The 2021 Cheltenham Festival is due to get under way on 16th March, the first of four days of top class jump racing.
Nicky Henderson stole the headlines on the opening day last year with Shishkin (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle) and Epatante (Champion Hurdle). Both horses are due to appear this year but Shishkin has now embarked on a chasing career and is odds-on favourite for the Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase.
He looks an outstanding prospect after two effortless wins at Kempton. It has not been such a smooth preparation for Epatante who was surprisingly beaten in the Christmas Hurdle by Silver Streak. The mare did not hurdle with her usual fluency that day but remains the one to beat at Cheltenham.
Top Of The Betting For Day Two
Paul Nicholls has been unusually bullish about the prospects of Bravemansgame in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on day 2.
The horse was favourably compared to Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Denman after a dominant display in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury.
He is currently around the 4-1 mark but those odds are likely to shorten in the coming weeks.
The second day could be crucial in the clash between bookmaker and punter with Monkfish (RSA Chase), Chacun Pour Soi (Queen Mother Champion Chase) and Sir Gerhard (Champion Bumper) all attracting plenty of support in the ante-post betting.
Chacun Pour Soi was withdrawn from the big race at the eleventh hour last year and has displaced reigning champion Politologue as the market leader.
Day Three Contenders
Perhaps the biggest gamble of the week will be Envoi Allen in the Marsh Novices’ Chase on Thursday.
Gordon Elliott’s unbeaten gelding is already being spoken of as a future Cheltenham Gold Cup winner and it will take a very good horse to lower his colours.
Paisley Park was surprisingly turned over in the Stayers’ Hurdle last season but seems back to his best and will try to recapture his crown.
His main rival is Thyme Hill who defeated Paisley Park at Newbury but the places were reversed at Ascot next time.
Min is on course to defend his title in the Ryanair Chase where last year’s runner-up Saint Calvados is set to renew rivalry.
Gold Cup Day
The Festival reaches its climax on Friday with the Cheltenham Gold Cup. All eyes will be on hat-trick seeking Al Boum Photo as he bids to emulate Best Mate (2002-2004).
Willie Mullins has no reason to change a winning formula so has kept to the script with a comfortable New Year’s Day win at Tramore, exactly as in the past two seasons.
Santini has struggled to reproduce his fine run from last year when failing by a neck to catch Al Boum Photo.
His stable companion Champ is yet to see the racecourse since capturing the RSA Chase at the expense of Minella Indo and they could provide the biggest dangers to the favourite.
A Plus Tard won a top quality renewal of the Savills Chase when beating Kemboy and Melon. All three have alternative entries at the festival meeting so any bets should be placed with the “non-runner – no bet” concession.
Several leading bookmakers already offer these terms and other leading firms are likely to follow.
The meeting could also see racing stars Altior and Tiger Roll in action. Altior was beaten on his return to action in the Desert Orchid Chase while Tiger Roll also needs to bounce back from a disappointing effort at Cheltenham.
Gordon Elliott’s dual Grand National winner will be trying to revive hopes of equalling Red Rum’s three Aintree victories. The Cheltenham Festival runs from 16th to 19th March with extensive coverage on ITV and on Radio 5 Live.
By Harvey Mayson