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Cheltenham Festival: the fancied runners you should be opposing

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You will hear plenty about bankers and best bets as the Cheltenham Festival draws near, but what about the horses you should be taking on? Timeform experts reveal the fancied Festival runner they are keen to oppose.

Abacadabras (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle)
Billy Nash, Irish angle

Abacadabras, undoubtedly one of the best seen out in the two-mile novice hurdle division this season, is one I would be quite happy to take on in what is shaping up to be a hot Supreme. His run in the Royal Bond, where he split Envoi Allen and Darver Star, looks the best bit of form on offer in the race but it came under what are probably Abcadabras’ optimum conditions – a bare two miles on a relatively flat track and in a race where the emphasis was on speed. A strong traveller who showed plenty of signs of temperament in bumpers last term, I’m not convinced that he finds a great deal off the bridle and the stiff uphill finish at Cheltenham won’t play to his strengths. The fact that his main market rivals - Shishkin, Asterion Forlonge, Fiddlerontheroof - are all strong stayers at this trip makes the case against Abacadabras a strong one.

Altior (Champion Chase)
Dan Barber, jumps editor

This must be how it feels to cheat on a partner. After years of Festival dominance, the time has come to view Altior through a different prism. His ‘revival’ in the Game Spirit at Newbury featured the late surge that has seen him so irresistible in the division. But the preceding Ascot defeat, his one and only over jumps to date, allowed the crown to slip far enough to allow a clear view of the holes in the bare form of his more recent successes. ‘He can only beat what’s put in front of him’, they’ll say. But Cyrname was put in front of him and he couldn’t respond, and in the Champion Chase he’s going to have two top-class forces -  who bring contrasting styles with them– put in front of him in the shape of Chacun Pour Soi and Defi du Seuil. Sorry Altior. But it isn’t you; it’s Defi.

Defi du Seuil (Champion Chase)
Kris Hilliam, Timefigures angle

Defi du Seuil is not generally a horse to oppose, but he may be worth taking on in the Champion Chase given his current price. He’s done very little wrong since sent chasing at the start of last season, though only two efforts are fully backed up by the timefigures he has returned, namely when successful in the Tingle Creek in December and when beaten by Chacun Pour Soi in the Ryanair Novice Chase at the Punchestown festival last May. It was an emphatic four-and-a-half-length winning margin that day, and Chacun Pour Soi has since improved further, returning a top-class timefigure of 170 when winning the Dublin Chase. Given the form and timefigures of the pair, the price of Defi du Seuil simply looks too short.

 

Frodon (Ryanair Chase)
Phil Turner, chase handicapper

Front runners increasingly seem to enjoy an advantage in chases run on the New course at Cheltenham, and Frodon, who has a superb jumping technique, has taken advantage of this apparent tactical bias, registering five wins at the track, most notably in the Ryanair Chase last year.

That backdrop, combined with his admirable battling qualities, would hardly mark Frodon down as an ideal candidate to oppose, but I feel there are grounds for thinking that he’ll find things much tougher this time. For a start, Frodon hasn’t been operating at his very best this season. Admittedly there were excuses at Aintree (too many omitted fences) and Haydock (unsuitable trip), whilst he underwent treatment for ulcers prior to bouncing back with a win at Kempton last time. That hard-fought defeat of Keeper Hill, however, is unlikely to have elicited any sleepless nights from the connections of Min or A Plus Tard. Indeed, even the 2019 Ryanair result (a narrow defeat of outsider Aso) looks inferior to that Irish pair’s best recent form.

Lamarckise (Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle)
Martin Rigg, hurdles handicapper

Lamarckise was backed as if defeat was out of the question when scoring narrowly in atrocious conditions on her debut at Limerick in January, and the current betting suggests she’s the number one hope for Willie Mullins in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, a race the trainer has won all four runnings of since its inception in 2016. It’s not hard to see Lamarckise stepping up considerably on that form, but there is no getting away from the fact that she has a lot to find with the other market principals. Also, she took a long time to make the track after coming over from France, suggesting she may not be the easiest to train.

Delta Work (Gold Cup)
Graeme North, R&D/ Timefigures

It might seem perverse to claim that a horse who has won two Grade 1 staying chases in Ireland this season still has plenty to prove, but that is how it appears with Delta Work. If you believe Monalee, Jett and La Bague Au Roi are genuine top-class performers then you’ll be with him; if you harbour doubts, not least with Jett, you’ll find their proximity to him in those races too close for comfort. Moreover, the Irish Gold Cup was run at a slower tempo than the novice chase won by Faugheen on the same card, early and as well as late, whereas one might have expected the opposite.

 

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