With the Festival just around the corner, we take a look of some of the stars that six-time Champion trainer Nicky Henderson will sending into battle at Prestbury Park.
Altior – Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
The four-time Festival winner returns to Cheltenham after missing last year’s meeting due to injury. Altior is not the unstoppable force that he used to be, but his record over obstacles is still mightily impressive, winning 20 of his 22 starts. He did suffer a shock defeat on his season reappearance in the Desert Orchid Chase to Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra, and there were questions that maybe he would be better suited for the Ryanair Chase this time around. However, Henderson has stood his ground and made it clear that Altior will be attempting to win a third Champion Chase, meaning a mouth-watering clash with Chacun Pour Soi is on the cards.
Buzz – Coral Cup
Buzz ran on the flat for four seasons under Hughie Morrison, before joining Nicky Henderson’s yard in late 2019. He has proven to be an interesting contender in strongly-run handicaps for the Lambourn trainer and has utilised his pace from his previous ventures. The seven-year-old has adapted to life over obstacles well, landing three wins in his first six starts overs hurdles. He is being considered for the Betfair Hurdle later on this month as a final run before Cheltenham, so it might be worth seeing how Buzz performs as the potential top weight in that race before making a judgement on the Coral Cup.
Champ – Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup
One of the heroes of last year’s Festival, Champ sent the Cheltenham crowd into a frenzy after making up plenty of ground in the final stages to snatch victory in the RSA Chase. The nine-year-old hasn’t been seen yet this season, but is due to race in the Denman Chase later on this month. That run could decide his path to the Festival, as Nicky Henderson has entered the three-time Grade 1 winner into the Cheltenham Gold Cup and (surprisingly) the Stayers’ Hurdle. If all goes to plan, he could be a danger to Al Boum Photo’s hopes of a third straight Gold Cup success.
Dame De Compagnie – Mrs Paddy Power Mares‘ Chase
Last year’s Coral Cup winner got off the mark over fences last month, seeing off Grade 1 winner Cornerstone Lad by 9 lengths on her chase debut at Ayr. Dame De Compagnie holds entries in three races this weekend (Frodon Novices’ Chase, Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase & Towton Novices’ Chase) and the result could well decide which race the eight-year-old is targeted for at the Festival. Henderson has debated whether to send her to the Mares’ Chase but he has stated that it would be asking a lot of her that early on into her chase career. Nonetheless, it would be a cracking race if Dame De Compagnie was to take on the likes of Elimay and Colreevy in the new contest.
Epatante – Unibet Champion Hurdle
Nicky Henderson’s supermare will be returning to the Champion Hurdle to land a third successive victory at the Festival. Epatante was another of Henderson’s stars that suffered a shock defeat over the festive period, as the seven-year-old was seen off by Silver Streak in the Christmas Hurdle. The mare was found to have a back issue after the race and she won’t race now until the Festival. Henderson remains confident in Epatante’s abilities to land back-to-back successes in the Champion Hurdle, but some believe she can be taken on after being beaten at Kempton.
Santini – Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup
Known for his strong staying ability and pinpoint jumping, last year’s Gold Cup runner-up will be returning to the contest with the hope of going one better this time around. Santini is made for the Gold Cup and is still considered Nicky Henderson’s best chance of landing a third success in the race. The nine-year-old did however put up a disappointing effort in the King George in December and there are questions of whether he is still good enough to win the feature race of the Festival. Santini will have one more chance to convince critics in either the rearranged Cotswold Chase or the Grand National Trial, with the hope that he can return back to winning ways.
Shishkin – Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase
Last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner has not put a foot wrong since going novice chasing. Shishkin has landed three wins in three starts over fences, including two Graded successes. The imposing seven-year-old has impressed throughout this season and has all the attributes to become one of the best in the chase division. The short price for the Arkle Chase is fully justified for Nicky Henderson’s rising star, as he just looks unbeatable. Shishkin is a superstar in the making for the Lambourn trainer.
