1:20 Cheltenham - JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1)
When it comes to the Triumph Hurdle, the market seems to almost get it spot on with ten of the last sixteen winners all being sent off at single-figure odds. At the time of writing, the three who head the betting are Zanahiyr, Tritonic and Quilixios so it could be worth keeping this trio onside.
In terms of trials, the Spring Juvenile Hurdle run at Leopardstown?s Dublin Racing Festival in February has been the best guide to the Irish form. This gives a huge positive to Quilixos who landed that race for Gordon Elliot and has now been switched to the Henry De Bromhead stable by Cheveley Park Stud. The race which has been the best pointer towards the British challengers is the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton, with this year?s renewal being won impressively by Tritonic. Nine of the past eleven winners of the Triumph have contested the Finesse (lost this year due to the abandonment of Cheltenham?s trials day), Adonis or Spring Juvenile Hurdle, so these two should be in with a massive chance.
A trend to look out for is that four of the last six winners of the Triumph have been bred in France and this highlights Haut En Couleurs from the Willie Mullins stable. Although Mullins has an excellent record in many races at the Festival, the Truimph is not one of his most successful as prior to Burning Victory?s win last year the trainer had gone 0-27 with his runners during the previous seventeen years. On the other, Gordon Elliott has been a trainer to follow in this race. He has had two winners and two seconds in the past seven years (from just six runners), so with Mrs Denise Foster taking over at Cullentra House stables Zanahiyr could go well on Friday.
With this juvenile contest being a Grade 1, previous form at a high-level often comes to the fore and fourteen of the last twenty-one Triumph winners won or placed in Graded company on their latest start. The three at the head of the market all won a Graded race last time out so deserve their places in the betting, while other contenders include Adagio who won the Grade 1 Finesse Hurdle at Chepstow and Tax For Max who was runner-up in a Fairyhouse Grade 3 on his first start for Willie Mullins.
Heading into the Triumph, eight of the previous twelve winners had arrived at Cheltenham unbeaten and we look set for cracking renewal this year. The trio to focus on are Tritonic, Zanahiyr and Quilixios who will each be bidding to preserve their 100 per cent records so far.
A winner of the Adonis Hurdle in fine style by ten lengths last time out, Tritonic looks an exciting prospect for Alan King and should put up a good performance again in the McNeill Family silks. Zanahiyr won the Grade 2 Knight Frank Hurdle at Leopardstown in December, making a big impression when beating Busselton by three and a quarter lengths. However, the runner-up that day was disappointing on Tuesday in the Fred Winter Handicap so it will be interesting to see what Zanahiyr can produce on the main stage. Rachael Blackmore takes over the reins from Jack Kennedy on Quilixios who looked impressive when landing the Spring Hurdle with Saint Sam back in second by five and a half lengths. In contrast to Zanahiyr?s latest run, Saint Sam has franked the form for Quilixios with his second-place in the Fred Winter earlier this week. All three rivals should give a good account and it looks tricky to split the three on current form.
1:55 Cheltenham ? McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)
There has been an Irish dominance of this race since the turn of the century with Willie Mullins heading the winners. Irish raiders have taken nine of the last fourteen renewals, with Mullins gaining five of these victories. Therefore, his runners in the contest have to be respected and this year he has a five-strong attack: Ganapathi, Ciel De Neige, Buildmeupbuttercup, Captain Kangaroo and Getaway Gorgeous. However, there is a new British kid on the block as Dan Skelton has announced himself onto the County Hurdle stage by taking three of the last five renewals. He relies solely on Third Time Lucki in the 2021 renewal.
In recent times it has paid to focus on lightly-raced hurdlers who remain unexposed and with the potential to develop into high-class performers. Saint Roi was an impressive winner of the 2020 County Hurdle for Willie Mullins on his only his fourth start over hurdles and sixteen of the past twenty winners of the race have been either a novice or second-season hurdler. This trend can be narrowed down even further as eight of the past twelve winners had made nine or less starts over hurdles. Those who tick both of these boxes include Thyme Hill, Ganapathi, Third Time Lucki and Fifty Ball.
