Cheltenham Festival 2021: 5 Big Questions for Bettors
The UK's biggest horse racing festival gets underway next month. And, after a more subdued than usual winter period, things finally feel to be heating up as we approach the 2021 Cheltenham Festival(March 16th-19th).
The beauty of the Cheltenham Festival has always been that the event is not focused on an individual race. And even the most prestigious race - the Gold Cup - can play second fiddle to other stories in a given year.
Indeed, the narrative changes each festival, and we want to look at some of the big stories below. In particular, we want to pick out five questions that racing punters are asking before this year's Cheltenham:
Can Anyone Challenge Al Boum Photo?
The Gold Cup is, in fact, the big story this year, but not for the usual reasons. It's often the toughest race to predict at Cheltenham. But we are in a curious position right now. On the one hand, you have the race favorite and two-time winner, Al Boum Photo. The Willie Mullins-trained horse has not put a foot wrong over the last couple of seasons and seems well prepared for his hat-trick build. On the other hand, his rivals have all had terrible form. This is supposed to be the elite event for long-distance chasers, and the current top eight runners in the betting markets have barely registered a win between them over the last year. Each challenger has a "great on their day" type of quality. Will that day be Gold Cup Day?
Can Anyone Work Out St Patrick's Day?
Day 3 at Cheltenham, known as St Patrick's Thursday, is fast becoming one of the best days of the festival. That's thanks to the Grade 1 Marsh Novices' Chase and Ryanair Chase joining the traditional highlight, the Stayers' Hurdle. The Mares' Novices' Hurdle is also a great race to spot future stars. Envoi Allen will open the day as a big favorite for the Marsh Novices' Chase, but after that, it's anyone's guess. Make sure you read the most up-to-date Cheltenham Day 3 tips and predictions, because the situation is changing fast. We might see upsets in the Stayers' Hurdle, Ryanair Chase and a couple of other races. For punters, that might mean getting some big value.
Can a Mare Win the Champion Chase?
The shortest price favorite for the Champion Chase - a quick two-mile contest for elite chasers - is Chacun Pour Soi. The odds are somewhere around 4/6 at the moment, and most people think he is a lock to secure trainer Willie Mullins a first-ever win in the Champion Chase. While Chacun Pour Soi looks every inch the champion, there are two reasons to give bettors pause. The first is simple - the horse has never run at Cheltenham before (nor has he appeared in the UK). While Willie Mullins is expert at taking horses from Ireland to Cheltenham and succeeding, you sometimes don't know how a horse will reach to the new surroundings or the eccentricities of Cheltenham. Secondly, there is interesting competition from last year's Arkle winner, Put the Kettle On. The Arkle is often a good marker of future success in the Champion Chase. Put the Kettle On has also won three from three over course and distance at Cheltenham. As a mare, she will also get a 7lb weight allowance. Could that tip the edge? A mare has never won the Champion Chase, but there is a sniff of an upset here. If you don't fancy the imperious Chacun Pour Soi to lose, then the 12/1 on offer for Put the Kettle On has some each-way value.
Can Rachael Blackmore Take the NextStep?
Speaking of mares, Honeysuckle has co-favorite status for the Champion Hurdle. Mares have succeeded in this race before, but no female jockey has ever ridden a Champion Hurdle winner. Rachael Blackmore, who has emerged as one of the best jumps jockeys around, will saddle Honeysuckle, and it feels like this is a superb chance to become the first female jockey to win the Champion Hurdle. Blackmore also has a shot at the Gold Cup (on A Plus Tard or MinellaIndo), and several other big races, but the Champion Hurdle seems most likely. Can she take the next step on her journey to the top of racing?
Can Anyone Stop Willie Mullins?
The recent Dublin Festival could not have gone better for Willie Mullins. The Irish trainer scooped up most of the Big Grade 1 races, with his charges barely breaking a sweat. Chacun Pour Soi, Al Boum Photo, Appreciate It, Monkfish, Concertista and Gaillard Du Mesnil are all favorites to take some of the biggest races of Cheltenham 2021. It looks like the Mullins' stable is primed to take all the headlines. Can the English contingent, Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls, or his fellow Irish trainers, Gordon Elliott and Henry de Bromhead, stop him? Mullins is beloved by punters, so you can guarantee if he has a good Cheltenham, the bookmakers will not.