The time has finally come: the Cheltenham Festival is about to get underway. From the moment the final race is run the year before, the entire horse racing community begins the build-up until Prestbury Park plays host to one of the best meetings on the National Hunt calendar once again. Every day offers something, but none offer the thrill of Champion Day.
That’s because from the punters in the stands to the jockeys in the saddles, everyone is absolutely chomping at the bit to see the horses take to the course. The ‘Cheltenham Roar’ is one of the most famous sounds in sport, with this year’s expected to be even louder than ever because fears over the Festival being cancelled due to Coronavirus not coming to fruition.
Everywhere you look on Day One of the Festival you see a brilliant race, with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle kicking things off in spectacular fashion. The Ankle Trophy comes straight on its heels, then there’s the Handicap Chase before the feature race of the day in the form of the Champion Hurdle sends everyone potty.
The Mares’ Hurdle is a chance for the girls to do their thing, then it’s the less experienced horses that take to the field in the form of the Novices’ Handicap Chase. The day comes to a close with the National Hunt Challenge Cup Chase, meaning that racegoers will have seen four Grade 1 races as well as one each of a Grade 2, a Grade 3 and a Listed offering.
Here we’ll have a look at what you can expect from the opening day of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, including in terms of the weather forecast and the horses to look out for in each of the races.
Going, Weather Forecast & Ground Conditions
The weather building up to the Festival has been mixed, with more than a few storms coming our way over the preceding weeks. That is no different as the meeting itself actually gets underway, with rain forecast in the morning before Champion Day kicks off.
The good news is that the rain is forecast to have moved on by the time punters will start arriving on the course, with highs of twelve degrees expected. It is likely to be dry when it comes to the actual day, but sadly it will be too little, too late as far as the ground is concerned.
Rain on Saturday and into Sunday daytime will have made the course tricky to navigate, even if a brief reprieve on Sunday night going into Monday was expected. Heavy rain on Monday night is unlikely to help anything, so expect the Going to be Heavy.
Champion Day Betting, Tips And Race Previews
Seven races across the course of the day provide you with many chances to take on the bookmakers, so here are our tips for Day One of the Cheltenham Festival 2020.
The Cheltenham Roar is what greets horses and jockeys alike as they begin the first circuit of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and get the Festival underway. This Grade 1 race is run over 2 miles and 87 yards, with 8 fences to negotiate during its running. As with the other races on Day One, the Supreme is run on the Old Course.
The race is for horses aged four and over and when it comes to the race’s weight, it is as follows:
- 4-year-olds: 10 stone 13 pounds
- 5-year-olds and over: 11 stone 7 pounds
- Filles and mares receive a 7 pound allowance
This year’s Supreme promises to be a fascinating race, if for no other reason than it’s going to boast a strong field. Shishkin is most people’s favourite, but his wins have come in slower races than this one is likely to be. Envoi Allen was moved from the Ballymore to the Supreme when trader Gordon Elliot decided the Going would be too Heavy for him.
If you want a longer odds punt then Fiddlerontheroof is worth a look, given that he’s taking Grade 1 winning form into the race and 20 of the last 23 Supreme winners were successful in the race they ran before this one.
- Winner Tip: Envoi Allen
- Each-Way Bet: Fiddlerontheroof
Another Grade 1 race run on the Old Course, the Arkle takes place over 1 mile, 7 furlongs and 199 yards. It has 13 fences to jump, so is a genuine test of even the most experienced horses. Aimed at novice chasers aged 5 and over, the weight is 11 stone and 4 pounds, though a seven pound allowance is given to mares.
Many people think that this might well be the most exciting race of the day, given the number of jumping frontrunners lining up in it. This is an event that often shows the outstanding from the merely ok, so don’t be surprised if it throws up something of a shock. One such example could be Esprit Du Large, who ran well at Sandown recently.
Irish horses have dominated over recent years and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they managed a second successive 1-2-3. Notebook is well-fancied on that front, if for no other reason than he hasn’t lost over fences yet. This does feel like a step up for him, though, whilst Fakir D’Oudairies did well in the Drinmore for Joseph O’Brien.
- Winner Tip: Fakir D’Oudairies
- Each-Way Bet: Esprit Du Large
This is the first handicap race for Cheltenham week, with the key bit of information being that all 19 of the previous winners have won at least one race over a distance of 3 miles before winning here. That’s something to look out for in the form book, but it’s also fair to bear in mind that handicap races are designed to offer a level playing field.
Run over 3 miles and 1 furlong with 20 fences to jump, the race is for horses aged 5 and over. Winners often go on to become Grand National favourites, so even if you don’t win your bet you’ll still want to make a note of which horses do well here. Plenty is expected of Vinndication, who won his three mile seasonal debut at Ascot.