Building on the profile of being a lightly-raced hurdler, five-year-olds have a good record in the race as they have been successful in eleven of the last twenty-two renewals, including Saint Roi last year. There are six from this age group in the line-up this year, including Thyme Hill, Saint d?Oroux, Anna Bunina and Ganapathi. Five-year-olds can find a lot of improvement through racing, especially as they might not have had the opportunity yet to show how good they can be. It is worth looking for those potential improvers as thirteen of the past fifteen winners of the County Hurdle were rated in the 130s, which is a positive for the likes of Saint d?Oroux, Anna Bunina and Fifty Ball in this year?s race.
In terms of races to look at ahead of the Country Hurdle, there are two key races to consider from Newbury and Leopardstown. With regards to the British contenders, the Betfair Hurdle provided four of the six winners of the Festival handicap between 2002 and 2007. This year?s renewal saw Fifty Ball finish runner-up last month, with Edwardstone third and Thyme White and Milkwood further back in the field. Over at the Dublin Racing Festival, the Ladbrokes Hurdle has also provided four winners at Cheltenham which all came between 2007 and 2013. The 2021 renewal at Leopardstown was won by Drop The Anchor, who got the better of Champagne Gold and Saint d?Oroux. Also in the race was Eclair de Beaufeu, Ciel De Neige and Buildmeupbuttercup so the Irish contest is well-represented at Cheltenham on Friday.
Ciel De Neige
Despite the strong record of the Irish raiders in the County Hurdle, Thyme Hill looks to be an interesting contender for Paul Nicholls. The five-year-old already has previous experience of the Cheltenham Festival as he ran in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle last year, even if he could not manage to get involved that day. After winning on his seasonal reappearance at Chepstow in October, Thyme Hill has not kicked on as hoped in two starts at Newbury since but he still remains with potential after only seven starts over hurdles.
Of the Mullins quintet in the race Ciel De Neige and Ganapathi could be the pick of the bunch. The former has more race experience under his belt having started life hurdling in France and he remained a maiden until December last year. However, on Ciel De Neige?s only career start to date on decent ground he ran well to finish runner-up in last year?s Betfair Hurdle. Ganapathi has a different profile as he has only had the four races in his career so far (three over hurdles), so it remains to be seen where the ceiling of his ability lies.
Other Irish-trained challengers to note include Saint d?Oroux, trained by Mrs Denise Foster, who was third in the Ladbrokes Hurdle last time out, and Anna Bunina who might just be able to outrun her odds on the drying ground for John McConnell.
2:30 Cheltenham - Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1) (Registered As The Spa Novices' Hurdle)
The Albert Bartlett Is a thorough test for the best novice hurdlers on either side of the Irish Sea. Run over a gruelling 3 miles, experience often comes to the fore along with proven stamina. The race has thrown up some shocks in recent times, as the market can be drawn drawn to the classier horses and underestimate the more seasoned novices - Stattler and Fakiera are the two who head the market at the time of writing.
With regards to the trainers to focus on, Willie Mullins recorded his second win in the race with the high-class Monkfish last year. This time around he saddles Stattler and N?Golo but Mullins does not have the best of strike rates in this Festival race, running thirty-eight horses in the contest since 2007 (Penhill was his previous winner in 2017). Gordon Elliott is another who did not have the best of record in the Albert Bartlett as his horses were 0-7 in the race, a which is a negative for Fakiera and Torygraph who are now trained by Mrs Denise Foster.
Looking away from Ireland has often been at your own peril but this year there are some British fancies who meet a couple of the key indicators. Most of them are currently at big odds but they tick a lot of boxes, which could give reason to believe that this year will throw up another upset (Kilbricken Storm was the most recent British-trained winner at odds of 33/1 in 2017). Alaphilippe, Adrimel and Castle Robin have both contested Graded races and have won or placed in them. They could be the type of tough sorts who will be suited by the Albert Bartlett and the trio were all winners of point-to-points at the beginning of their careers. Six of the past nine winners of the Albert Bartlett had won a point-to-point, which is a pointer towards the stamina required for the three-mile novice contest.
