By News Team
Last Updated: 25th February 2020
Racing fans continue to count down the days until this year’s Cheltenham Festival gets under way. The four days at Prestbury Park have created some magical memories and there will certainly be plenty more made this year.
Here is our look at the four horses we think are worth keeping an eye on ahead of next month’s Festival.
Envoi Allen – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
Seven races under rules and seven victories speaks volumes of the ability Gordon Elliott’s six-year-old has in his locker. Already a Cheltenham Festival winner having won last year’s Champion Bumper, the Cheveley Park Stud-owned gelding is fancied by many as one of the bankers of the Festival and given the ability he has shown so far, it’s no surprise to see him available at just 10/11 for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – the opening contest on the second day.
Having dominated all before him during his bumper campaign, Elliott’s runner has been similarly impressive in his first season over hurdles. Having coasted to a six-length victory in a maiden hurdle at Down Royal on his first start over obstacles, he has won back-to-back Grade Ones at Fairyhouse and Naas. The first came in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle over two miles, before he was even more impressive when winning the Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle by more than three lengths over 2m4f on his most recent start.
He’ll face much stronger opposition at Cheltenham, but he looks a proper horse and it will take a good one to beat him.
Defi Du Seuil – Champion Chase
111 – that’s how Defi Du Seuil has performed so far this season. Running over the minimum trip of two miles, the Philip Hobbs-trained horse has improved leaps and bounds this term and is now a leading fancy for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.
The seven-year-old is already a dual Cheltenham Festival winner having won the Triumph Hurdle in 2017 and the JLT last year, and looks set to play a big part in the day two feature as he seeks a hat-trick. Since that win last season, he has only been defeated once at Punchestown and his latest victory in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot was his most impressive to date over two miles.
He’s set to take on Altior and Chacun Pour Soi (the horse who beat him at Punchestown) in the Champion Chase and if all three do line up, it will be one of the races of the week. Reigning champion Altior heads the betting at 2/1, with Defi Du Seuil 9/4 and Chacun Pour Soi available at 5/2.
Whichever camp you’re in, it’s set to be an absolute cracker!
Paisley Park – Stayers’ Hurdle
Another of the so-called bankers at this year’s Cheltenham Festival looks to be the Emma Lavelle-trained Paisley Park. Unlike Envoi Allen, the eight-year-old has tasted defeat, four times in fact. However, since finishing down the field in the 2018 Albert Bartlett, he has gone from strength-to-strength and looks virtually unbeatable in the staying hurdle division.
Since his last defeat in March 2018, Lavelle’s inmate has won seven races on the bounce, two of which have been Grade Ones including last year’s Stayers’ Hurdle. Given his dominance and the likelihood of a weak opposition, it’s little shock he’s just 8/13 to win the race for a second year in a row.
He’s been as good as ever this season and it would take a brave punter to go against him.
Solo – Triumph Hurdle
Given this horse has only run once in Britain, Solo is, perhaps, an unexpected addition to the list, but if you watch his UK debut at Kempton back you’ll see why. Having bolted up by 15 lengths on his second start in France, the four-year-old moved to the UK to be trained by Paul Nicholls and the money spent on the colt now looks shrewd business.
Obviously, if a horse wins by 15 lengths he’s always going to be respected, and given his lofty reputation, he was sent off favourite for the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton. Nicholls must have been licking his lips as the son of Kapgarde sauntered round in effortless fashion to cruise home by 13 lengths, and in doing so, catapulted himself to the head of the betting for the Triumph Hurdle.
3/1 is a pretty short price for such an inexperienced horse, but don’t forget Nicholls won the race in 2011 with Zarkandar, who had had just one run in Britain (the same race Solo won), so if anyone knows how to do it then it’s the Ditcheat handler. He’ll face much stronger rivals at Cheltenham and will need to improve again, but it looks as if Nicholls could have a pretty smart sort on his hands.