Vinndication is a fan of soft ground, so it will be worth keeping an eye on the Going in the first two races if you can stomach leaving your decision on this race until the last moment. One horse to think about if Vinndication isn’t for you is Brendan Powell’s The Conditional. He struggled in the Classic Chase at Warwick, so the drop to three-miles will suit him.
- Winner Tip: Vinndication
- Each-Way Bet: The Conditional
The Champion Hurdle looks wide open this year. That’s a good thing in the sense that the odds are fairly generous for all runners, but a bad thing insomuch as it’s anyone’s guess who is likely to be victorious. Epatante will just about take the favourite tab, but whether she’s too short to want to bet on is something that you’ll have to decide for yourself.
The race is run over 2 miles and 87 furlongs, with 8 fences during the distance. This is the standout race of Day One and will be a thrilling watch this year around. The size of the field alone means that there are a number of decent Each-Way shouts, with Coeur Sublime offering odds almost three times those of Pentland Hills despite being just as solid a prospect.
If you really want to go big on your Each-Way bet, though, then you’d do a lot worse than looking at Silver Streak. 25/1 at the time of writing, he made it into the places in this race last year. It’s also worth noting that he came in second to Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton over the winter, so a good run will do him well.
- Winner Tip: Epatante
- Each-Way Bet: Silver Streak
Many people believed that Henry De Bromhead would stick Honeysuckle into the Champion Hurdle given how open it looked, but he’s decided to stick with her in the Mares’ Hurdle and might well find that she has a tougher race to take on than initially thought. Benie Des Dieux was cruising to victory in this one last year before falling at the last.
That means that she’s the runaway favourite in this race that is limited to mares aged 4 and over and run over 2 miles 3 furlongs and 200 yards. The weight in this one is 10 stone 10 pounds for four-year-olds or 11 stone 5 pounds if the horses are over five.
Given that 9 of the last 11 winners were trained by Willie Mullins and 10 of the last 12 were either first or second favourite, you’d think that Benie Des Dieux was as good as nailed on to win it. With that in mind, the Each-Way market will almost certainly provide better value, so last year’s winner in Roksana might tick that box.
- Winner Tip: Benie Des Dieux
- Each-Way Bet: Roksana
Run over 2 miles, 4 furlongs and 44 yards and open to horses aged 5 and over with a handicap rating of between 0 and 145, the Novices’ Handicap Chase is a Listed race with 16 fences. Given that the entire field is only likely to be separated by a few pounds, however, it’s possible that this will be a fiercely competitive outing.
In recent years this is a race that has been won by a horse at the top end of the weights, so it’s one where you might do well to keep an eye out for a horse that’s done well in Graded races and will carry plenty. Deyrann De Carjac ticks those boxes, having the added benefit of also offering decent odds at the time of writing.
Imperial Aura is likely to go off as the favourite, with the 7-year-old improving over fences every time that Kim Bailey sends him out. Hold The Note, meanwhile, has only run over fences three times to date but did well in two of those outings. If he can jump well and takes to being in a large field then he might be worth a punt.
- Winner Tip: Deyrann De Carjac
- Each-Way Bet: Hold The Note
The final race of Day One isn’t just an afterthought, with some genuinely excellent amateur riders on display. They’ll need to be at their best to take on the 23 fences over the 3 miles, 5 furlongs and 201 yards of this offering. The horses that the amateur riders will be on have to be 5 years or older, with a weight of 1 stone 4 pounds, or 1 stone 6 pounds if they’re over 6 years of age.
Will this finally be the year that Paul Nicholls breaks his duck, having entered 18 runners to date without a win? Not if Willie Mullins and Carefully Selected have anything to say about it, given the the novice has over fences three times in Ireland and is yet to lose. This will be the first time he’s gone over three miles though, so that could be telling.
He’s a classy jumper, but if his stamina doesn’t last him to the final furlong then there will be other horses keen to take advantage. One such runner is Lord Du Mesnil, who won twice in ten days during the winter months and therefore seems to have stamina to spare. He also finished second in the Grand National Trial, so he’s not unused to coming in the places.
- Winner Tip: Carefully Selected
- Each-Way Bet: Lord Du Mesnil
Day 1 Betting Summary
This might be one of the most exciting opening days of the Festival for years, given that there are a number of big races that seem to promise an open field. It also feels like a day when the Each-Way market might be a more appealing one than with the favourites, simply because of the value that will be presented in the bets.
If you want to make the most of Champion Day then have a look further down the field than just at the top end of it.