It might still be several weeks away, but the racing world is already going Cheltenham Festival crazy. With several high profile races in the intervening weeks, such as the Irish Gold Cup and the Ascot Chase, even these are being watched with more than half an eye on what they tell us about the form of the top runners for Cheltenham.
Plenty has already been written about the bookmakers’ favourites in the showcase races, and in short, Nicky Henderson is fancied by one and all to add at least two or three more trophies to his overflowing cabinet. Bevoir D’Air and Might Bite are just two of his horses that are hotly tipped to beat all comers, in the Champions Hurdle and Gold Cup respectively.
The tipsters’ choices
There is more to the Cheltenham Festival than the headline races, though, and it is in the support events that the real opportunities arise for serious punters. To get the lowdown on the experts choice for the festival, the team at Cheltenhamfestival.net have selected some hot tips from four of the lesser known races, one for each day of the festival:
Champion’s Day: Petit Mouchoir in the Arkle Chase
The Arkle Chase is second only to the Champions Hurdle on day one, and bears the name of the most famous racehorse of them all. Footpad has long been the bookies’ favourite, but the pundits saw how close he was run by Petit Mouchoir at Leopardstown last year. The latter could go one better when they face off again, and at 8/1 and shortening, this is a bet you need to place early.
Ladies Day: Verdana Blue in the Mares Hurdle
We mentioned earlier that Nicky Henderson has a happy habit of winning, and this constantly improving mare could provide him with an unexpected bonus on Ladies Day. She won convincingly at Ascot two starts ago, especially given that she suffered serious interference early on. Some bookmakers are offering 20/1, which seems over generous, so place a bet before they change their minds.
Day Three: Balko des Flos in the Ryanair Chase
Those in the know feel that Henry de Bromhead could be the pretender to Nicky Henderson’s crown, such is his growing reputation since taking over the running of his father’s stables at the turn of the millennium. Balko Des Flos has really got people talking, with his highest-profile win to date at the Galway Plate last year. He came second only to Road to Respect at the Christmas Chase in Dublin, and 14/1 odds in the Ryanair Chase look too good to refuse.
Day Four: Le Prezien in the Grand Annual
The Grand Annual is reputed to be the oldest race in the National Hunt calendar, and since 2010, it has closed out the Cheltenham Festival. It is always one of the toughest races to call, but the punters like the look of Paul Nicholls’ novice, Le Prezien. He was in fantastic form at Sandown, and his great stamina could just power him to the front as the horses climb Cheltenham Hill for the final time.