Weekend Cheltenham Clues: Elimay now clear favourite for the Mares’ Chase
JP McManus owned Elimay a cosy winner of Saturday’s Opera Hat at Naas
A weekend which saw several key meeting abandoned due to the weather, punters were left with three jumps cards across England and Ireland to engage with over the two days.
Elimay produced an impressive performance at Naas on Saturday, as she landed the hotly-contested Opera Hat Mares Chase.
The seven-year-old made strong headway three out, took the lead from Gordon Elliott’s Shattered Love before the last and went clear in the run-in to win easily by 5 ½ lengths.
Willie Mullins’ mare has seen her price for the Mares’ Chase cut even further, as the current favourite was trimmed from 4/1 to 5/2.
Shady Operator got Sunday’s action underway, as the eight-year old landed the P.P Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase at Punchestown.
Enda Boldger’s gelding, who is now 14/1 for the Glenfarclas Cross County Chase, went clear at the last before staying on to win by 2 ½ lengths from Peter Maher’s Blast Of Koeman.
Thedeviliscoachman recorded his second victory in 16 days, as the gelding claimed the I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Novice Hurdle.
The five-year-old kept on well and fought off a late challenge from the progressing French Light to take his third win over hurdles in four starts.
Noel Meade’s runner is a 16/1 shot for the County Hurdle, while he also remains at 20/1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Competing in handicap company for the first time over fences, The Big Dog landed a maiden victory over the larger obstacles as he took the €80,000 Punchestown Grand National Trial.
Peter Fahey’s runner travelled well throughout the contest and looked to be cruising when he kicked clear on the home turn.
However, Screaming Colours made up ground late on and produced a late challenge, but The Big Dog kept on well and battled back to win by half a length.
The eight-year old now holds a price of 20/1 for the National Hunt Chase and the Kim Muir Challenge Cup at the Festival in March.
Meanwhile across the Irish Sea, Wilde About Oscar returned to winning ways after a strong performance in the Bet At racingtv.com Listed Novices’ Hurdle at Exeter.
The six-year-old, who is 20/1 for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, travelled well throughout and saw off favourite The Glancing Queen in the run-in by 7 ½ lengths.
Weekend Racing: Five jump races to watch in Great Britain and Ireland
Despite abandonments to Warwick and Newbury’s cards, there is still some top quality jumps racing in Britain and Ireland on Saturday and Sunday
With Newbury and Warwick both called off due to frost on, all eyes turns to Exeter, Naas and Punchestown for the weekend racing action.
From a hotly-contested Irish Grand National trial to an intriguing Listed Novices’ Hurdle known for its previous winners, there is still plenty of exciting races to sink your teeth into.
Here are five races to tune into over the weekend…
BBA Ireland Limited Opera Hat Mares Chase – Naas, 1.40 Saturday
Currently the 4/1 favourite for the Mares’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, Elimay makes her final prep run in the Listed contest at Naas before heading to Prestbury Park. The seven-year-old spearheads the Willie Mullins challenge and is joined by stablemate Yukon Lil, who is aiming to land a first success in Graded company. Veteran mare Shattered Love and 2019 Mares Novices’ Hurdle third Tintangle lead the charge for Gordon Elliott while Waitnsee lines up for John Patrick Ryan.
I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Novice Hurdle – Punchestown, 2.00 Sunday
Sunday’s action gets underway with Power Of Pause looking to land his first victory in Listed company. Willie Mullins’ seven-year-old, who came third in the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle last month, can book his ticket to Cheltenham with success at Punchestown. He face a tough challenge in Supreme contender Thedevilscoachman, who was impressive when landing victory at Navan two weeks ago for Noel Meade. Joseph O’Brien holds two entries in the contest, with Uhtred making his second start over hurdles while Fire Attack will need to bounce back after suffering a late fall last time out.