In a race dominated by the Irish in recent times, it might just be one for the British this year as there are a trio of the home team who seem to fit the right profile for this year?s renewal of the Albert Bartlett. Ten of the last twelve winners of the race had won at least twice over hurdles and the trio of Alaphilippe, Adrimel and Castle Robin have all achieved this feat having began their careers in the point-to-point sphere. Alaphilippe won the Grade 2 Prestige Novices? Hurdle at Haydock in brilliant style last time and has been a model of consistency this season with four wins from his five races, including in a bumper for his first start under Rules. He?s proven over the distance and is one of the more likely contenders. Adrimel has slightly less experience but has still run very well to complete a hat-trick of wins over hurdles. He came out on top in a close finish in the Grade 2 Leamington Novices? Hurdle at Warwick last time, so the good attitude he showed there should stand him in good stead for Friday?s contest. Castle Robin is the longest price of the three and has a lot of experience to his name. He has already had the seven starts over hurdles so far, winning twice, and he kept on for third in the Grade 2 River Don Novices? Hurdle at Doncaster when last seen. Ne might be able to outrun his big odds with the better ground to suit on Friday as he has his second start over three miles under Rules.
3:05 Cheltenham - WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase (Grade 1)
Arguably the most historic and prestigious race of the whole Cheltenham Festival, the Gold Cup is a supreme test for a racehorse that many horses can raise their level to win only once. This is supported by the fact that nineteen of the past twenty-one winners arrived having had twelve runs or less over fences; a trend that Frodon, Kemboy, Native River, Lostintranslation and Aso will all have to overcome.
Class is obviously one of the biggest factors here and all of the Gold Cup heroes this century had already won a Grade 1 over fences. Proven quality is a must so Royal Pagaille and Aso look to have it all to do to if they are to record their first top-level chasing win in this particular contest. Previous Festival form is also important as sixteen of the last twenty winners had won (9) or placed earlier in their career. Al Boum Photo returns to Cheltenham in a bid to make it a historic hat-trick of wins in the Gold Cup, while last year?s runner-up Santini reopposes and A Plus Tard has developed a good record at the course with a win and a place at the Festival in his only two visits to Prestbury Park.
In terms of form, it has been important to head into the Gold Cup on the back of a victory as no fewer than sixteen of the twenty winners this century had been successful on their previous start. This is even more so in recent times with nine of the ten having won last time out. Therefore, the likes of Champ, Minella Indo and Santini have a bit to prove, even if their top trainers will have had the Gold Cup in mind as their main targets all season.
Going back to earlier in their careers, plenty of Gold Cup winners had shown a good level of form over shorter distances and fourteen of the last twenty-one winners had won a Graded novice hurdle over 2m?2m4f. Al Boum Photo did so back in April 2017, while others to have achieved this feat include Santini and Champ.
Despite the strong record of Graded performers as novice hurdlers, recent Gold Cup winners tend to have been sent chasing after just the one season over timber. The last twenty winners had, initially, spent the just one full season over hurdles (Synchronised switched back to hurdles ahead of his Welsh Grand National win). The two who do not fit the trend this year are Champ and Black Op. Building on from this statistic, nineteen of the past twenty-one winners were in their first three seasons over fences, which is actually a negative against Al Boum Photo as he began his chasing career back in November 2017. However, this could be offset by the fact that he remains relatively lightly-raced over fences having only had the twelve starts to date.
Al Boum Photo
A Plus Tard
With class coming to the fore in the Gold Cup, favourites have a solid record in the Grade 1 contest with nine of the last eighteen market leaders landing the odds. Al Boum Photo is the favourite for the 2021 renewal and he looks to hold solid claims of making it a hat-trick of wins in the race for Willie Mullins and Paul Townend. The nine-year-old has stuck to his tried and tested route to Cheltenham, with connections deciding to only run him once during the campaign in a 2m5f Grade 3 at Tramore on New Year?s Day. He looks primed for his attempt to become the first horse since Best Mate in 2004 to win the race three years in a row.
