With five weeks to go until The Cheltenham Festival gets underway at Prestbury Park, the ante-post betting market is beginning to heat up.
The last few weeks have seen potential stars continue their journey to the top of the mountain, with impressive performances shaping into chances of glory on the biggest stage.
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Last weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival was a sight to behold, with equine superstars from across the Irish Sea cementing themselves as firm favourites for some of the biggest races at the home of jumps racing’s showpiece meeting.
The opening race of the four-day meeting – The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – is shaping up to be a mouthwatering battle between Ireland’s Appreciate It and the UK’s Metier.
The former, second in last year’s Champion Bumper, has progressed into a very smart hurdler – finishing strongly to win Grade 1s on his last two starts, at Leopardstown, including yesterday. Willie Mullins looks to have a very strong string of novices over both the smaller and larger obstacles, and further improvement is a strong possibility on what will be only his fourth start over hurdles. Even the 7/4 on offer currently looks a very tempting price.
Harry Fry’s Metier was the wide-margin winner of the Grade 1 Tolworth in the new year, and all eyes will be on his prep-run at Newbury this weekend. You can currently find him at 7/1, which will likely shorten with another impressive display on Saturday.
Continuing the Mullins Grade 1 charge with wins in Co. Dublin at the weekend – and looking like Festival bankers – were 2020 Albert Bartlett winner Monkfish (1/1 RSA Chase) and low-mileage nine-year-old Chacun Pour Soi (10/11 Champion Chase).
Henry de Bromhead’s star mare – and winner of last year’s Mares’ Hurdle – Honeysuckle, is now a perfect 10/10 under rules and is 5/2 joint-favourite for The Champion Hurdle – alongside last year’s winner Epatante, who was soundly beaten by Silver Streak (11/1) at Kempton, over Christmas.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate how many quality novice chasers we have this season:— HorseRacing.net (@HorseRacing_Net) February 7, 2021
– Shishkin: 111
– Energumene: 111
– Envoi Allen: 111
– Monkfish: 111
Three runs, three wins from them all… 👏🌟 pic.twitter.com/lTpbHtu3RI
Possibly the most exciting National Hunt horses on both sides of the Irish Sea – and two bankers to make up the 13/1 accumulator with Monkfish and Chacun Pour Soi – are Gordon Elliott’s Envoi Allen (5/6 Marsh Novice Chase) and Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin (1/1 Arkle Chase).
Envoi Allen is 11/11 in his short career, including a Champion Bumper and A Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, and it’s very difficult to look away from him landing a Cheltenham Festival Hat-trick – given his huge engine and pinpoint jumping.
It’s frightening to think both Envoi Allen and Shishkin are Novices over fences – they have both shown class far beyond their years, and even more frighteningly, they could both continue to improve. Last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner looks set to add The Arkle to his black type.
The week looks set to provide us some with tastebud-tingling clashes of National Hunt titans.
Paisley Park V Thyme Hill – The Stayers’ Hurdle
Thyme Hill had a nightmare in running at last year’s Festival, while his jockey had a nightmare when the pair last met. I cannot see Johnson allowing Paisley Park (4/1) to pick him off this time around. It’s too close to call…
Allaho V Imperial Aura – The Ryanair Chase
Imperial Aura was my NAP of The Festival last year, and duly delivered. With the form Kim Bailey has been in, and that long wait for a Grade 1 finally over, 7/1 is too tempting to ignore.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup
While Royal Pagaille could be anything, Al Boum Photo could join the treble club – I’ll be hoping there is plenty of rain pouring onto the hallowed turf and 16/1-shot, Native River, will gallop them into submission.