Cheltenham 2020 is finally here!
The four-day extravaganza, under threat from the coronavirus epidemic, got the green light only after a crucial government meeting with administrators from leading sports, including the British Horseracing Authority.
"We have been very encouraged by the Government's wish for business to continue as usual in this country –including sporting events like the Cheltenham Festival," the track's Ian Renton said last night.
A crowd close to 60,000 will flock to the home of jump racing today – and they can get the meeting off to the perfect start by backing EPATANTE to land the Unibet Champion Hurdle (3.30).
With 17 runners going to post, the race has acquired the reputation of being the most open for years.
1.30 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
- CHANTRY HOUSE
Shishkin is poised to kick off what could be a fantastic week for Nicky Henderson.
Nico De Boinville’s mount bolted up at Newbury in January before cruising home in the Sidney Banks Hurdle over 2m3f at Huntingdon last month.
Henderson is convinced Shishkin has the speed to come back to two miles and the vibes from Seven Barrows are strong.
Stablemate Chantry House could chase him up the famous hill. The word is that there is not much between these two at home.
Allart is Henderson’s other runner and is also highly regarded. Fiddlerontheroof would love more rain and he took the Tolworth Hurdle in January.
But the each-way play could be EDWARDSTONE who has done nothing wrong and looks overpriced.
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2.10 Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase
- ROUGE VIF
- ESPRIT DU LARGE
Richard Johnson can boot home another Cheltenham Festival winner on BREWIN’UPASTORM.
Unbeaten in two starts over fences, the seven-year-old has been laid out for this race all season.
And although he lacks the jumping experience of some of his main rivals, he ticks every other box.
The soft ground will put the emphasis on stamina rather than speed and Olly Murphy’s rising star has plenty of staying power.
The each-way play is definitely Rouge Vif , who looks overpriced based on his excellent victory at Warwick in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase last time out.
Another who could hit the frame is Esprit Du Large , who is already a Grade One winner in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown in December
The Irish are strongly represented by Notebook with Rachael Blackmore in the plate, Fakir D’Oudairies and Cash Back .
2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase
- WHO DARES WINS
- VINTAGE CLOUDS
Dream horse WHO DARES WINS is tipped to win this brilliant betting heat.
Novice chasers have a good record in this race and Alan king won it with one – Fork Lightning in 2004.
Who Dares Wins is an incredible horse having won the Northumberland Plate and being placed in a Group One on the Flat,
He has also been placed twice over hurdles at the Festival.
Tom Cannon’s mount won the Grade 2 Pendil Novices’ Chase over two and a half mile by will relish the step up in trip.
Top weight Vinndication has been laid out for this race and is a serious danger. Kim Bailey’s thinks he could be a Gold Cup horse next year, if so he has got to be competitive in this.
This is Vintage Clouds’ fourth appearance in this race with form figures of F32. He is worthy of an each-way poke.
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3.30 Unibet Champion Hurdle
2 PENTLAND HILLS
3 CORNERSTONE LAD
EPATANTE can give Nicky Henderson his eighth Unibet Champion Hurdle success.
The mare will also become just the fourth post-war winner of the hurdling crown for the fairer sex.
Her 7lb mares' allowance should prove crucial and in a sub-standard renewal she is one of the few horses in the race who are unexposed.
Her victory in the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle was impressive and a repeat would see her crowned today.
The only blot on her copybook was her flop in last year’s Mares Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival but there were excuses.
Henderson saddles four in the race and they all have some sort of chance. Pentland Hills is the other horse with plenty more in his locker but only three five-year-olds have won the race since 1985.
Still, he has solid place claims. But the real each-way value is Cornerstone Lad, who will relish every drop of rain that falls and 28-1 is a silly price for a horse who won the Fighting Fifth Hurdle.
4.10 Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle
1 BENIE DES DIEUX
3 LADY BUTTONS
BENIE DES DIEUX should get the better of Honeysuckle in a fascinating clash.
Many expected Willie Mullins’ talented mare to head for the Champion Hurdle or the Stayers.
But she has unfinished business in this contest after falling at the final flight last year with the race in the bag.
Her trainer believes she could be the best mare he has ever trained.
Honeysuckle is unbeaten in eight races and has her optimum conditions. She can push the selection all the way.
Each-way players could do worse than plump for Lady Buttons who was fourth last year but is in terrific form.
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4.50 Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase
1 IMPERIAL AURA
IMPERIAL AURA is strongly fancied for Gold Cup-winning trainer Kim Bailey and jockey David Bass.
Racing in the familiar silks of 2010 Gold Cup hero Imperial Commander, the seven-year-old has run two cracking races around the course this season.
And in what is a compressed handicap, he is running off a very decent rating.
This is fiercely competitive and there has been a lot of confidence behind Galvin.
Davy Russell’s ride has had a quiet preparation but looks to be on a lenient handicap mark.
Another talented horse on a likeable perch is Beakstown who looks more than capable of hitting the frame.
5.30 National Hunt Challenge Chase
1 LORD DU MESNIL
2 SPRINGFIELD FOX
LORD DU MESNIL has already had a tremendous season and has climbed 32lb in the official ratings.
As long as he can maintain his form, he has an outstanding chance in this staying slog over 3m 6f.
Sam Waley-Cohen in the saddle is an added bonus.
There is confidence behind Carefully Selected but I can see Springfield Fox running a huge race at a big price. Newtide is another who could hit the frame.
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