With the 2016 Cheltenham Festival just a mere week away and as the excitement and interest begins to build, we thought it would be a great time to take a look at this year’s Cheltenham Festival Championship Races, giving our thoughts on the runners and as well as offering up our usual tips courtesy of our racing expert Dave Moore.
Cheltenham Festival Championship Races Preview & Tips
Champion Chase – FELIX YONGER – 1pt E/W @ 16/1
World Hurdle – WHISPER – 1pt E/W @ 16/1
Gold Cup – DJAKADAM – 1pt Win @ 6/1
Champion Hurdle – Tuesday 15th March 2016
This years’ Champion Hurdle has been met with two bitter blows for Willie Mullins fans, as last year’s winner Faugheen and runner up Arctic Fire were both ruled out with injury, which has apparently earned Bookmakers millions of lost ante post bets.
Those injuries however have opened up a right can of worms and the betting has only just started to settle down for the race. It looks highly likely now that Willie Mullins will supplement his mare Annie Power as he goes in search of the prize, given her performances in the past at Cheltenham and at two miles she certainly has a chance. She is a very short 2/1 favourite with Paddy Power and she is not a bet for me.
Mullins also saddles Nichols Canyon who is the only horse to topple Faugheen, however he failed to match that performance last time out. At a bigger price he also has Sempre Medici who is from the same owner of Annie Power, Rich Ricci. I feel at the price Sempre is the one that would be worth small each way bet on.
People tend to forget that he has beaten Identity Thief (whom we will come on to in a minute) and he was running well at Cheltenham last year behind Wicklow Brave, when meeting trouble at the crucial moment. At 28/1 he would be the value of the Mullins three in my opinion.
The New One deserves a lot of respect for Nigel Twiston Davies and will no doubt run well once again.
Nicky Henderson looks like having four main chances himself with My Tent or Yours, Hargam, Top Notch and Peace And Co all having something to prove, but all on their day capable of a big race victory. He also has Sign Of A Victory at a much bigger price.
I feel the odds on My Tent of Yours are short considering he hasn’t ran in nearly two years whilst Hargam could prove the best of the Henderson team granted he is still only 5 years old and will improve for better ground.
The horse I like in the race however is Henry De Bromhead’s IDENTITY THIEF. The way he rallied to get back up in the Fighting Fifth was highly encouraging, the lightly raced six year old will only have come on since December.
You can never discard a runner from Gigginstown at Cheltenham and I feel the fact Faugheen is now out they will be making sure their mount is fully primed for the occasion. At 11/2 with Paddy Power he is the selection.
Queen Mother Champion Chase – Wednesday 16th March 2016
Willie Mullins heads the market with Un De Sceaux here who has only ever been defeated when hitting the deck. He is going to be mightily hard to beat should he jump with the same zest as he did at Cheltenham 12 months ago, however because he is 8/11 there is definitely some each way value to be found should Un De Sceaux fall once again.
Vautour is second in the betting but is highly unlikely to take his place here. Sprinter Sacre will probably be the people’s choice for victory, but I feel his injury has left his mark and it will take something near his excellent best to get close, there are too many risks with him although it would be great for horse racing should he win.
A similar word could be said about Sire De Grugy who is a bigger price but has run creditably already this season, given a break he will be fresh but again it would take his very best efforts to get close here so for me he is not a bet.
The one horse I do like each way is FELIX YONGER (16/1), he has had one defeat in his last seven races which was at a longer trip up against Road to Riches. He is a consistent performer and will be sure to give you a run for your money.
World Hurdle – Thursday 17th March 2016
The World Hurdle is the only Championship race of the week that doesn’t have a Mullins favourite, however it does have a short favourite in Thistlecrack.
The Colin Tizzard runner has been scintillating this season improving up to a mark of 168, with people talking about him as a potential Gold Cup winner next season. He deserves his place at the head of the market but once again his short price makes you go in search of the each way value.
Last years’ winner Cole Harden hasn’t reproduced that form yet this season on two occasions, however if the ground is good then he won’t have been in any better form as he will be on the day, with the risks involved in him and the lack of a double figure price I won’t be backing him.
Alpha Des Obeaux was given to me as a potential gold cup horse and that may be the case, however he is a very short price for a horse whom has only won once this season and would have been beaten by Thistlecrack when coming to grief at Aintree last season. He does not look value to me one bit.
Paul Nicholls goes double handed with Saphir Du Rheu and Aux Ptits Soins but both horses have risks. Saphir has been very disappointing this season and it doesn’t look as though he has progressed as his trainer would have liked him too. Aux Ptits Soins is a horse that is highly thought of by Nicholls and could run well in this, but the lack of a run over three miles is a major worry.
The horse at a price I will be backing is WHISPER (16/1). I recently spoke to Nicky Henderson and he told me that Whisper would be his each way horse for the meeting.
Henderson tends to train his horses for good ground which Whisper hasn’t encountered this season, but clearly needs looking at his past results, if he gets good ground on the day he could well make a mockery of that price.
Gold Cup – Friday 18th March 2016
The pinnacle of the week is the Gold Cup. The race at the start of the season looked a real mouth-watering race but the loss of last years’ winner Coneygree hit the look of the race hard, however providing Vautour runs it still looks like a great race in prospect.
The market is headed by Don Cossack and Vautour at 4/1. The Gordon Elliott trained Don Cossack has looked in excellent form this season and arguably would have come close to Cue Card in the King George had he not fallen.
The biggest worry for me is he has travelled to Cheltenham twice in his career and not yet won, he has not got up the hill in my opinion and that may take its’ toll again.
Vautour on the other hand has looked a Gold Cup winner in waiting and powered away to win last year’s JLT Novices Chase by a wide distance, he put up a game front running display in the King George, before being pipped at the post by Cue Card on his first time tackling 3 miles.
For me he has the most scope for improvement and is clearly a very talented horse, he has to show he stays the trip but for me I don’t see why he can’t, looking like a tank he will be a tough nut to crack upfront.
The English hopes lie primarily with Cue Card who will be going all out for the £1million bonus for connections, he has looked in the prime of his life this year and certainly goes there with a live chance.
There are too many horses with chances to mention, however Vautour’s stablemate DJAKADAM is my main bet for the race. In my opinion the best performance this season by any horse in the race was Djakadam’s victory over Valseur Lido at Punchestown.
So many people jumped on the bandwagon of saying he was not good enough to win the gold cup when he fell last time out, granted he isn’t the slickest of jumpers but when he gets it right he is electric and as long as he’s primed for the race and in the same vein of form, I feel he is the one they all have to beat.