The final fields are taking shape for the 2020 Cheltenham Festival which runs from March 10th to 13th. 2018 Gold Cup winner Native River has been the most significant high profile withdrawal through injury but most of the big guns have stood their ground. The meeting will be graced by the presence of Altior and Tiger Roll, the two most famous steeplechasers in training.
Epatante survives late scare
The Champion Hurdle ante-post market has been something of a roller-coaster but favourite Epatante appears to have survived a late fitness scare. Trainer Nicky Henderson reported her to have been coughing but all has been well with the mare in recent days. Irish Champion Hurdle winner Honeysuckle is unlikely to run after Henry de Bromhead nominated the Mares’ Hurdle as her preferred target.
The plans for the Willie Mullins entries remain unclear but a full list of Champion Hurdle entries can be found here. Henderson could have as many as five runners including last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner Pentland Hills. His temperament has been called into question by some observers after his defeat in the Haydock Trial. He has since undergone a minor wind operation and exaggerated waiting tactics are likely to be employed at the festival.
Altior chasing fifth successive Festival win
The Queen Mother Champion Chase on day 2 of the meeting could be the race of the week. Altior’s incredible 19-race winning record over fences came to an end at Ascot when beaten by Cyrname. That was over a longer trip in very testing ground and he bounced back to win in good style at Newbury. He is bidding for a third successive Champion Chase and to win at the Cheltenham Festival for the fifth season in a row.
Defi Du Seuil is fancied to lower Altior’s colours after a very impressive win in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot. The leading Irish hope is Chacun Pour Soi who has a victory over Defi Du Seuil in the form book from last season. Paul Nicholls is keen on the chances of outsider Dynamite Dollars who could spring a surprise at long odds.
Punters will be thumbing through the form book with 28 competitive races over the four days. The excellent OLBG.com website provides free Cheltenham betting tips as well as extensive form analysis and live racing debate. There are also regular updates from the track and all the latest Cheltenham odds and special offers.
Tiger Roll given go-ahead for Cross Country
The Cross Country Chase is not one of the biggest races of the meeting but it will have extra significance this year. Dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll has been given the all-clear by Gordon Elliott as he seeks a third successive win, both here and at Aintree.
It will be difficult to improve on the drama of the third day from 12 months’ ago. Bryony Frost will be teaming up with Frodon and attempt to repeat last year’s Ryanair Chase victory. Paisley Park was one of the best-backed horses of the week when landing the Stayers’ Hurdle. Emma Lavelle’s stable star is odds-on to repeat the performance.
Solo all the rage for Triumph Hurdle
The ante-post betting for the Triumph Hurdle was given a shake-up when Solo romped to a 13 lengths win on his UK debut for Paul Nicholls. He immediately displaced market leaders Allmankind and Goshen who go into the race unbeaten.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup looks like a top quality renewal with Al Boum Photo defending his crown. He faces a strong challenge from last season’s leading novices Santini and Delta Work. Kemboy and Presenting Percy will also have their supporters in a wide-open contest
There is also the side issue of the Prestbury Cup with Ireland and Great Britain having shared the spoils in 2019. The Irish challenge looks particularly strong this year and it could go right down to the wire once again.