The two biggest events in the UK jumps racing season are undoubtedly the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals. But while the latter centres around one race, the Grand National, the Cheltenham Festival’s strength has always laid in its depth of quality races. Fourteen of the 28 races are rated as Grade 1’s, and fans will look forward to the four-day event as a whole, not simply wait for an individual race.
Nevertheless, four races stand tall above all others – the feature races. The big four events – the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, Stayers’ Hurdle, and Gold Cup – take place at 3.30 pm on each day of the Festival (16th-19th March).
But who are the movers and shakers in the betting markets in the lead up to Cheltenham 2021? Below is an overview of what’s happening in the four features:
Before Christmas, most people considered the brilliant mare, Epatante a shoo-in for a second consecutive Champion Hurdle. Nicky Henderson’s superstar looked every bit the champion when making her seasonal bow in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle in November.
However, at Kempton on Boxing Day, she was well beaten by the unfancied Silver Streak in the Christmas Hurdle. That defeat has left some wondering whether the likes of Sharjah or Silver Streak might offer some better value than the favourite.
One of the most curious aberrations of the Cheltenham Festival is that Irish trainer Willie Mullins has never won the Champion Chase. He has won everything else worth talking about, and he remains the trainer with the most wins at the Festival.
However, this year many believe he has his best chance since the days of Douvan. Chacun Pour Soi is the clear betting favourite and has looked imperious in his over the last couple of years. The only question mark is that he has never raced at Cheltenham (nor the UK) before. Challengers include Politlogue and A Plus Tard.
The most intriguing race of the Festival in our book. Paisley Park – arguably the best long-distance hurdler of his generation – is the name that crops up most in tips and previews of the Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham, but watch out for Thyme Hill.
The pair have come up against each other twice over the winter, with Thyme Hill winning one and Paisley Park winning the other. Each time the winning distance was just a neck or less.
Cheltenham is made for these kinds of duels, and there is very little to pick between Paisley Park and Thyme Hill in the betting markets. Sire du Berlais might be the candidate to play spoiler.
Cheltenham Gold Cup
While we mentioned that Cheltenham’s glut of brilliant races is what makes it so great, the most prestigious event is undoubtedly the Gold Cup. This year, all the talk surrounds Al Boum Photo – the winner of the race in 2019 and 2020.
To win three Gold Cups would be an extraordinary feat for the horse and trainer Willie Mullins; something that has only been achieved by a handful of legends like Golden Miller, Arkle and Best Mate.
Al Boum Photo is the favourite, but some punters might be a bit reluctant to steam in on that price. The problem is that he has several decent challengers, including Santini, Minella Indo and Champ who have had patchy form.
Each is capable of winning a Gold Cup, but they must improve their form this season. The stars seem to be aligning for an Al Boum Photo hat-trick, but Mullins will not be popping the champagne just yet.