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Cheltenham Festival Preview 2020Posted on Friday 21st February 2020 @ 13.02

The Cheltenham Festival is the highlight of the UK National Hunt season and features 28 races over four days of top-class action.

Bookmakers are bracing themselves for a betting bonanza, with over half-a-billion pounds expected to be staked during Cheltenham Festival week.

Ireland set to defend Prestbury Cup

Cheltenham attracts the best horses from Great Britain and Ireland, with fierce competition for the Prestbury Cup. The event was introduced in 2014, with Great Britain winning for the first two years before Ireland claimed the prize in 2016. The following year, Irish-trained horses won a record 19 races at the meeting.

The Irish dominated again in 2018, with 17 winners, before retaining the trophy when honours were shared 14-14 last year. Ireland are odds-on favourites to come out on top in 2020 and are assembling a strong raiding party.

Epatante favourite for Champion Hurdle

The feature race on the opening day is the Champion Hurdle, won for a record eighth time last year by owner J.P. McManus. Espoir D'Allen tragically had to be put down after sustaining an injury in April, so the McManus colours will be carried this year by Nicky Henderson's Epatante. The mare sets the standard after an impressive victory in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.

Willie Mullins successfully switched Annie Power back in distance to win the 2016 Champion Hurdle and is contemplating a similar move for Benie Des Dieux. Punters will probably want to take notice as she is a past winner of the Mares' Hurdle, while Irish Champion Hurdle winner Honeysuckle is also entered in both races. Mares' Hurdle sponsor OLBG.com share their tipsters' racing tips (UK) with this in mind.

Other well-backed horses on day 1 include Shishkin (Supreme Novices' Hurdle) and Notebook (Arkle Chase).

Altior seeking third Champion Chase victory

Henderson's Altior has been successful at each of the last four Cheltenham Festival meetings. His record winning sequence of 19 races was ended by Cyrname at Ascot earlier this season. That defeat came over a longer distance and a third consecutive Queen Mother Champion Chase has been his target ever since. He faces arguably the toughest test of his career, with up-and-coming Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi in opposition.

The Cross Country Chase will attract plenty of scrutiny this year should two-time Grand National winner Tiger Roll make the line-up. He is on target for an unprecedented third consecutive victory in the great race at Aintree and this has been his stepping-stone for the past two seasons. Envoi Allen (Ballymore Novices' Hurdle) and Champ (RSA Chase) are among the other leading fancies on day 2.

Paisley Park rated the banker bet at Cheltenham

The third day of the 2019 meeting was widely regarded as one of the finest day's racing ever staged at the track. Bryony Frost rode her way into the record books aboard Frodon in the Ryanair Chase. She became the first woman to win a Grade 1 over jumps at the Cheltenham Festival.

Ladies were also to the fore in the Stayers' Hurdle (Paisley Park) and Merriebelle Stable Plate (Siruh Du Lac). Paisley Park is trained by Emma Lavelle for Archie Gemmill, who has been blind since birth. Lizzie Kelly rode a brilliant race on Siruh Du Lac and Sire Du Berlais landed a massive gamble for Ireland in the Pertemps Network Final.

Paisley Park extended his winning sequence to seven in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January and is rated the banker bet of the week. Frodon and Sire Du Berlais are also expected to return to the scene of their respective triumphs.

Al Boum Photo favourite to retain Gold Cup crown

The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the blue riband event of steeplechasing and the climax of the meeting on Friday. The last horse to successfully defend the title was Best Mate when he achieved his third successive victory in 2004. Reigning champion Al Boum Photo has been given an identical preparation to last year by Mullins, winning comfortably at Tramore on New Year's Day.

His biggest danger may come from Gordon Elliott's Delta Work and stable companion Kemboy, first and second in the Irish Gold Cup. Clan Des Obeaux won his second King George VI Chase in December although he finished a tired fifth in this race a year ago. The Cheltenham Festival runs from 10th to 13th March, showcasing the finest jump racing anywhere in the world.

Article Posted on Friday 21st February 2020 @ 13.02

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