solid claims than Santini who is untested and Lostintranslation who was pulled up in the King George. Clan Des Obeaux won that Kempton race but also has something to prove after finishing out of the Gold Cup frame a year ago. Considering he was placed in an Albert Bartlett as a novice it is surprising stamina shapes as an issue with Monalee but it does.

4.10 St James’s Place Foxhunters Chase

Billaway (W Mullins) 7-1
Staker Wallace (E Bolger) 13-2
Arctic Skipper (V Halley) 33-1

Coastal Tiep (S Crawford) 20-1
Dylrow (D Christie) 40-1

Last year’s winner Hazel is back to defend the hunters’ crown and his credentials look more convincing than the 2017 Gold Cup runner up Minella Rocco. Staker Wallace is fragile but talented but Billaway was impressive when winning at Naas last month and appears to be well regarded by the Mullins team.

4.50 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase

Eclair De Beaufeu (G Elliott) 12-1
Paloma Blue (H de Bromhead) 10-1
Castelgrace Paddy (P Fahy) 25-1
Us And Them (J O’Brien) 33-1

Jan Maat (H de Bromhead) 16-1

There’s enough in Paloma Blue’s form to suggest he could be a potent force over two miles here although he has yet to convince he has the resolution for a scrap up the hill. Eclair De Beaufeu has a shout but Greaneteen could be one of those Paul Nicholls handicap horses that proves irresistible to punters.

5.30 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle

Coko Beach (G Elliott) 25-1
Mister Blue Sky (W Mullins) 18-1
Column Of Fire (G Elliott) 7-1
Go Another One (J McConnell) 25-1
Alfa Mix (G Cromwell) 25-1
Conflated (G Elliott) 14-1
Assemble (J O’Brien) 16-1
My Sister Sarah (W Mullins) 16-1
Ilikedwayurthinkin (G Cromwell) 5-1 Fav
Fakir (J O’Brien) 14-1

The ‘getting out stakes’ usually requires a Grade One class horse to win it. If Ilikedwayurthinkin is such a proposition it will make the task his opposition faced at last summer’s Galway festival - where the JP McManus runner won twice - seem even more formidable in hindsight. He was fifth at Leopardstown over Christmas and should be able to step up significantly on that. Gordon Elliott targets the race named after his mentor and Column Of Fire is potentially one of a series of chances he has.

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