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Cheltenham countdown: a few to look out for

08-March-2021 10:04
in General
by Peter McNeile

Are you looking forward to Cheltenham? I haven't missed a Festival in nearly 35 years, but this year, I'm approaching the event with mixed feelings. Will the thrill be just as great, despite no crowd? If you were a trainer or rider winning one of those coveted races for the first time, how will you feel returning to a silence rather than the cheers of the crowd and the buzz of warm appreciation?

This year's Cheltenham Festival is a week away due to start on March 16th,  but this year it will be held behind closed doors and six races a day will be broadcast live. We look at some of the news from there and the Grand National from Aintree 3 weeks later.

Best Value Punts

Twelve months ago, Shiskin was impressive in taking the Supreme Novices. The Sporting Life Arkle Trophy is the meeting's first chase 35 minutes later, and Shishkin is red hot favourite for novice chasing's speed crown.  Mullins' Energumene and Skelton's Allmankind will make a fist of it, but Shishkin is head and shoulders above his rivals. It will be worth tuning in and we will get a race but we don’t see anyone beating Shishkin.

In the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase the following day, in an entry of 32 horses, there may be some records or hearts broken. Altior could write history with a 5th win at the Festival, but is a more likely contender over the longer distance of the Ryanair or Gold Cup. Chacun Pour Soi heads the market, there's last year's winner Politologue to consider, and now also newbie Nube Negra who beat Altior at Christmas in the Desert Orchid. His odds have been cut to 12-1, and Chacun Pour Soi has short odds of 6/4 as he looks to continue his blistering form.

Nor should you rule out First Flow. Kim Bailey's charge has been lighting up dark winter afternoons and delivered his firsat Grade I since Master Oats in 1995 earlier this January. It would be a fitting retiurn to the top table for one of racing's most popular veterans (apologies Kim).

For the full Entry cardsee here.

Chacun Pour Soi won well at Leopardstown

The final day means the Gold Cup and Al Boum Photo bids to make it 3 in a row like Best Mate and Arkle before him. Two horses that stand in his way are Santini and Lostintranslation and 2 debutants A Plus Tard and Royale Pagaille. Santini has had a mixed preparation, and the Tizzards have endured a miserable winter looking at everyone else winning. But there are signs they are coming back to form, so Lostintranslation could offer a value bet. For further good value, A Plus Tard at around 10/1 has the right credentials, having won the Leopardstown Chase over Christmas with a superb turn of foot. He has the added benefit of Rachel Blackmore in the plate, who would be a first female rider to win the race. Royale Pagaille at odds of 16/1 having been as low as 9/1 just 2 weeks ago, won the Peter Marsh, but as he remains a novice still, he's a more likely candidate for the National Hunt Chase.

This is the full Race Entries for the Cheltenham Festival.

Cheltenham Festival Betting Markets

One of the highlights of the Cheltenham Festival is the wide spread of odds available from the larger betting market on races during the 4 days. Every bookmaker is chasing your business with free bets and bonuses online so you can increase the number of bets you place.Cheltenham free bets from can help you find these bonus bets and bonus bets, while with your cash bets you have extra features available on betting sites such as enhanced odds and guaranteed odds.

The Grand National

This year’s race festival is due to take place from April 8-10th, and whilst it will remain behind closed doors, owners of runners will be allowed, unlike Cheltenham, as ther vaccine roll-out continues. 

In big news the twice winner Tiger Roll has been pulled out of the Grand National. He was bidding for a third straight win in 2020 before the Covid crisis forced the cancellation of the fixture. In 2019 he became the first horse since legendary Red Rum to win 2 straight Nationals. However, his handicap mark was raised to 166 by the British Horseracing Authority. This has infuriated Michael O’Leary, Tiger Roll’s owner, who blasted that the handicap mark is “patently unfair” and had already threatened to pull out if the handicap was not in the 150’s. M

O Leary’s argument is that Tiger Roll at 9 is in decline even since 2018 and has failed to win any of his 5 races since his handicap was raised to 159 and now it’s 166 because of his past form at Aintree. It will be a shame that Tiger Roll will not be fielded and have a chance to make history. Michael makes a cogent argument, which is why he leads one of the world's most successful airlines, but the handicapper has a valid argument too. Some you win, some you lose. Next week's cross country will prove if Tiger Roll still has a zest for racing, because on the face of it, he looked a little lacking at Navan last time out in the Boyne Hurdle.

Golfer Lee Westwood had 2 entries in the National with Yorkhill and Bellshill. He was quoted as saying since a kid he watched the Grand National and it made him fall in love with racing so to have an entry in the National was a dream come true. Yorkhill, winner of the JLT Chase back in 2017, was retired a fortnight ago, but Belshill is readily available at 50s, and stranger things have happened. 

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