Cheltenham 2021 Preview


Novice Hurdles

The eagerly anticipated first race of the festival will be the Supreme over 2 miles for the novices. This race tends to stick to the betting script with 7 of the last 10 winners coming in at odds of 6/1 or less. The first big hotshot of the week Appreciate It (11/8) looks set to line up in this race. The Willie Mullins trained gelding has proved himself to be head and shoulders above his peers so far this season. On the back of some very good bumper form last season including finishing second in last year’s Champion Bumper at the festival, Appreciate It started off his season with a win in a maiden hurdle at Cork in November on heavy ground beating Master McShee who went on to score in a big handicap at Leopardstown at Christmas by 2 ½ lengths. It is also interesting to note that he was third to a certain Envoi Allen at the Ballinaboola point-to-point in 2018. He has since added two Grade 1s to his name both coming at Leopardstown at Christmas and the Dublin Racing Festival in February. He had Royal Bond winner Ballyadam behind him on both of those occasions and it looks like Ballyadam has four lengths to find on current form. Gordon Elliott said he wasn’t a 100% at Christmas and may improve for better ground but he is another horse that will have to adapt to a new yard in such a short time before the Festival after leaving Gordon Elliott’s to join Henry De Bromhead in the wake of the controversy surrounding the former in the past week. He looks more of a chasing type though and will be one to watch when he graduates to the larger obstacles. He is well priced at 7/1 to have another crack at Appreciate It but the latter looks to have plenty in hand on his main Irish rival in the race. You must look across the water to find the favourites biggest rival in this race. That may come in the form of the Harry Fry trained Metier. Three from three over hurdles Metier’s most recent victory came in the Tolworth Novices hurdle at Sandown in early January where he demolished his rivals in heavy ground winning by a handsome 12 ¾ lengths. His other two victories came on soft and heavy ground and if the ground was to stay on the soft side next week, he’s a big player with his strong turn of foot. Others to keep in mind for this race include Soaring Glory. He started the season off very well by beating Ballymore favourite Bravemansgame at Cheltenham in October. He then disappointed in his next three races before bouncing back in style at Newbury winning the Betfair Hurdle by 3 lengths. He impressed by guiding himself through a big runner field and that he ran on very strongly from the last hurdle and looks to be one that may relish the hill.
In the Ballymore Novice Hurdle over 2 1/2 miles. Bob Olinger seems to be the one here. He was very impressive when he won the Grade 1 Novice Hurdle at Naas when he beat Blue Lord. He was an impressive winner of a Maiden Hurdle before that and was second to Champion Bumper winner Ferny Hollow earlier in the season and he is a horse that seems open to a lot of improvement still. Bravemansgame has been impressive since he was beaten by Soaring Glory in October, winning three times since. He has been regarded by connections as the next Denman but he still has a lot to prove in many people’s books but on paper he has the quality to win this. Gaillard Du Mesnil is carrying the favourites tag at the time of writing. He has only ran three times and won twice but one of those victories was in a Grade 1 at the Dublin Racing Festival. Although it was a Grade 1 the form of the race doesn’t seem as strong as that of Bob Olinger, but this horse is relatively unexposed and could improve massively from has last run. He looks like the staying type and if the race develops into a dog fight, he may come out on top.
The Albert Bartlett over 3 miles is as puzzling a race as any with so much untapped potential amongst the runners. I like the chances of Torygraph in this race. He was really impressive when winning over 2-mile 7f at Thurles on heavy ground. He looks to have the stamina to last the trip and dig out a victory.

Novice Chases

The Arkle over 2 miles is a race that is building up to be the most exciting race of the Festival, all eyes will be on the mouth-watering clash between Shishkin and Energumene and you can throw Allmankind into the mix for good measure. No disrespect to the other runners but bar disaster it looks almost certain that the winner will come out of these three. The market leader Shishkin boasts a 100% record over the larger obstacles and has won his three races this season on the bridle. While he hasn’t beaten much this season, he has racecourse experience from winning the Supreme at last year’s Festival which may give him the slight edge over his rivals. It was hard to take your eyes of Energumene at the Dublin Racing Festival when he made light work of his opposition winning by an easy 10 lengths in a quicker time than Champion Chase favourite Chacun Pour Soi did in the Dublin Steeplechase on the same day (both races 2 miles). Energumene was rushed through bumpers and hurdles by his connections who obviously saw a potential star in the making over fences early. Allmankind will no doubt be a big player in the outcome of this race. The free going gelding is perfect three from three over fences. He has an abundance of speed and is very slick through the air apart from one horrible blunder in his last run which he just about got away with. He most certainly has the capabilities to take his rivals out of their comfort zone, definitely in the early parts of the race.
In the Marsh Novice Chase over 2 1/2 miles is where we will get to see the superstar Envoi Allen. This horse has untold potential and could be the face of NH racing for the next few years. He is many people’s banker of the week and at odds of 8/11 its hardly worth your money backing him. Unbeaten in his career to date with two Festival wins already under his belt it will be interesting to see how he adapts to the late switch to Henry De Bromheads yard so close to the festival after leaving Gordon Elliott’s last week. But if he is the star we make him out to be, he shouldn’t bat an eyelid.
The Festival Novice Chase over 3 miles seems like another inevitability. This time another glowing star in the game Monkfish will look to get a second festival win on the board and at odds of 4/6 his only concern will be if Royale Pagaille turns up in the race. He seems to have the rest covered and if he runs like he did at the Dublin Racing Festival it will take a brilliant horse to catch him.

