5 Contenders for the 2021 Cheltenham Festival

5 Contenders for the 2021 Cheltenham Festival
© Racing Post / Grossick Racing Photography
Charlie Scutts
Charlie Scutts
Wednesday 18th March 2020

Charlie's interest in racing first started when he got a job working at a high-street bookmakers in the year before he went to university. Four years later, having finished his degree in History, a career in horse-racing journalism provided the perfect blend for his interests in both writing and sport.

The 2020 Cheltenham Festival feels like a lifetime behind us now. With racing in the UK cancelled until the end of April at the earliest in light of the Coronavirus pandemic, the outlook looks pretty bleak for us racing fans.

Nevertheless, racing is sure to return at some point or another. For when the action is allowed to resume, it’s best to be prepared! So here’s a look at some contenders who could strike at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival.

We will continue to provide you with our expert horse racing tips despite this fallow period. Hong Kong, including today’s feature race the 2.50, South Africa, as well as our regular American, Australian and Greyhound tips will be our focus.

Abacadabras

Having backed Abacadabras for the Supreme Hurdle, re-watching his narrow defeat to Shishkin was a painful experience. He travelled so well, last of the bridle by some way despite missing the break from a standing start.

Perhaps he hit the front just a shade too early, something that affected him in last year’s Champion Bumper where he was going as well as Envoi Allen coming round the bend before fading into fourth. Soft ground wouldn’t have suited him on either start also, with the time for the Supreme suggesting the ground was riding on the heavy side of soft.

All those mitigating factors suggest he’s going to be a huge contender for next year’s Champion Hurdle, for which he’s available at 10/1. Epatante might have impressed but it remains a weak division, with figures suggesting Abacadabras has just 3lb to find with the winner. Completely unexposed and likely to stay hurdling for the time being, he looks capable of gaining a deserved first Festival success next term.

Champ

It’s pretty remarkable what Champ has achieved over fences in just four starts despite being unable to jump. He won his first two at Newbury with plenty to spare despite looking far from straightforward and had the Dipper at his mercy when falling on New Year’s Day.

Those jumping errors looked sure to cost him in the RSA, where he jumped the last adrift in third. However he absolutely flew up the hill to collar Minella Indo and Allaho in the dying strides. Just two-lengths ahead of Battleoverdoyen at the final obstacle, he finished twenty-four lengths clear of him.

He showed incredible stamina reserves to make up a significant amount of ground on two classy operators. Further experience over fences will only make him more dangerous, and he’s screaming out for a step up in trip. The fact that he’s yet to finish out of the first two in his ten completed starts over distances short of three-miles is testament to his class. 14/1 for such a progressive novice trained by Nicky Henderson makes him an attractive bet for next year’s Gold Cup.

Ferny Hollow

Willie Mullins once more landed the Champion Bumper with a supposed second string. His five-year-old had suffered defeats in his first two bumpers starts in December but impressed when scoring at Fairyhouse in February.

He was no less decisive when overcoming a troubled passage to record a cosy two-length success at Cheltenham, ahead of well-fancied stablemate Appreciate It. Completing a double in the race for owners Cheveley Park, he has the highest RPR of any winner since Briar Hill in 2013, six pounds higher than Envoi Allen.

Given that, and the way he stayed on stoutly to score, suggests he’s going to be a strong contender for next year’s Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, a race the aforementioned Envoi Allen won this year. Current odds of 16/1 could look very generous next year.

Imperial Aura

Horses who started over fences in handicap company have done well in the Ryanair Chase in the last two years. Frodon won the race in 2019 and Saint Calvados went down by just a neck having finished second in a handicap last time out in 2020.

The path from the Festival’s novice handicap chase to the Ryanair was trod by A Plus Tard this year. There’s plenty of similarities between himself and Imperial Aura – they both landed the event with plenty to spare carrying 11-5. Kim Bailey’s seven-year-old looks capable of eclipsing A Plus Tard’s third placed finish next year.

He’s now won five of his nine starts under rules, and has shown steady progression in four starts over fences (RPRs of 138, 146, 154, 160). Continuing that improvement as he steps out of novice company next year will see him go close in the Ryanair, for which he’s currently a best-priced 25/1.

Thyme Hill

Philip Hobbs appeared to have a number of strong chances of success at the Cheltenham Festival. It didn’t quite work out that way, with Defi Du Seuil running a stinker and Pileon getting collared late on. Another who was unlucky was Thyme Hill, who was hampered either side of the final flight in the Albert Bartlett.

He lost absolutely nothing in defeat when finishing fourth in a race where the right protagonists came to the fore. The six-year-old has now proven his stamina for three-miles and despite suffering his first defeat over hurdles, he continued to show progression. Whereas he was little over a length ahead of The Cashel Man at Newbury, he was half-a-furlong ahead of that rival next time out.

Connections of both Monkfish and Latest Exhibition expressed their eagerness to send their charges over fences. Hobbs may well prove a little more reticent, given that Thyme Hill is yet to shape as if a switch to the larger obstacles would suit. With the Stayers’ Hurdle picture looking so open after Paisley Park’s dethroning, quotes of 20/1 for such a high class novice are enticing.

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