Cheltenham 2020 – Day 1: Irish raiders set to take over Prestbury Park once more
It’s the highlight of the racing season for many and one of the true highlights of the sporting calendar, even if this year’s Cheltenham festival has a strange feel about it, such has been the reach of the Coronavirus.
But the decision has been taken to proceed and therefore the next four days feast of racing will be watched with great joy, dreams and trepidation.
Just to add more confusion into the mix, WicklowNow.ie runs the rule over the festival and try to pick out a couple of likely sorts and maybe a big each-way chance or two.
First of all, let’s take a look at the week as a whole. Whether it’s a case of a poor crop of UK horses, a case of a good crop of Irish horses, or possibly not a vintage crop all in all, the Irish look like going to the Cleeve Hill with a strong hand to play. Crazy as it sounds at the UK could struggle to get ten winners over the line all things going well, so 6/1 for 18 or more Irish trained winners looks pretty fair, if ambitious.
We’ll start with the feature on Day 1, the Champion Hurdle – 3.30pm
This is by no means one of the stronger fields to take to the line for a race which has often been the highlight of the whole week.
As decent a horse as Supesundae is, the fact is he is up there as one of the horse being talked about as a winner shows this is a weak renewal, but don’t write him of. He won’t mind sticky ground and a slog up the hill might suit him.
Ballyandy’s form has been as consistent as any this season and showed true battling quality to reel in Pentland Hills and Cornerstone Lad in his last outing at Haydock in January in very heavy conditions. At 16/1 he currently looks a bit overpriced.
Nicky Henderson saddles four in the race, and outside Pentland Hills, looks to have a live wire in Epatante who beat Ballyandy at Kempton over Christmas, but Kempton is a very different track.
Verdict – At 16/1 Ballyandy e.w
Mares Hurdle – 4.10pm
This is the race I am looking forward to most this week and it appears to be a straight shootout between two of the most exciting horses of the year. Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle.
Many a punter lost their mind and their money when Benie Des Dieux inexplicably fell at the last in the same race last year when motoring away. She will look to make up for and is a deserved favourite, winning all three races since.
I just can’t look past Waterford trainer Henry De Bromhead’s Honeysuckle – this horse is a superstar, winning all her eight starts, including a slog at Fairyhouse in November, when she trotted in by 11 lenghts after decimating the filed long before the finish. She also beat a good few of the Champion Hurdle field in a cracking race at Leopardstown at the start of last month and that win showed oodles of heart.
Last year’s winner, after Benie’s fall, is back. Roksana has been trained all season to retain her crown, bar a disaster I can’t see it happen, but could easily wrap up the places and at 10/1 not a bad to round out the money.
Verdict – Honeysuckle to win at 11/4 in a cracker.
Supreme Novice Hurdle – 1.30pm
It’s very hard to unpick this one, and this race has been a brilliant way to start the festival form many a year now. In recent years it has been won by greats such as Douvan and Altior at short prices. It has also been won by Labaik who could be got that morning at 66/1 – a horse who seemed to have issues starting a race romped home to beat Melon.
The form points at Gordon Elliott’s Abacadabras – who has come closer than any horse to superstar in waiting Envoi Allen, but I can say that with no true conviction. Fiddlerontheroof looks a good sort as does Captain Guinness and Willie Mullins’s Asterion Forlonge.
An interesting outsider, back over hurdles and down in distance who won in testing conditions on Galway’s undulating track last autumn is Hollow Sound. He may get overwhelmed or, if he like the dig in the ground, could hold out for a top-five finish.
Verdict – Abacadabras to just get up at 7/2, Hollow Sound E/W – 200/1
Arkle Novices’ Chase – 2.10pm
It would be very fitting just days after his grandfather and legendary horseman Joseph Crowley passed away, grandson Joseph O’Brien could saddle a winner at Cheltenham 2020 at his first attempt. Fakir D’Oudairies last year faded to fourth in the Supreme Novice, but he is now a year older, stronger and wiser.
He resumes battle with Henry De Bromhead’s star Notebook, who got the better of Fakir at Leopardstown in a brilliant race at Christmas and Joseph will be hoping to reverse that form.
Cash Back cannot be written out of this race and gave Notebook a mighty scare in their last outing – keep an eye on the odds and if it touches double figures get on it each-way – maybe his name is telling us something.
Verdict – Fakir D’Oudairies to win at 4/1
Ultima Chase – 2.50pm
Verdict – Discorama to win @15/2, the hugely inconsistent Burbank at 33/1 could hit on one of its consistent days – some bookies are paying six places.
Novice Handicap Chase – 4.50pm
Anyone of five has a chance in this race. Too hard to say, keep your money.
Verdict – No bet
National Hunt Amatures’ Novice Chase – 5.30pm
A lot of people will be looking at Willie Mullins’ Carefully Selected to pick up a few in the last of the day and it is hard to look past him, his form is excellent and won’t mind a slog, the only mark against him might be his positioning going into fences, which if under pressure might lead to a fall and at six furlongs extra than his normal, that’s a lot more opportunities to make mistakes but if he stays up he is the class in the field.
Springfield Fox could be the surprise of the race, he has done everything right coming from point to points and onto fences, although has only had an 18-day break.
Verdict – Carefully Selected to Win @13/8, Anteros won three chases last Autumn, has been poor since, but any return to form at 150/1 is worth a small E/W.