Its nearly here folks, the 2020 Cheltenham Festival is just on the horizon and we have four days of top quality Grade One action to get stuck into.
Forget about the Coronavirus, Lewis Tomlinson is here to guide us through what can be a betting minefield, as he takes us through a long odds Cheltenham acca which will return £455 off a £1 stake.
What are the Cheltenham Festival tips
The stellar partnership of Henry De Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore will head to Cheltenham with leading fancies in the shape of Honeysuckle, Minella Indo and A Plus Tard, but I think their likeliest winner is the Arkle favourite, Notebook.
Notebook is unbeaten in four chase starts, including the past twice in Grade One company, and so typically of a De Bromhead chaser, is a fantastic jumper.
Admittedly, I didn’t quite expect him to have reached the heights that he has done this season, but on basic form terms, he’s been the division’s standout performer this year and the evidence only suggests he’s going to continue improvement.
The fact is, he’s only his current price due to the fact that he was nothing more than a mid-130s hurdler and if solely judged on this season’s chase form, he would surely be closer to even money, so also represents one of the best value bets of the meeting.
The doesn’t look like a red-hot renewal of the Arkle- Rouge Vif and Brewin’upastorm look to be the leading candidates from the British contingent, though the Irish form looks to be worth more, and it’s likely that Notebook’s biggest rivals at Cheltenham may come in shape of Cash Back and Fakir D’Oudairies, both of whom he has already bested this season.
Cash Back, a likeable novice himself, would probably pose the biggest danger to Notebook, though I don’t think he would be as suited to the stiff Cheltenham finish as his Leopardstown conqueror, who ran in last season’s Ballymore and looks like he could stay further.
If he matches the level of the last two starts, he will win.
By far the biggest priced member of this acca, but I fancy Festival stalwart Shantou Flyer to finally achieve a much deserved win at this meeting.
Rated as high 156 at his peak, David Maxwell’s gelding was second in this event last year, just as he was in the Ultima the year before, and boasts a brilliant Cheltenham record, never finishing any worse than fourth in seven completed runs at the track.
The fact that he was bested by Hazel Hill, who hasn’t matched his form from last season so far this year, is no cause for concern.
Three horses in the past decade have won the Foxhunters after being beaten in the race previously- it would’ve been four if not for Oscar Delta unseating when clear on the run in, whilst a further five have achieved multiple placings in the race, equal with the Cross Country for the Festival race with the best record for horses having repeat attempts.
Shantou Flyer’s preparation has gone much better this year than it had in 2019- after flopping on his debut for Maxwell, he had to rush to get two wins in quick succession in order to qualify, though there’s been no such drama this campaign at Shantou Flyer should arrive at Cheltenham a fresher horse, having ran out an easy 23-length winner from Haymount, who was a useful proposition when trained by Willie Mullins, on his only start under rules this season.
Almost all of Shantou Flyer’s ability appears to remain intact, which sometimes can’t be said for high-profile ex-handicappers who transition into hunter company. They can often be overbet due to the punter’s familiarity with their past form, but I have no such worries about Shantou Flyer’s current level.
Regarding Mr Maxwell himself, though not everyone’s cup of tea, is undoubtedly better in the saddle than he was this time last year and I think has an outstanding chance of claiming the amateur game’s greatest prize.
The most exciting prospect the sport has seen for a number of years, Envoi Allen looks a safe bet to add another Cheltenham Festival success to an already flawless record.
Such is the impression that Cheveley Park Stud’s superstar has created in his career to this point that calls for a tilt at the Champion Hurdle have emanated from some quarters, but given that Envoi Allen is obviously a long-term chasing prospect, I think the Elliott camp have made the right call in going for the Ballymore, which looks the most sensible option in terms of the horse’s career progression.
He’s seven out of seven under rules, the highlight of which came when taking the Champion Bumper at this meeting last season, and he’s matched, if not improved upon, his top class bumper form over hurdles, with a further two Grade 1 victories in the Royal Bond and Lawlor’s Of Naas.
Visually, Envoi Allen has barely looked out of his comfort zone since making the transition to obstacles, which is hard to fathom given how strong he is is shaping up to be.
