For most, if not all racing fans, the Cheltenham Festival is the highlight of the racing year. Four days of top-class racing, bumpers (National Hunt flat races), hurdles, and chases, with the very best horses from the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, and occasionally elsewhere, going in to battle to try to claim a place in racing history. Each will be tuned to the minute, and no quarter will be given – this is competitive racing at its finest and something we can all look forward to. Let the countdown begin.
The opening day of the festival is always a cracker - and I’m picking the amazing HONEYSUCKLE to defend her Champion Hurdle crown. This year there was a question mark over her speed for the two miles with most of her earlier successes over half a mile further, but she put that to bed with an easy win from Sharjah and will only be eight for the next renewal, nothing at all in racing terms. The 2/1 currently available may not look very big, but she has won all 12 of her career starts and it will take something pretty special to bring her winning run to an end. Likely to be ridden by Rachel Blackmore once again, they made history last year to come home over six lengths clear and if she arrives in the same sort of form, it is hard to see her being beaten with a clear round.
Meanwhile, Nicky Henderson’s SHISHKIN has looked an absolute machine over fences with wins at Kempton (twice), Doncaster, Cheltenham (in the 2021 Arkle Challenge Trophy), and Aintree, though he needs to step out of novice company to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase. He has been compared favourably by his trainer to the brilliant Sprinter Sacre which suggests he is top class, and even the 2/1 out there now may look good value by the time they cross the line on the Wednesday afternoon. His trainer has an enviable record here and must be listed here in my Cheltenham Festival top tips.
Having looked at a couple of short-priced options for your ante post portfolio with my first Cheltenham Festival tips, it’s time to move on to something at bigger odds at this stage. They are still in with solid looking chances, so perhaps go each way (your choice).
Trainer Willie Mullins is usually your “go to” trainer at this meeting, and at 13/2 there is a lot to like about the chances of SIR GERHARD in the opener on Day One, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, over two miles. A point-to-point winner on his debut at Boulta in Ireland, he changed hands for an eye-watering £400,000 at the sales before winning his first three bumpers (National Hunt Flat Races), including the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham after being moved to the Mullins yard from Gordon Elliott’s. His unbeaten record came to an end when third to stable mate Kilcruit at Punchestown but with the winner more likely to head to the Ballymore Hurdle over further, he may well be able to take this in his novice hurdling season.
THYME HILL is more of a known quantity at the age of seven. If he remains sound, we can be 99% certain of his target, and I do like the look of his Cheltenham Festival odds in the circumstances. He will be aimed at the Stayers Hurdle on the Thursday afternoon after his close-up fourth in 2020, and although he missed the race this year, he has won at Newbury and Aintree and is still a relative youngster in racing terms. He seems to handle any going having won on Good, Good to Soft, Soft, and Heavy – all a bonus this far in advance of race day when conditions are an unknown. He looks worthy of serious consideration at odds of 11/2 and a sensible Cheltenham Festival prediction to me.
Some would see this as the fun part where we get to look around for what may be overpriced horses in the hope that the bookmakers have got things wrong – as if. In The Gold Cup, the premier event of the entire week, all eyes will be on Minella Indo, the 2021 winner and at the age of eight (nine by race day), he may still have even more to offer. That said, his price is skinny enough in my opinion for a horse who has only won four of his eight starts over fences at the time of writing, and it may be worth a risk on 16/1 chance AL BOUM PHOTO.
The winner of this race in 2020 and third in 2021, we know that trainer Willie Mullins will aim him at this race all season with no other targets in mind, and although he is now a ten-year-old, he has only had fourteen starts over the larger obstacles, winning seven and placing in four others. His Cheltenham Festival odds are simply too big where we know he handles the track and will be aimed here specifically, and he is an each way price, making him very tempting.
Meanwhile, BOB OLINGER is a horse I like an awful lot. I cannot wait for him to be sent over fences this season after winning three of his four starts over hurdles, including the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle over two miles five at this year’s Festival. He stayed on well that day and I am hoping that he avoids the two-and-a-half-mile Marsh novices’ chase and steps up in trip to the three miles of the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase, previously known as the RSA Chase. If he takes to fences as hoped (he is a beast of a horse), then the 20/1 for this race looks stand out value and he thoroughly deserves his place on the Cheltenham Festival outsiders list for top trainer Henry De Bromhead.
Sadly, I am not the only one suggesting Cheltenham Ante Post racing tips - and several other racing sites have already made their picks. Racing TV have tipped KILCRUIT to go close in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. They’ve also picked VANILLIER in the Brown Advisory Novices chase, GALOPIN DES CHAMPS in the Marsh Chase, ELLE EST BELLE in the Mares Novices’ Hurdle, and THREE STRIPE LIFE in the Albert Bartlett Novices: Hurdle.
Meanwhile, Timeform suggest HONEYSUCKLE will go over fences and head for one of the novice chases, GENTLEMANSGAME or GARS DE SCEAUX for the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, ALLAHO and ENERGUMENE for the Champion Chase, and BRANDY LOVE for the Mares’ Novices’ hurdle, but then that is the beauty of this game – it’s all about opinions and we won’t know who is right or wrong until race day. Good luck!
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