The countdown to the Cheltenham Festival is on, and there is now less than two months to go until the prestigious Prestbury Park meeting. This year’s Festival is going to have a very different feel about it, as any hope there once was of fans being in attendance is slowly dwindling away. Pre-Christmas, small crowds of 2,000 people were allowed to attend racing, but due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus, the government has since pulled the plug on that, and the chances of any sort of crowds being reinstated by March is looking very slim.
Nonetheless, the excitement is still starting to build. Many punters have already started scouring the betting exchange and studying the form guides in the hope of landing a few winners at this year’s meeting, and whilst there are a few tempting novices amongst the Festival’s racecards, there are also a number of horses who know a thing or two by now about the famous tracks of Prestbury Park. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at five veterans to keep an eye on at this year’s meeting.
Having first taken part at the Cheltenham Festival in 2016, Min is no stranger to the challenges of the Prestbury Park tracks. However, Min’s connections will be somewhat disappointed that he didn’t land his first Festival victory until last year. The Willie Mullins-trained Min was so often in the shadows of Altior, but last year he broke free of those shackles, winning the Ryanair Chase, and he is the favourite heading into the day three showpiece this year. He may be 10 years of age now, but his recent Grade 1 at Punchestown is proof that he still has it.
Nicky Henderson-trained Altior will undoubtedly go down in horse racing folklore as a legend, and his form at the Cheltenham Festival is particularly impressive. In fact, he has never lost at the iconic meeting. Altior’s first victory was in 2016 and he has gone on to win another three times since, including two Queen Mother Champion Chases. The 11-year-old was denied the chance of a hattrick of successive Queen Mothers last year due to injury, but he is set to return to the course in March, and despite his ripe age, and just one win in his last three races, don’t rule him out of landing that third triumph.
Sire Du Berlais
The upcoming Festival will mark Sire Du Berlais’ fourth outing in the Cotswolds. He first raced at Cheltenham in 2018, when he finished fourth in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle. But the Gordon Elliott-trained horse has come on leaps and bounds since then. He won the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle in 2019, before defending his title last year. This year, he is amongst the market favourites in the Stayers’ Hurdle, and it would be fitting to see Sire Du Berlais win a Grade 1 race at the Festival.
Defi Du Seuil
Defi Du Seuil is a serial winner at Cheltenham. He has two victories in three races at the Festival, but in total he was won six times in 10 races at Prestbury Park, not a bad return of form. His first victory at the Festival was in 2017, when he won the Triumph Hurdle by five lengths, and after missing the 2018 edition, he was back to winning ways the following year, winning the Novices’ Chase. However, last year was a disappointing run from Defi Du Seuil. Victory in the Queen Mother looked nailed on with Altior and Chacun Pour Soi both pulling out with injury. But it was a poor performance and the eight-year-old finished second last in the five-horse field. The Philip Hobbs-trained horse is much further out at 14/1 to win the Queen Mother this year.
Al Boum Photo
Al Boum Photo didn’t have the best of starts to his Cheltenham Festival career, as he fell in the 2018 Novices’ Chase. However, he has bounced back in empathic fashion. Despite that fall, the following year, Al Boum Photo was thrown straight into the Gold Cup, and he duly delivered the sought-after trophy for Mullins. Last year, he defended his Gold Cup crown, beating Santini over the line by a neck in a dramatic outing. This year, it’ll come as no surprise that he is the outright favourite to win the showpiece race again, and we wouldn’t bet against him!
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