With the 2021 Cheltenham Festival now just a few days away, we went “Behind Enemy Lines” to get the thoughts of Betfred’s Matt Hulmes and to see where the smart money has been in recent days.
What wins the Champion Hurdle?
I am in a large group of people who would love to see Jamie Moore and Goshen win it after what happened twelve months ago. I had been singing his praises for weeks in the run-up and was counting the cash as he surged clear, just for the unluckiest of misfortunes to strike. It was great to see him come good at Wincanton last time and although his age group do not have a great record in the race, if the same Goshen turns up as did last year, but he can clear the last flight this time, he will not be stopping up that hill and will be hard to beat.
Of course, I respect the unbeaten Honeysuckle, and for me she is the biggest danger. I am not scared of Epatante at all, she has had a couple of issues and I am happy to be against her. I am intrigued to see how James Du Berlais gets on for Willie Mullins and would not put anyone having a small each way stake on him as his French form looks excellent.
Is The Champion Chase Chacun Pour Soi's To Lose?
In a nutshell, yes. Some people have pointed out that he needs to get up the hill, but he may also devour it, we will never know until Wednesday. He just has less questions to answer than the others. Politilogue had his day in the sun last season but this is much stronger while Altior has had enough issues to last a lifetime in the last two seasons, he cannot be trusted to be on his A-game anymore.
Nube Negra was impressive last time at Kempton and has Cheltenham form when placed in the Fred Winter a coupe of years ago, but I think First Flow may chase home the favourite. Decent ground is a question mark but he has won his last six and the most impressive of those was in the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase last time. He looks a good each way play at 14/1.
How Do You See The Stayers’ Hurdle Playing Out?
It is the third instalment of a trilogy between Thyme Hill and Paisley Park with the score at 1-1 this season. I was really impressed with Thyme Hill at Newbury and was so unlucky in last year’s Albert Bartlett when less than a length behind Monkfish in fourth. He had no run there and arguably should have beaten Paisley Park at Ascot before Christmas. Richard Johnson was kicking himself that day for perhaps going for home too soon and giving Paisley Park a target, so you could argue it should be 2-0. I think of the pair, he is the young progressive one who will come out on top.
It is far from a two-horse race though. Sire Du Berlais has won at the last two festivals over this course and distance but in a handicap, while The Storyteller is on course for the Grand National but loves it here and must also enter calculations.
But exclude Lisnagar Oscar at your peril. He was a shock winner 12 months ago, but we know he loves the spring and returned to form at Haydock last month. He is also a big each way player at around 16/1 and if Vinndication was to turn up here instead of the Gold Cup he too would carry one of my shillings each way.
What Wins The Blue Riband Event, The Wellchild Gold Cup?
Well, we know how hard it is to make history, but we may witness it this week. Only Golden Miller (1930s), Cottage Rake (50s), Arkle (60s) and Best Mate (00s) have won three Gold Cups, but it is just 5/2 that Al Boum Photo joins those immortal greats at about 3.15pm on Friday afternoon.
He has had the same preparation as last year, meets most of those that finished behind him twelve months ago and I find it hard seeing the new kids on the block finishing ahead of him.
Champ clouted every fence last year and still won the RSA Chase, and while his jumping was better at Newbury, he has not had the ideal preparation this campaign. If the ground were to have some dig in it, Royale Pagaille would be very interesting if he won here instead of the novice race on Tuesday, but when all is said and done, there are very few chinks in Al Boum Photo’s armoury compared to the rest and having been there and done it twice, I think we will have another hat-trick hero on our hands to celebrate.
Where Has All The Money Been In Recent Days?
Since we went Non-Runner-No Bet at the start of the month, punters have piled into to all the races. The most eye-catching support has been for Bob Ollinger in the Ballymore. He has been the talk of the preview nights and although he clearly has claims, it looks the hottest of the novice contests all week, but he has been backed with plenty of confidence it seems. There has also been solid for support for Gentleman De Mee in the Martin Pipe. Lightly raced for JP McManus and Willie Mullins, I can see why punters have latched onto that one, too.
Others that have been well backed include Houx Gris (Boodles Juvenile Hurdle), Aye Right (Ultima H’cap Chase) and Zanza (Grand Annual).
What Would Your Best Bet Of The Week Be?
There will be no red light for Roksana and it’ll be all systems go for her in the Mares’ Hurdle on Tuesday. She may have been fortunate to win the race two years ago but has improved so much and she would not be out of place in the Stayers’ Hurdle. But I think this contest is hers for the taking and the 3/1 currently available (non-runner no bet) looks huge.
Which Of The Short Priced Favourites Are Vulnerable?
We have a special ‘bankers’ bet on our website concerning Chacun Pour Soi, Concertista, Easysland, Envoi Allen, Monkfish and Shishkin with five or more winners from this six just 9/2. I would not be keen on Concertista as I’ve already stated my nap is Roksana in the same race, but the other five all look solid and I can’t pick holes in them, although Shishkin will know he has had a race against Allmankind and Energumene.
Of the others, I would be happy to take on Appreciate It in the Supreme and Kilcruit in the Bumper. Appreciate It may just get found out on the better ground and there is so much speed in the contest, I can see him needing further in time and there are enough doubts to be against him at 11/8.
Kilcruit bolted up at Leopardstown last month but the race played into his hands and fell apart somewhat. While visually impressive there, this will be a different kettle of fish with a bigger field and I do like Sir Gerhard against him, so happy to take him on at around 7/4, too.