Champion Hurdle

The Champion Hurdle market is being headed by two mares this year in the form of Epatante and Honeysuckle. They are of course the star attractions with many hinting towards a straight duel between the pair for the Champion Hurdle crown. Honey-suckle will have a large fanbase cheering for her next week and she looks set to give them something to cheer about. The superstar mare is still unbeaten in her career to date with her last win coming in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown where she made light work of the opposition which contained Sharjah (Grade 1 winner at Christmas) Abacadabras (Morgiana Hurdle winner) and Saint Roi (winner of the County Hurdle at last year’s Festival). She also has a win in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse under her belt where she had to dig deep to beat Ronald Pump by ½ a length. That said there are very little chinks in her armour and if everything falls into place, she looks to have all the aces in the pack at this moment. Her main danger is another superstar mare and defend-ing champion Epatante who started off her season with a win in the Fighting Fifth hurdle at Newcastle before disappointing behind Silver Streak in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton where she was beaten by 6 ½ lengths. If she produces similar here she will be well beaten but you would have to give her the benefit of the doubt on that run and if she produces a performance to the level of what she did here last year she’ll be very hard to beat. Goshen seemed to have rediscovered the form of last season when he beat Song for Someone (International Hurdle winner) by 22 lengths with Navajo Pass who beat Buveur D’air this season, a moderate third. Goshen ran well below par in the International Hurdle earlier this season when finishing 10th of ten in the race. Not many people will forget his final flight omission when he looked destined to win the Triumph Hurdle here last year. He is still only five and could produce a big run here. Sharjah is a horse with a good each way chance in the race, he won his third Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle at Christmas although his best run of the season tends to be in that race. He was runner up to Epatante last year where he was 3 lengths down at the line but he disappointed at the Dublin Racing Festival when he was left in the dust by Honeysuckle who seems to have the edge every time they have met. Abacadabras showed good form early on in the season when second at Down Royal in October before bouncing back two weeks later to win the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown beating Saint Roi by a neck. He seems to have struggled to rediscover that early season form as he was fifth and well beaten by Sharjah at Christmas and like Sharjah was trounced by Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion hurdle a few weeks back. Silver Streak can’t be ruled out either. He is a very consistent sort as he has a Christmas Hurdle (beating Epatante) and an International Hurdle second to his name already this season.

Champion Chase

This year’s renewal sees a short priced favourite in Chacun Pour Soi bidding for his first and perhaps overdue Champion Chase crown. The Willie Mullins trained gelding is three from three this season which started off with an easy win in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork in early December before winning a Grade 1 in his next start at Christmas. He then landed his second Dublin Steeplechase at the Dublin Racing Festival in February. He never seemed out of his comfort zone so far this season and this will be a stiffer test of his ability but with a rating of 174 he is the highest rated horse in the race and you can see why he carries the strong favourites tag. Two-time champion Altior looks set to line up in this race next week. The Nicky Henderson trained horse has only had one run this season when finishing second to Nube Negra in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton in late December. It was only his second defeat over fences, but he seemed to be beaten a good bit from home by a horse that raised a few eyebrows when he was first past the post. The fact that he is also about to turn 11 doesn’t play into his favour either and he will have to rediscover his old magic to retain any hope of winning his third Champion Chase. Last year’s Arkle winner Put The Kettle On could have a squeak in this race. She clearly loves Chel-tenham as she is two from two at the track. She was third to Chacun Pour Soi on her last run at Christmas but is open to improvement since she runs the course very well. She is also receiving the 7lb mares’ allowance which could play a big part in her chances and brings her right into the picture. Last year’s winner Politologue must be respected too. He won the Tingle Creek at Sandown on his seasonal reappearance before he was beaten on his next start by First Flow in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January. He is a horse that is known to have hit the crossbar a few times in the past and even though he won last years renewal, the race was weakened by the withdrawals of both Altior and Chacun Pour Soi before the race.


