The Cheltenham Festival is finally here with 28 races taking place over four days of high octane racing action.
Ahead of what is sure to be a thrilling week of highs and lows, here’s our fancies for the big 5 Championship races
The Champion Hurdle, the Queen Mother Chase, the Ryanair Chase, the Stayers Hurdle and, of course, the feature event of the week – the Gold Cup.
Epatante will be bidding to give owner JP McManus his 8th success in the Champion Hurdle. A winner of 4 of her 5 hurdle starts her only loss came in the Mares Novice Hurdle at last season’s festival, that does raise a small doubt around her suitability for Cheltenham but she had excuses for that below-par effort and victories at Exeter, Newbury plus most recently at Kempton suggests she is adaptable.
Her victory in the Christmas Hurdle was impressive quickening away from horses who probably just fall below champion hurdle level and are not expected to reverse that form.
She fits the profile of many recent winners of the race and looks the most exciting horse for with scope for further improvement still in the line-up. Reports recently around coughing are a little concerning but trainer Nicky Henderson would be unlikely to let her take her chances if not 100% and he certainly knows what it takes to win a Champion Hurdle.
Being a mare, she will be receiving a handy weight allowance and that combined with her progressive unexposed profile makes her the most likely winner.
Queen Mother Chase
Dual festival winner Defi Du Seuil is expected to make it a hat-trick of festival victories at the meeting.
He has done nothing but improve since beating Lostintranslation in last season’s JLT. Unbeaten on his 3 starts this year he fits the profile of previous winners and with fitness risks around his main rival Altior and Chacun Pour Soi being unproven around the undulations of Cheltenham he looks the most likely winner.
A Plus Tard was successful at last seasons when absolutely trouncing his 19 rivals in last seasons Close Brothers Chase, he looks to have taken the step into graded company well in his second season including having the measure of Chacun Pour Soi over 2 miles at Leopardstown.
Has been kept fresh for this race since and returns to optimum conditions today. With only the 7 chase starts to date more improvement could still be to come and fits the profile well of many past winners being an unexposed 2nd season chaser with a grade 1 victory to his name.
Their looks to be no reason to think that last year’s winner Paisley Park will not add his name to the list of many other previous dual winners of the race.
Unbeaten in his last 7 starts his run style can give you the odd anxious moment but he is the type of horse who will only ever do enough and is always comfortably on top when it matters.
He won the Cleeve hurdle last year on the way to victory and with the same preparation this season he looks banker material to follow up.
Lostintranslation blotted his copybook in the King George when he never looked to travel that well and was eventually pulled up. Before that, though he looked a real live contender for this race and his past form looks to stack up very well.
His novice campaign last season has a real solid feel to it, including a solid 2nd place in last season’s JLT here when looking to have Defi Du Seuil in trouble at one stage. He then went on to comfortably beat last season’s RSA winner Topofthegame when stepped up to 3 miles for the first time at Aintree.
This season after a comfortable reappearance success at Carlisle he managed to beat Bristol De Mai on his home turf at Haydock and doing so removing any doubts about his stamina for a Gold Cup. An accurate quick jumper who looks to have the right blend of speed and stamina he is expected to give his trainer Colin Tizzard his second victory in the race.
Tuesday: Champion Hurdle – Epatante
Wednesday: Queen Mother – Defi Du Seuil
Thursday: Ryanair – A Plus Tard
Thursday: Stayer`s Hurdle – Paisley Park
Friday: Gold Cup – Lostintranslation
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