Cheltenham Festival News
|Friday 13th January 2017|
Five Horses Who Could Become Huge Stars at Cheltenham This Year
We are just a couple of months away from the 2017 Cheltenham Festival now and over the next few weeks we are going to get a lot more clues about who the leading contenders are for the 28 races at the meeting.
The Festival is where heroes are made in the sport as the real superstars always rise to the occasion as we have seen in recent years with Kauto Star, Sprinter Sacre and Douvan.
Here are five horses who may be the stars of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival once the action is wrapped up in March.
Thistlecrack – Cheltenham Gold Cup
Thistlecrack has become the leading contender for the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Blue Riband event of the meeting, following his scintillating performance in the King George VI Chase where he blew away his rivals at Kempton.
'Racing UK via Twitter'
That run-on Boxing Day was the first time last season’s World Hurdle winner had competed against the more experienced horses over fences. Prior to the outing, he had only featured in three novice chases so it was his toughest test to date and he came through with flying colours.
As reported by Oddschecker in their article on which horses shone over Christmas and New Year, Thistlecrack may now have ended Cue Card’s hopes of running in the Gold Cup. His stablemate is now likely to feature in the Ryanair Chase over the shorter trip given how the two horses fared against each other on the track. Cue Card won the Grade One Betfair Chase back in November and was the defending champion in the King George but had no answer for the turn of foot showed by his stablemate at Kempton.
Thistlecrack currently tops the Gold Cup betting at 4/5 with the bookmakers. Native River, who is also trained by Tizzard and was recently successful in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow, is second best in the market at 8/1, last year’s winner Don Cossack is quoted at 10/1, as is the 2015 champion Coneygree who has struggled with injuries since his success at Cheltenham two years ago.
Given his superiority, Thistlecrack really has the potential to dominate his division in the upcoming years and also can promote the sport outside of racing fans. A win in March in the Gold Cup will certainly ensure he picks up all the headlines once again.
Last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Altior has been campaigned towards the Arkle Chase in March rather than the obvious route of the Champion Hurdle.
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Nicky Henderson broke the news earlier in the season that he felt his horse would be better suited to jumping fences and on the evidence of what we seen so far we cannot argue against that decision.
Altior is three from three over fences since making his debut in a novice chase back in November at Kempton. He won the Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown last month, while he followed that up with success in the Grade Two Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase.
Henderson’s chaser is set to clash with Min once again in the Arkle in what looks set to be one of the most fascinating duals at the meeting. The two horses finished first and second in the 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and currently dominate the betting for the Arkle.
Min is thought to have improved since switching to fences in Ireland for his trainer Willie Mullins. He has had two comfortable successes this season, including the Grade One Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown on Boxing Day. Going off how the two horses fared against each other at Cheltenham last March, Altior has to be the favourite.
Altior is 5/4 to get the better of Min and his rivals in the Arkle and if he is successful for the second year running at this meeting, he will establish himself as one of the best 2m horses in the UK and Ireland and could set up a huge clash with Douvan in the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2018.
When the 2016/17 season got underway Unowhatimeanharry was a 16/1 shot with many firms for the Stayers’ Hurdle, however, with every run in the campaign, Harry Fry’s runner has impressed and as a result has been cut for the 3m contest on the Thursday of the four-day meeting.
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Unowhatimeanharry first made a name for himself with success in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival in 2016. He went off at 11/1 in the betting for that race where he was held up by jockey Noel Fehily in the early stages of the contest. He made headway after three out before challenging the leaders where he came on top up the Cheltenham hill by just under two lengths ahead of Fagan and Champers On Ice who was a further length back in third.
Fry’s nine-year-old made his seasonal reappearance in the Grade Two Long Distance Hurdle where he scored by an impressive six lengths ahead of the 5/2 favourite Ballyoptic. It was the first time he was running in the silks of J.P. McManus who bought the horse in the summer and he was soon in command of the race before the penultimate hurdle. Barry Geraghty was able to ease his mount up towards the line otherwise the margin of victory would have been even bigger.
Unowhatimeanharry enhanced his claims for the Stayers’ Hurdle with a win in the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle in foggy conditions at Ascot. He was level with Ballyoptic approaching the last but Nigel Twiston-Davies’ runner came down leaving him unchallenged in the run in to the finish line.
Since pulling up at Sandown in March 2015, Unowhatimeanharry has won seven consecutive races and seems to add to his fan club with each run. Success in the Stayers’ Hurdle would give the credit he deserves for dominating his division this season.
Last season’s Champion Bumper winner Moon Racer is the favourite to win the opening race of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival as he tops the betting at 6/1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
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David Pipe’s horse has had two runs over obstacles in his career so far. He started out at Perth back in September where he got the better of his old rival Ballyandy by less than a length in Scotland.
Moon Racer then stepped up in class to run in the Grade Two Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham where he was successful by over two lengths in a field which included Ballyandy again, Keep In Line from Alan King’s stable and Paul Nicholls’ Movewiththetimes.
The last three winners of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle have been Vautour, Douvan and Altior so if Moon Racer can follow in their footsteps, he will be in great company.
Defi Du Seuil
Defi Du Seuil established himself as one of the most exciting juvenile hurdlers this season when he won the Grade One Future Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow over Christmas where he scored by 13 lengths in a dominant performance from Philip Hobbs’ runner.
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The four-year-old has yet to suffer a defeat in his career in the UK so far. He made his debut at Ffos Las back in October where he made an eye-catching start as he won very easily with Champion Jockey Richard Johnson on board.
The French-bred horse went straight into the Triumph Hurdle Trial Juvenile Hurdle at Cheltenham in just his second start in the UK. He jumped very well on that occasion and was able to beat the field by just under two lengths at Prestbury Park.
Defi Du Seuil returned to Cheltenham to land the Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle a month later before his victory at Chepstow.
This horse has all the makings to be a real superstar and his first step at confirming that status will be to win the Triumph Hurdle at the Festival in March where he is 6/1 to win the race which is on the final day of the meeting.
2017 Cheltenham Festival Set to Be Record-Breaking
There will be over £4.3 million in prize money on offer for the first time. Some horses will be returning to add to their Festival tally, while others will be looking to score for the first time and really make a name for themselves in the sport.