The recent inclement weather experienced across the UK and Ireland has seen a whole host of horse racing meetings cancelled due to courses finding themselves under feet of snow or water. Despite these troubles, the sport does continue to get regular meetings on in the calendar and with less than six weeks to go, all eyes are now turning to one of the biggest events of the year, the Cheltenham Festival.
No Cheltenham roar
The bosses at Cheltenham racecourse recently confirmed what many had feared, that crowds will not be permitted to attend the festival under the current coronavirus restrictions. This means that we, unfortunately, won’t be hearing the infamous Cheltenham roar as the horses blaze down the final few furlongs of the Cotswolds venue.
We should be thankful, however, as the festival is going ahead and the dates have been confirmed to be Tuesday 16th March – Friday 19th March 2021. All things being well, this won’t change and we can look forward to an exciting four days of world-class horse racing. So what’s the latest on the main festival runners? We’ll get you up to date below.
Setting the tone
Day one of the festival is always hugely significant, as the punters and bookies do battle to reign supreme. The results of the first day very often set the tone for the rest of the week, so punters will be keen to see the favourites flying in nice and early to boost their balances for the following three days of action. Appreciate It (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle) and Epatante (Champion Hurdle) look vulnerable on the first day, but Monkfish (Festival Novices’ Chase) could be the one to give favourite backers a win.
Willie Mullins’ talented seven years old won the Albert Bartlett at the festival 12 months ago and has improved even further for the switch to chasing, landing a Grade One at Leopardstown over the festive period. It wasn’t a show-stopping performance, but Mullins is an expert at getting his horses ready for the big festival and you’d like to think those prep runs have put Monkfish in a good place to mount a serious challenge come March.
Others to look out for
Envoi Allen (Marsh Novices’ Chase) is probably the most exciting horse in training at the moment, with a perfect 11 wins from 11 races on his record. He’s already a dual festival winner and it’s hard to imagine him losing this race, however, he’s likely to go off at short odds. Chacun Pour Soi (Queen Mother Champion Chase) can be a monster when he runs, but is fragile to say the least and missed this race last year. He’s been outstanding at two miles and could storm to victory this year if he makes it to race day.
Paisley Park (Stayers’ Hurdle) has won eight of his last ten runs and is a favourite with Cheltenham fans. Emma Lavelle’s nine-year-old loves the undulations of the Cheltenham racecourse and a powerful finish is his trademark. He’ll get plenty of backing to come post time. Meanwhile, Al Boum Photo will be aiming to become one of only a handful of horses to land three Cheltenham Gold Cups. Based on ratings, he’s not the most exciting or talented horse to win the showpiece, but he has everything required to get himself over the line.
With that, all we can do is wait and hope that the festival goes ahead as expected.