History could be made in this year’s Gold Cup with prospect of Al Boum Photo being only the fifth horse to win the race three times and the first since Best Mate in 2004 to win 3 in row a similar feat achieved by the great Arkle in the 1960’s. Al Boum Photo has taken the same trusted path towards the blue riband event this year after winning easily on his annual outing at Tramore on New Year’s Day. The light racing campaigns seem to suit the 9-year-old down to the ground and he is well poised for his tilt at history. Among those trying to stop him are A Plus Tard who was an impressive winner of the Savills Chase at Christmas when stepping up to 3 miles for the first time. He also has excellent form over 2 miles as he beat Chacun Pour Soi at Christmas 2019. He was third in the Ryanair last year behind Min but he has adapted well to the step up so far but this race could really stretch his stamina and he could be found wanting in the latter part of the race. Kemboy is another horse that is having a good season. He was only touched off by ½ length at Christmas behind A Plus Tard before a really impressive showing in the Irish Gold Cup which he won by 2 lengths. The one concern is that horses who have ran in the Irish Gold Cup have a poor record when they go on to run in the Cheltenham renewal and perhaps his best performance of the season could be already behind him. Royale Pagaille is one that has impressed across the water this season. He has won two handicaps at Kempton and Haydock carrying top weight on both occasions. That didn’t seem to phase him as he cruised to victory in both races. The quality of the opposition is another thing as he hasn’t beaten a rival in this race yet and he may be overhyped as being the best British horse to tackle the Irish charge in this race. If Santini produces a performance to the level of last year he’ll be bang there. Many would consider him unlucky last year when he almost snatched it from Al Boum Photo late on. Champ is another fancied runner in the colours of JP McManus. He came from another parish to win the 3-mile novice Chase last year and put in a good run over 2 miles a few weeks back and his speed might pull him into contention turning for home.

Local Interest

There will be plenty local interest in the Foxhunters Chase on Friday with Eugene O’ Sullivan’s stable star It Came to Pass looking to retain his crown for a second year. No one will forget the joyous scenes this time last year in Lombardstown Co. Cork as It Came To Pass bolted home with Eugene’s daughter Maxine guiding the gelding home. He is good value to retain his crown at 9/1 and theres no doubt that he will be in top condition for the race. Also Limerick trainer Enda Bolger has two runners in the race in Stand Up And Fight and Staker Wallace, both owned by JP McManus.

Robbie Power Talks Cheltenham
Horse that has impressed you the most this season?
“Monkfish definitely, I think the novice chasers look very strong. Monkfish looked unbeatable at times this season and I think he will win the 3-mile Novice Chase “(Festival Novice Chase).

Horse that has surprised you the most this season?
“I suppose when you look at the Gold Cup picture Frodon could be the surprise package in the race. He was a very impressive winner of the King George at Kempton and King George winners generally win Gold Cups .He is also back at Cheltenham and we know he loves Cheltenham. He is on the back of a good season bar that one blip where he ran poorly at Aintree”.

What race is building up to be the most exciting spectacle?
“I think the Champion Hurdle looks very interesting with Honeysuckle and Epatante, that looks like it’s going to be a fascinating clash between the two mares. But the race I am most looking forward to watching is definitely the Arkle. You have Shishkin, Energumene and Allmankind which looks to be a fascinating clash and it’s building up to be one of the races of the festival for sure”.

Who stands out in the Novice Chase Division?
“The novice chasers look very strong and it’s not very often that the three big novice chases are all won by short, priced favourites but I think this year could be an exception. I think definitely Monkfish in the Festival Novice chase looks unbeatable along with Envoi Allen in the Marsh Novice chase provided that he is able to cope with the change of scenery such a short time before the festival. And then Shishkin who won the Supreme Novices last year will have a very good horse to face in Energumene but the three of them have really impressed me a lot this season and I think they will take a lot of beating”.

Who stands out in the Novice Hurdle Division?
“I think the Supreme is wide open. I think Appreciate It is probably a horse that will step up in trip in time and could be vulnerable to a horse like Metier who has a lot of speed. I was really impressed with Bob Olinger when he won the Lawlor’s of Naas novice hurdle and I think that form is stronger than Willie’s horse Gaillard Du Mesnil who is favourite, so I think Bob Olinger for the 2 ½ mile Ballymore. And for me he is the novice hurdler I’d most like to be on next week”.

Champion Hurdle Prediction?
“You can make plenty of cases apart from the two mares in the race. Sharjah was obviously second in this race last year and was a good winner at Christmas before he disappointed at the Dublin Racing Festival. Aspire Tower was probably a shade unlucky at Christmas when he was beaten by Sharjah and he could be unexposed, and I think he has a good each way chance in the race. I still think if everything goes to plan on the day Honeysuckle will be hard to beat. You have to put a line through Epatante’s run at Christmas, going on that form she has no chance. But she has done that before and bounced back.”

Champion Chase Prediction?
“I think Altior will have to be back to his brilliant best and even at that I am not sure would he cope with Chacun Pour Soi. I was very lucky to pick up a spare ride on Chacun Pour Soi the day after Ruby retired (Punchestown 2019) and I got an unbelievable feel off him that day and I think he is the horse that will break Willie Mullins duck in the Champion Chase”.

Gold Cup Prediction?
“I think Al Boum Photo is the horse to beat. Obviously, he is a dual Gold Cup winner and has a lot of what he is facing again behind him last year. The two that are second and third to him in the market, Champ and A Plus Tard are probably more speedier types than Al Boum Photo but I still think they’ll have a lot to do to beat him. I know it’s a bit disappointing that we don’t get to see him that often but it was obvious that Willie Mullins wasn’t going to run him anywhere else apart from the race at Tramore and it has worked the last two years and it would be great for racing if he could win three Gold Cups”.