In opposition to Al Boum Photo is last year?s runner-up Santini who arguably did not have the run of the race in 2020. He only went down by neck that day and, despite not being in the same form this season, Nicky Henderson will be likely to have him ready for his main target of the year with Santini wearing a visor for the first-time on Friday.
A new challenger to note is A Plus Tard who successfully gained his first win over three miles (at the second attempt) last time out when landing the Savills Chase at Christmas time. That looked to be a strong renewal of the Leopardstown contest and he proved his stamina as he stayed on well to get up close home. With his liking for Cheltenham having won the Novices? Handicap at the Festival in 2019 and being placed in last year?s Ryanair Chase, the seven-year-old has to be respected for the trainer and jockey combination of Henry De Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore.
3:40 Cheltenham - St. James's Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase
Staged over the exact same course and distance as the Gold Cup, the complexion of this race has changed drastically thanks to the pandemic, with amateur riders not allowed to take their place in this race. In addition to the rider trends which are now obsolete, some of the other reliable trends have taken a hit due to the ongoing suspension of Point-to-Point racing in the UK and Ireland and the slow reprogramming of the racing calendar to include Hunter Chases.
However, the key trend that remains reliable is that five of the past eight winners had finished in the first five the previous year. The returning horses this year that achieved that feat are It Came To Pass (winner), Billaway (second) and Staker Wallace (fourth). Recent form is vital when relating to this race as 11 of the past 18 winners won last time out. That includes quite a few in this race such as Billaway, Bob And Co, Hazel Hill, Red Indian and Salvatore.
Horses who started their racing life in the traditional Point-to-Point or Hunter Chase sphere tend to do best in this race, a negative to French imports Bob And Co and Chameron, but a big plus to the chances of Billaway, Hazel Hill, It Came To Pass, Monbeg Gold, Mr Mantilla and Salvatore to name a few.
Class horses come to the fore in this, with eight of the past 10 winners officially rated 134 or higher. The horses this trend counts against are Chameron, Law of Gold, Mighty Stowaway, Monbeg Gold, Mr Mantilla (not yet rated), Ravished and Sonneofpresenting. Irish-trained runners have a good record in the race, particularly those trained by banks master Enda Bolger. He is doubly-represented with Staker Wallace and Stand Up And Fight, with compatriots It Came To Pass, Mighty Stowaway and Billaway others to watch as trend fitters.
It Came To Pass
Billaway was talked up last year as a strong fancy for the all-conquering Mullins? team, but found It Came To Pass 10 lengths better and could only manage second. However, don?t be shocked if that form is overturned, as Billaway has been holding his form in Hunter Chases better than It Came To Pass. With the Mullins? team banging in the winners already, Billaway holds a strong chance.
It Came To Pass fits the trends but has work to do on his past runs, and Staker Wallace has promised much in previous years but failed to deliver fully and has work to do with Billaway on their last run at Naas.
4:15 Cheltenham - Mrs Paddy Power Mares? Chase (Registered as The Liberthine Mares? Chase) (Grade 2)
Coming towards the end of the Cheltenham Festival is by no means an exciting thing but the addition of this race to Gold Cup Day brings something a little different. 2021 sees the inaugural running of the Liberthine Mares' Chase, a Grade 2 contest staged over the same course and distance as the Ryanair Chase on Thursday. The race was introduced with the aim of increasing the quality of the mares? chase programme and to keep more mares in training to compete over the bigger obstacles.
This race is open to mares aged five and above and each runner is allocated 11st 2lb, before penalties are applied for for winning in Grade 1 and Grade 2 company. Like many of the races at the Cheltenham Festival, the Irish seem to have a strong hand and the first five in the market of the 11-runner field are all Irish-trained, with the three on the shortlist representing Willie Mullins. The leading trainer has dominated the other mares? event at the Festival so it will be interesting to see if this new race will follow the same pattern.
