It’s now less than two months to the biggest event in the U.K. jumps racing calendar – the Cheltenham Festival on March 12-15. The heavy racing schedule over the holidays normally has a big impact on the ante-post markets, and the last month has been no different. Indeed, several big-name horses had some disappointments, whereas others inserted themselves into the frame for Cheltenham’s biggest prizes. Below is a quick look at the current state of play for Cheltenham’s four feature races.
Champion Hurdle – March 12
There was finally some weakness – just a little, mind – shown by two-time champion Buveur D’Air, who was beaten by a shoulder by Verdana Blue in the Christmas Hurdle. It wasn’t enough to really rattle the Cheltenham betting markets, with 888sport still rating Buveur D’Air at 5-4 for the hat trick, but enough to give other trainers hope for Champion Hurdle glory. Sharjah had a good Christmas and looks interesting value at 10-1, but punters will want to see at least one more run from 4-1 second-favorite Laurina before parting with any cash.
Queen Mother Champion Chase – March 13
Altior has again stamped his authority over all challengers this season, winning both the Tingle Creek Chase and Desert Orchid Chase without breaking a sweat. Odds of 1-2 are offered for Altior to retain his Champion Chase crown. Footpad, long touted as the candidate to give Altior a run for his money, has had a so-so campaign so far this season, falling once and finishing second to Simply Ned at Leopardstown just after Christmas. Footpad is cited at 6-1 to take the Champion Chase, but it feels like it’s Altior’s crown again. “Usual suspects” Min and Un De Sceaux are priced at 10-1 and 16-1 respectively, either of whom would be decent each-way value should they run.
Stayers’ Hurdle – March 13
It’s been the most open race of the Festival for the past few years, and the 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle looks to be a similar case. Last year’s winner Penhill is the current favorite at 6-1 with 888sport, with Apple’s Jade and Supasundae both available at 8-1. Apple’s Jade is arguably generating the most buzz after looking in fine form when winning the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle by 26 lengths. Gordon Elliott’s mare has plenty of options for Cheltenham, but the Stayers’ Hurdle really looks like a top option to bag one of the feature races. Faugheen, who had led the ante-post markets throughout the summer, has drifted out to 10-1 after some disappointing efforts.
Cheltenham Gold Cup – March 15
Presenting Percy’s star has risen by way of not being in action at all since winning the RSA Chase at Cheltenham last year, but he is due to get a run sooner rather than later. Presenting Percy is now cited at 4-1, with last year’s winner Native River right on his heels at 5-1. The latter has been so-so this season, placing in a couple of races, including a third in the King George VI Chase. Might Bite is facing a wind operation and has been pushed out to 20-1, with Nicky Henderson stating he won’t be in action until Gold Cup Day. Both Al Boum Photo and Kemboy have had impressive wins over Christmas, with the former available at 16-1 and the latter at 8-1. Clan Des Obeaux, who was a surprise winner for Paul Nicholls at the King George VI Chase, will tempt some at 7-1. It really looks like an open contest; let’s hope that leads to a thrilling race to match last year’s effort.