Supreme hope Abacadabras and Irish Champion Hurdle runner-up Darver Star were vanquished in the Royal Bond, whilst Elixir D’Ainay and Longhouse Poet have also ran respectable races since finishing behind Gordon Elliott’s superstar.
Thyme Hill and Master Debonair, down the field in Envoi Allen’s Champion Bumper will also be aiming for top level honours at this year’s Festival, whilst Envoi Allen’s quality formlines even go as far as his pointing days.
Appreciate It, the current Champion Bumper favourite and a horse who I toyed with adding into this acca, was beaten before Envoi Allen before either horse had made their rules debut.
I think this a strong crop of novice hurdlers in general, but Envoi Allen so far is the clear leader of the pack.
He looks like he could be very special.
Champ’s chasing career up to this stage has been Marmite, but I retain a lot of faith in Nicky Henderson’s eight-year-old and will be including him in my Festival multiples.
Certainly, his inexperience has shown on a couple of occasions- both of his victorious starts included a sketchy leap or two, and came down when looking the clear winner in the Dipper on New Year’s Day, paying the price for a lack communication between himself and Barry Geraghty.
An intended prep-run at Kelso didn’t come to fruition, whilst for a horse with as big of an engine as Champ so clearly has, his keen-going nature and general lack of racecraft hasn’t impressed all observers.
These are viable reasons to knock him, and undoubtedly some will be viewing last year’s Ballymore runner-up as a beatable favourite, but I think he’s clearly the best horse in this and is good enough to overcome his flaws to go one better than he did at the Festival last season.
I especially like the way Champ builds his way up through the gears – his turn of foot isn’t instant, and he takes a bit of rousting to get to full speed, but when the button is pressed, he can reach a pace that his rivals can barely cope with and I envisage him hitting the line full of running.
Minella Indo has to be considered the main danger to Champ.
Like Champ, he was a dual Grade 1 winning novice hurdler last season, though hasn’t particularly been thrown into deep water yet over fences and arguably has as many questions to answer as his JP McManus owned rival.
Barring Copperhead, an impressive winner of the Reynoldstown in February, there doesn’t appear too much further depth to the field, so I’m not too worried about anything further down the market.
I think Champ is the best horse in this, so, despite the risks attached, I think the price is more than fair.
The banker of the meeting. Emma Lavelle’s superstar stayer is undefeated in seven starts since finishing down the field in the Albert Bartlett two years ago.
In clear contrast to the other three “championship” races, where the pictures look to be varying degrees of cloudy, Paisley Park’s dominance over the rest of the long-distance hurdling brigade looks to have increased even further this season.
Just as they did last season, the Lavelle team opted to use the Cleeve as a stepping stone to the Festival, where Paisley Park was faced with, on paper, the most likely challenger to his crown in the shape of Liverpool Hurdle winner If The Cap Fits.
In the end, If The Cap Fits unsuitability for Prestbury Park was exposed and he was never dangerous, though Summerville Boy, under a great ride from Johnny Burke, was utilised in the manner last time out which would’ve exposed any fatal chink in Paisley Park’s armour, attempting to put his superior turn of pace to good use and kicking clear from the front just at the moment where Paisley Park was hitting his customary flat spot.
If there was ever going to be a way to get Paisley Park beat, that would’ve been exactly how to do it, but the champion was equal to the task, powering up the hill to reel Summerville Boy in and further assert his superiority in the division.
Last year’s placed horses, Sam Spinner and Faugheen, have both switched to fences, as have 2019’s leading staying novice hurdlers Minella Indo and Champ, whilst liverpool Hurdle winner If The Cap Fits, considered earlier in the season as the most viable potential challenger to Paisley Park’s crown, was stuffed by him in the Cleeve and now will not be seen at Cheltenham altogether.
In short, his task looks even simpler than it was last season.
This is an animal who should be dominating this division for years to come, reminiscent of the superiority of Big Buck’s a decade ago.
Big Buck’s won four times at the Cheltenham Festival. Paisley Park should make this his second.