Here we are: Cheltenham 2020! The festival has been good to me over the last number of years. More of that this week please – I could do with a few positive results after a start to the year that can only be described in one word: catastrophic!
Day one looks pretty tricky, at the same time offers plenty of value in the market. Rain has soften the ground significantly and adds extra spice to open contests.
Unlike in previous years there are few red hot favourites, heading the betting at short odds. I can see some big prices making the frame – one of those winning for me would a unimaginable relieve as at this point I simply wonder if I ever will back a winner again?!
From a pure racing perspective the championship races are highly intriguing, more so by the lack of odds-on favourites. Although not a vintage year, the Champion Hurdle makes for a compelling puzzle to solve, whereas Supreme and Arkle shaping like unmissable contests with future starts in their respective divisions unleashed.
1.30 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, 2m½f
Highly competitive. Plenty of exciting novice hurdlers in the field. Usually a fast start to the Festival and the year: plenty of pace, crowd noise, nervousness among the jockeys.
I feel experience will count for a lot. Hence I like Abacadabras. Fourth in the Champion Bumper last year, he made a seamless transition to hurdles, having four already under his belt, winning a first Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas and only been beaten by sublime Envoi Allen at Fairyhouse.
He tends to travel well, has been here before, has proven to run fast, can jump straight and is tactically versatile, giving Davy Russell plenty of options.
10pts win – Abacadabras @ 11/2 MB
2.10 Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase, 2m
The one completely forgotten here, particularly in the soft ground conditions, is Global Citizen. He’s been classy hurdler over two miles, which tends to be a good indicator for this race, and since switching to fences has left a poor start to his chasing career behind when winning impressively at Kempton last time.
That Grade 2 at Kempton looks useful form, but it’s more the way Global Citizen went over his business that is noteworthy. He was pretty keen, set a fast clip, jumped pretty well – much improved to his debut – and held off the advances of his rivals in fine style in the end, finding plenty when needed.
He’s got to bring this to Cheltenham and is unlikely to get an easy lead, however it’s his now proven ability to jump at speed that can be key in the Arkle.
10pts win – Global Citizen @ 22.5/1 MB
2.40 Ultima Handicap Chase, 3m 1f
Stamina is key in this race, so my eventual choice is a risk, but beside the favourite Vindication, who is, on the other hand a rather short price for a race like this, I struggle to identify many who are ahead of their respective handicap marks.
Who Dares Wins could be on his handicap debut, though. Whether he well and truly stays the distance, particularly on soft ground all the way up the hill remains to be seen. Fact he has been here before, ran well at two Festivals before, particularly in the Pertemps two years ago.
That day he lead the field to the final hurdle but faltered into finishing fifth eventually. That’s an obvious negative. On the other hand, Who Dares Wins potentially saw daylight a little bit too early, certainly compared to the winner and runner-up who were asked all questions a little bit later.
With that in mind, this performance also gives hope as Who Dares Wins is a little bit older now and has proven his ability to on the flat to stay marathon trips. He also could be rather well handicapped on his chasing debut after having landed a Grade 2 in Novice company at Kempton when last seen, with an opening mark of 147, which is 4lb lower than his hurdling mark.
10pts win – Who Dares Wins @ 15/1 MB
3.30 Champion Hurdle, 2m½f
A rather ordinary renewal with plenty of question marks hanging over the market principles. The mare Epatante looks a fair favourite, if nothing else. With plenty of pace this race is unlikely to turn into a pure speed test and I’m not sure whether that truly suits her.
This should suite, however, quite clearly Supasundae. It’s probably fair to argue two miles isn’t quite is optimum trip, on the other hand there is plenty of evidence he is – or least used to be – highly effective over the minimum distance as much as over further:
A winner and runner-up in the Irish Champion Hurdle, a Punchestown Champion Hurdle winner and a decent 4th on his seasonal reappearance in the 2020 Irish Champion Hurdle back in February; Supasundae doesn’t seem to slow down too much, even though turning ten now.
He is still a class act in this field and I feel the likely setup of the race will be an advantage to him. Hi experience, having been around Cheltenham numerous times is another bonus.
10pts win – Supasundae @ 11.5/1 MB
4.10 Mares’ Hurdle, 2m 4f
A fascinating clash between two top mares, albeit the market has Benie Des Dieux a clear favourite, which seems fair, given the should be a hat-trick seeking Festival winner if not for a fall at the last twelve months ago.
The question is, though: is the 9-year-old that far ahead of the young challenger Honeysuckle? We’ll find out today. As it stands now I come to the conclusion to answer this question with a “No”.
BDD has stellar form in the book and look as imperious as ever at Gowran Park in what was her sole outing this season. She has the experience, is fresh and clearly in top form.
Honeysuckle in contrast had quite a few more races this season already, advancing through the ranks, landing the Irish Champion Hurdle when last seen, and connections seriously pondered whether a bid for THE Champion Hurdle should be the race to go for.
It was a widely shared opinion in the aftermath of Leoprdstown that Honeysuckle didn’t quite jumped that well and wasn’t as brilliant as expected. That is to some extend a fair comment.
On the other hand, the Irish Champion Hurdle was still an excellent contest, she beat some really good horses, would be at the very least joint favourite for the Champion Hurdle if running there, and in my view, showed a lot of valuable traits in February, mainly the ability to dig deep and go through the wall when challenged heavily.
I also believe that stepping up to 2 miles & 4 furlongs, on soft ground can lead to further improvement for a mare that has only raced seven times and has won all of them. On the ratings front she ties in closely with BDD: their career best RPR’s and TS rating are only two and one pound off respectively.
With that in mind: Honeysuckle has to improve. But not by much. Given that, she is quite clearly overpriced.
10pts win – Honeysuckle @ 10/3 WH
Edit: 10:45am – added Mares’ Hurdle