Last year’s Cheltenham Festival was one of the last major sporting events to be held before the UK went into national lockdown due to the global COVID-19 pandemic and took place with live spectators under somewhat of a cloud. The 2021 festival will undoubtedly take place “behind closed doors” as have most of the racing fixtures since last summer. With the 60,000 or so racegoers a day missing (along with the familiar roar of the crowd up the stamina sapping hill), stay-at-home audiences will be treated to a week of top class, cracking racing at one of the finest racing arenas in the world.

With the 2021 Cheltenham Festival (16-19 March) rapidly approaching we take a look at 10 horses to follow for savvy beth.bet punters and traders alike…..

  1. A Plus Tard (FR) – Henry De Bromhead’s chaser has improved with more racing experience, and he was really impressive when winning the Savill’s Chase at Leopardstown in December. He came from well off the pace in a strongly ran race, showing a tenacious attitude under pressure, amd the form has a very solid look to it. At this stage he is 12/1 for the 2021 Gold Cup, and that appears an extremely fair price with plenty of his rivals having a lot to prove. 
  1. French Aseel (FR) – This useful performer on the flat in France created a deep impression when landing a huge gamble on his hurdling debut over the Christmas period in Ireland. He has since been bought by the connections of the two time defending Gold Cup champion Al Boum Photo and joined Willie Mullins (who could find lots of improvement with him). He is a live candidate for the Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle at this stage, and the current offer around 6/1 makes plenty of appeal.
  1. Thyme Hill (GB) – Philip Hobbs has got his horses running extremely well at the moment (after a quiet few months at the end of last year), and this progressive stayer lost no taste in defeat when just touched off by his old rival Paisley Park in a cracking contest at Ascot. Perhaps he was in front a little bit too soon there under Richard Johnson, and I think he will reverse the form in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival this year. He is currently 9/2 and that looks a price well worth taking each-way.
  1. The Big Breakaway (IRE) – Colin Tizzard has been really struggling for form for most of the winter (with his strike rate well below what you would normally expect for a trainer of his standing), but this one bucked the trend somewhat when finishing a cacking second behind Shan Blue at the Kempton Park Boxing Day meeting. He made a series of novicey mistakes though as he began to close up from rear travelling strongly, and he could be a different proposition if the yard is back in better form by March. The NH Chase looks a suitable target with stamina very much his strongsuit.
  1. Epatante (FR) – The former 2020 Champion hurdler suffered a shock defeat at long odds-on at Kempton behind Silver Streak over the festive season but that run can be forgiven –  she made a couple of uncharacteristic mistakes having gifted the winner a clear early lead and I suspect she will reverse the form in style back at Cheltenham. Her trainer reports a minor back issue surfaced there, but expects her to be back in A1 condition to retain her crown in March (goes straight to the Festival now).
  1. Bravemansgame (FR) –  Paul Nicholls has got his team in particularly brilliant form over the last few months, and this progressive novice stamped himself a high-class prospect when winning the Grade 1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury on the 29th December. That was a particularly strong piece of form, turning over Star Gate of Evan Williams (who is held in very high regard), and I am expecting him to go to the festival as a leading contender for the Ballymore Novice Hurdle on the Wednesday at Cheltenham (currently a 4/1 chance).
  1. Shishkin (IRE) – Nicky Henderson’s very useful hurdler only tasted defeat once last season in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. He is now three from three over fences so far this winter, jumping superbly and very much reminiscent of the yard’s Altior and Sprinter Sacre in their early days. He is going to be one of the bankers of the meeting, and is currently the Even money favourite for the Arkle Chase.
  1. Appreciate It (IRE) – This one looks a real live contender for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham after an impressive win at Leopardstown over the Festive Season. He is a strong travelling, sound jumper who revels in testing ground. There are no stamina issues at all (having won a bumper over 2m4f) and I think he is going to take an awful lot of beating with loads of scope to keep improving for more racing. He is currently a top priced 11/4 chance for the festival.
  1. Monkfish (IRE) – This one looks a natural for the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase, and is sure to be one of the Irish bankers for the week. He has really impressed in winning over fences so far, looking a very sound jumper for one lacking experience and should continue to improve for more racing.
  1. Envoi Allen (FR) – This top class unbeaten 7-y-o from the Gordon Elliott stable looks like another short priced banker of the week, and is likely to be head to the Marsh Novices’ Chase on the Thursday. He is 11 from 11 in his career so far, and hasn’t seen another rival over fences (or come off the bridle) with a 3/3 strike rate in Ireland this winter. He carries the hopes of many punters that he will win here before developing into another superstar of the sport (very reminiscent of Danoli in his younger days).

2021 looks set to be dominated again by the top Irish yards, with both Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott in typically formidable form as the Festival approaches. Racing connections have accepted that Cheltenham is going to be a very different festival this year, but the organisers have done a great job in encouraging the right horses to travel over. It is sure to be a perfect four days racing at what is the pinnacle of jump racing events in the horse racing calendar.

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