With the Cheltenham Festival just around the corner, we’ve cast our eye over six of the favourites at this year’s meeting.
All six of our picks are short-priced favourites. But we think only three will go on to justify their status come the start of the Festival on Tuesday 13th March.
Do you agree with our choices? Read below to find out…
Apple’s Jade (Mares’ Hurdle)
Gordon Elliott’s stable star Apple’s Jade is in terrific form. After landing the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle and the Irish Champion Hurdle last season, the six-year-old has picked up where she left off at the start of the current campaign.
Her reappearance was marked by victory in the Lismullen Hurdle. That was followed by successes in the Hatton Grace Hurdle and the Christmas Hurdle last time out.
The French-bred raider is unbeaten on the Old Course at Cheltenham and will be returned to 2m 4f in an attempt to retain the crown she won so impressively 12 months ago.
Altior (Queen Mother Champion Chase)
Altior’s quality has never been in doubt. But questions were raised over whether Nicky Henderson’s raider could mount a successful return following a 287-day layoff after wind surgery. He answered those questions in style.
The eight-year-old defied the challenge of the highly-commendable Politologue to streak home by 4l on his reappearance in the Game Spirit Chase a month ago. Now his sights are firmly set on retaining an unbeaten 12-race record over obstacles.
In current form, and with a three from three Cheltenham record, Henderson’s hopeful is well on course for another fourth different Festival title.
Apple’s Shakira (Triumph Hurdle)
The odds haven’t lied for Apple’s Shakira so far in her fledging career over hurdles. The Irish-trained raider has justified prices of even-money, 1/10 and 1/7 since switching to Henderson’s yard last year.
Much is expected of one of racing’s hottest properties. And after a hat-trick of convincing successes around the Cheltenham course, she’ll likely go up against Redicean and Stormy Ireland in the Triumph Hurdle.
Presenting Percy (RSA Chase)
Presenting Percy is expected to go off as favourite in the RSA Chase. The seven-year-old is one from two this season after finishing runner-up in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park. That was his first defeat since April 2017.
However, it’s possible to oppose Patrick Kelly’s stable star. Although he is a course winner, he’s only won twice from five runs over the distance. The son of Sir Percy also tends to act well on heavy ground. As it stands, there’s no guarantee the conditions will suit in under a fortnight’s time.
That could pave the way for Bryony Frost and Black Corton. Jockey and horse have struck up a special relationship this season. The pair have won seven from eight when partnered together and are two from two around the Old Course at Cheltenham. Course, distance and a favourable going will boost their chances.
Frost herself is 2/1 to ride a winner in any race at Cheltenham.
Un De Sceaux (Ryanair Chase)
There are plenty of reasons why Un De Sceaux is highly fancied for the Ryanair Chase. Willie Mullins’ runner has won on five of his last six starts, two of which came around Cheltenham. However, that one defeat at Punchestown proves that the French-bred raider isn’t quite invincible.
And with new kid on the block Waiting Patiently his most likely opposition, there’s reason to suggest we could have a fight on our hands. Ruth Jefferson hasn’t yet confirmed the gelding’s appearance at Cheltenham.
But if he does go, an unbeaten chasing record alongside an impressive recent Grade 1 success in the Ascot Chase should get the pulses racing and Un De Sceaux sweating. Mullins’ likely second runner Min could also provide a significant danger.
Laurina (Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle)
Willie Mullins has tasted success in the last two iterations of the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. Let’s Dance won in 2017 and Limini justified favouritism in 2016. But both of those two were already relatively experienced campaigners.
This year’s fancy Laurina has had just three runs prior to the Festival, with only two of those coming under Mullins.
She’s hacked up on both starts for the Irish trainer. But the five-year-old will face tougher opposition at Cheltenham. Maria’s Benefit, in particular, has shone for Stuart Edmunds. The six-year-old has handled each step up in class with ease and now finds herself on the six-timer going into the Festival.
All Odds and Markets correct as of date of publication
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