Bet At racingtv.com Novices’ Hurdle – Exeter, 3.10 Sunday
A race renowned for broadcasting future stars, with Gold Cup winner Native River and Champion Chase victor Politologue both landing this contest in recent years. The Glancing Queen, who took third in the Grade 1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury over Christmas, makes her last appearance before heading to the Festival for most likely the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. Dan Skelton’s Wilde About Oscar will be aimed to return to winning ways after being pulled up in the same contest, while Johnny Farrelly will be hopeful Breffniboy can land his sixth win in eight races.
Punchestown Grand National Trial Handicap Chase – Punchestown, 4.30 Sunday
Gordon Elliott sends six runners to Punchestown for the Irish Grand National trial, as the County Meade trainer attempts to land this contest for the third successive time. 2019 winner Doukinos and top weight Alpha Des Obeaux line-up for Elliott alongside stablemates Roaring Bull, Out Sam and Monbeg Notorious, while General Prinicple takes second reserve. Race favourite The Big Dog makes his handicap debut for Peter Fahey, while Leopardstown Christmas Festival winner Midnight Maestro will be looking to continue his good run of form.
Join Racing TV Now Mares’ Chase – Exeter – 4.40 Sunday
The final major contest of the weekend sees National Hunt Chase entrant Snow Leopardess attempt to claim her second win over fences for Charlie Longsdon. The Grade 2 winner, who placed in all four of her starts over fences, looks to continue her good form and faces challengers in Rebecca Curtis’ Legends Gold and Alan King’s Midnightreferendum.
Three value-priced Irish runners to consider over the weekend
The three Irish runners you need to side with this weekend
With the weather wiping out all but one National Hunt meeting in Great Britain, jumps fans turn to the Irish cards in search for some value selections.
Here are three runners that could hint some value in the meeting across the Irish sea.
UTHRED (2.00 PUNCHESTOWN, SUNDAY) – 9/2 (William Hill)
A bright prospect from Joseph O’Brien’s yard, Uthred makes the step up with a tough assignment on his hands. The six-year-old hasn’t been seen since December 2019, but he has shown his ability on his three starts under rules. A strong second in a maiden hurdle at Cork, he quickened up well on his final outing to win by 4 ½ lengths in a Listed bumper. If Uhtred can continue to show promise, he could easily be in the mix here and take on the likes of Power Of Pause and Thedevilscoachman.
ALL ABOUT JACK (4.00 NAAS, SATURDAY) – 12/1 (bet365)
Colm Murphy’s six-year old may not have caught the eye in his first year over hurdles, but he could take his first rules win here at Naas. He was unlucky not to win at Punchestown after being beaten by a neck and he can be forgiven for being pulled up on his last outing after being found to be suffering from heat stress. However, the gelding could have more to come if his bloodlines are anything to go by. His sire has produced Stayers’ Hurdle winners Paisley Park and Lisnagar Oscar, as well as Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby and dual Aintree Hurdle victor Oscar Whisky. At a predicted price of 12/1, there could be some each-way value if the six-year-old lives up to his potential.
MONBEG NOTORIOUS (4.30 PUNCHESTOWN, SUNDAY) – 40/1 (Paddy Power + Betfair)
A part of the six-strong Gordon Elliott force in the Irish Grand National Trial, Monbeg Notorious could well be a surprise contender for the County Meade trainer. A winner of Thyestes Handicap Chase off a mark of 137 three years ago, the ten-year-old has struggled this season after being pulled up on both starts. But he is now back at an interesting mark and is a strong runner on heavy ground. With further rain predicted in County Kildare, this could be a huge opportunity for Monbeg Notorious to roll back the year and at 40/1, there is some clear each-way value if the place terms are right.
With the Cheltenham Festival just around the corner, it’s time to get back into the spirit of this grand occasion, and for that, you’ve come to the right place.
With the offset commencing on Tuesday 16th March featuring The Unibet Champion Hurdle, you could be right there experiencing it all up until the final few races trickle through following The Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday 19th March.
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