Cheltenham Festival 2015 Championship Races Preview
With just under five weeks until the pinnacle of the National Hunt season takes place at Prestbury Park, the betting markets for the Championship races at the Cheltenham Festival have formed with at least three of the four races shaping up to be hugely competitive affairs. Our Racing Editor examines the four favourties and debates whether their positions at the head of their respective markets are secure.
Cheltenham Festival Championship Race Betting Tips
The highlight of the opening day of the Festival is the Champion Hurdle, a race which has been dominated by Irish trained horses who have won seven of the last ten renewals. The trend looks set to continue this year with the hugely exciting FAUGHEEN (5/4 Paddy Power) leading the charge. This seven-year-old ended his novice hurdling season with victories in both the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown, feats which propelled him to the head of the ante-post market for the Champion Hurdle. His unbeaten run has continued this year with two facile victories at both Ascot and Kempton when sent off the long odds-on favourite. His mixture of speed and stamina, allied with his improving hurdling style, has made this horse a force to be reckoned with. His closest rivals in the betting may well have greater overall experience but it is difficult to envisage a halt in this horses’ improvement, something which makes him hugely exciting and worthy of his position in the market.
Unlike the Champion Hurdle, the Championship 2m Chasing equivalent looks a far more open contest despite the inclusion of last year’s winner, and one of the highest rated steeplechasers in recent history, SPRINTER SACRE (11/4 Betfred). His position at the head of the market comes despite a lengthy absence due to injury and a second place finish on his seasonal reappearance in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot. Plenty were keen to crab his latest effort as he looked laboured in the closing stages when Dodging Bullets (rated currently 17lbs his inferior) swept past him to claim his second Grade 1 prize of the season. Nevertheless, his trainer Nicky Henderson was thrilled with the effort and looked relieved to have his stable star back on a racecourse proper. Whether Sprinter Sacre returns to his very best only time will tell; however, if he benefits from the run as connections expect him to do, his current price clearly underestimates his talent and he may well rekindle his fire of old on the grandest stage of them all.
On to the World Hurdle and we have a similar story with last year’s winner a less than solid favourite. The Jonjo O’Neill trained MORE OF THAT (4/1 Paddy Power) successfully got the better of the mare Annie Power in one of the most exciting finishes of the entire 2014 Festival, a race which will live long in the memory. Nonetheless, this horse made a less than satisfactory reappearance in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November when he finished a well-beaten third, an effort which left many questioning whether he would be able to defend his title. He has since undergone a breathing operation and as such, connections have stated that he will not run before March if conditions are testing. Undoubtedly a talented staying hurdler, there are enough negatives to temper enthusiasm and it would be no surprise to see his market position come under threat from the likes of Saphir Du Rheu, Rock On Ruby and Zarkander.
Finally, we have the Blue Riband event of National Hunt Racing – the Cheltenham Gold Cup. After claiming both the Betfair Chase and the King George VI Chase in decisive fashion, SILVINIACO CONTI (3/1 bet365) has established himself as the best staying chaser in training and the clear ante-post favourite for the extended 3m2f contest. He looked destined to claim this prize at last year’s Festival after winging the last but failed in his efforts as he wandered on the uphill charge to the line. His trainer Paul Nicholls is adamant that his charge is a Gold Cup winner in waiting, and after dealing with ulcers that were affecting this horse, Nicholls looks set to strike gold with Silviniaco Conti.
Cheltenham Festival 2015 Championship Race Favourites –
Champion Hurdle – FAUGHEEN (5/4 Paddy Power)
Champion Chase – SPRINTER SACRE (11/4 Betfred)
World Hurdle – MORE OF THAT (4/1 Paddy Power)
Gold Cup – SILVINIACO CONTI (3/1 bet365)
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Written by Marc Valentine