There is really no surprise to see Elimay being very well supported after chasing home strong favourite Allaho in the Grade Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase at Thurles on her penultimate start. Prior to this, she won both of her starts over fences the season before as a novice, and on her latest start she won well again on her preparation run for the Festival. Last time out she landed a Listed mares? chase at Naas over the shorter trip of two miles, but the step back up in distance on Friday looks sure to suit for this lightly-raced grey and she still remains unexposed.
Another from the Mullins stable who has looked impressive over in Ireland is Colreevy. She is now a Grade 1 winner in both bumpers and over fences, completing a hat-trick over the bigger obstacles when landing a Grade 2 chase at Thurles over Friday?s trip. Although the mare will have a 5lb penalty to carry due to her Grade 1 success in the Faugheen Novice Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, she won very easily last time out at Thurles as she was eased down towards the line. Willie Mullins clearly has another smart mare on his hands here.
Although Salsaretta has been below-par on both starts this season, she is another who could go well in this race if finding her form from last season. Despite finishing down the field in a Grade 3 mares? chase at Fairyhouse (heavy ground) at odds-on last time, the better ground here at Cheltenham could be just what this mare is crying out for, albeit carrying a 3lb penalty.
4:50 Cheltenham ? Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys? Handicap Hurdle
Stamina is essential in this race and staying beyond the 2m 4f is an important trend, with six of the past seven winner of the Martin Pipe having run over further earlier in the season. This year?s final race looks a brilliant renewal full of horses that meet a lot of key trends. Irish novices have performed well in this race and Column Of Fire may well have added to that statistic last year had he not fallen. Frontal Assault, Galopin des Champs, Gentleman De Mee and Folcano are all Irish-trained novice?s and would be four to keep a close eye on.
Five and six-year-olds have been dominant in this race as they have taken the ten of the last twelve renewals. The age group look set to continue their dominance in this year?s renewal. Indefatigable did win this race last year as a seven-year-old but you wouldn?t want to be any older than that with all twelve winners of the Martin Pipe being aged seven or younger.
Being near the top of the ratings and carrying top-weight actually has been a positive in this handicap. Lat year?s winner was joint top-weight and this year those at the head of the weights are Flouer and Eglantine du Seuil. Paul Nicholls won this race back in 2016 and Elgantine Du Seuil could have a good chance of adding to his tally.
Willie Mullins, Paul Nicholls and Gordon Elliott have done well in the race in recent times, winning seven of the last ten renewals between them. This can be attributed to the trio having the higher-rated horses and with the pick of the top conditional jockeys around. There are a couple lurking in here that fit the profile of an improving novice, none more so than Gentleman De Mee for Willie Mullins. Owned by JP McManus, the owner?s horses often come to the fore in these major handicaps and this year could be no different. Galopin des Champs is his other runner that Mullins sends out and he could go very well but he does have his stamina to prove on Friday having only race over two miles so far.
The maroon and white silks of Gigginstown House Stud have enjoyed plenty of success in the fledgling history of the Martin Pipe, with Sir des Champs, Don Poli, Champagne Classic and Blow By Blow providing the owners with four victories in the contest. After Column Of Fire?s untimely fall in the 2020 renewal, they will be hoping to make amends with Frontal Assault, Fire Attack or Dallas des Pictons this time around.
Gentleman de Mee
Eglantine du Seuil
Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins? horses often come to the fore at the Festival and this year looks to be no different, with Mrs Denise Foster now taking over at Cullentra House stables. Gentleman de Mee looks to be the leading hope for Mullins but he has not been missed in the market. He ticks a lot of the key trends, including carrying 11st 1lb or more which is something that all previous twelve winners of the Martin Pipe have done. Denise Foster?s best chances could be Folcano and Frontal Assault and they have to be respected given that the yard has won two of the last four renewals of the race, while Frontal Assault will be also aiming to provide Gigginstown with another winner of the Martin Pipe. Eglantine du Seuil makes up the shortlist for Paul Nicholls off top-weight, bidding to make it a fourth consecutive success in the Martin Pipe for those who are at the top of the handicap