Weekly Horse Racing Blog: It's Cheltenham Festival Week!

Weekly Horse Racing Blog: It's Cheltenham Festival Week!

Al Boum Photo winning the Gold Cup. Image credit Tom Jenkins / Contributor / Getty Images

Is the Cheltenham Festival all that it’s cracked up to be?

Today is a slightly different blog as it’s going to be a mixture of the usual looking back on the racing week, but also looking forward being as we’re right on the eve of a fairly unrecognisable “behind closed doors” Cheltenham Festival.

You really could hear all the collective hot air rushing out of the Cheltenham balloon on Sunday morning when the Tuesday declarations for The Festival were announced and they were frankly very poor in terms of the numbers entered.

It appears that UK owners in the main have been reluctant to enter their horses at Cheltenham because there is currently no social element to doing so and of course the prize money on offer is also down because of the Covid crisis.

Has this global pandemic simply highlighted something about the Cheltenham Festival that people have been in denial about for years – that it has become an inflated monster that is totally reliant on the casual racegoers paying through his/her nose for the experience?

Many long-term Cheltenham members have been saying this is the case for years as they too have felt the gradual squeeze on their wallets and their loyalty to the venue taken for granted. It does make you think doesn’t it?

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New Kid On The Block

Cheltenham should not take its Festival draw for granted. There’s a new kid on the block now – The Dublin Racing Festival and its meteoric rise in popularity should be a raising one or two alarm bells at Jockey Club headquarters.

People are definitely beginning to change their attendance and spending patterns and an Ireland trip for many looks rather more appealing than being corralled for four days at Prestbury Park.

Only a handful of your diehards will attend both events so there is the potential for a lot less spending to be made at Cheltenham in the coming years.

Admittedly these are currently extraordinary times and horse racing as a collective is generally extremely grateful that there is even any racing taking place at all.

Things could have been a lot worse for the industry if the racing programme hadn’t been able to resume last June, so a few miffed punters sat at home moaning about the numbers taking part, is probably the least of many people’s worries.

It should however be a time for racing leaders to reflect on how things should look going forward. Going back to the “same old, same old” won’t cut it in the future – change is required.

Weekend Wrap

Double up?

Following his Imperial Cup win at the weekend, bet365 cut the Dan Skelton-trained Langer Dan to 10/1* (from 33/1) for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at the Festival this Friday, as a victory in that race would land connections a further £50,000 bonus from the sponsoring bookmaker.

Skelton admits that Langer Dan’s chances of even getting in the field are slim to none but with the glut on non-starters this week at Cheltenham, one never knows. It’s always an option he said.

Altior Out… Again!

Altior has been ruled out of Wednesday’s Queen Mother Champion with trainer Nicky Henderson reporting the 11-year-old gave an unsatisfactory scope on Monday morning.

Altior was an absentee from the same race 12 month ago.

Return of the Mc?

Another significant name was ruled out on Monday morning, with Annie Mc being pulled from Friday’s Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase.

A Coral Champions Club representative said: “Fortunately it’s not a serious issue and she could still run again this season. Cheltenham has just come a week too soon.”

Don’t be surprised to see Annie Mc declared for Aintree next month then, when syndicate members will be hoping for an outing to Merseyside when the government supposedly ease down their lockdown restrictions ever so slightly.

Festival Fancies

Understandably there’s very little space here to tip something up in all 28 Cheltenham Festival races but we can certainly concentrate on the four championship races this week for which you’re sure to find plenty of Cheltenham betting offers. Here’s my fancies…

  • Tues 16th March – Champion Hurdle – Honeysuckle (15/8 with bet365*)
  • Weds 17th March – Champion Chase – Chacun Pour Soi (10/11 with bet365*)
  • Thurs 18th March – Stayers’ Hurdle – Paisley Park (15/8 with bet365*)
  • Fri 19th March – Gold Cup – A Plus Tard (5/1 with bet365*)

* Cheltenham odds correct at the time of writing. All odds are subject to change.