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2019 Cheltenham Festival tips – Top five ante-post bets

Jonathan Vine in Tips 18 Oct 2018

We’ve taken a look through the ante-post markets for the Cheltenham Festival, which starts on Tuesday 12th March, and provided readers with our top five bets.

As the new National Hunt racing season starts to shift into top gear, it’s very difficult not to let your mind wander towards the middle week of March, where the Cheltenham Festival will once again dominate the world of sport. Records will be set, legends will be made and history will be rewritten during the four-day spectacular and it’s never too early to try and figure out which horses you’ll be betting on during this season’s Festival.

Our expert has already started sifting through the vast ante-post markets for the Graded races at the Cheltenham Festival and he’s identified five of the best bets that punters can place on next year’s meeting.

Despite conditions being against him and struggling with various injury niggles throughout the season, BUVEUR D’AIR became the first horse since Hardy Eustace to successfully defend the Champion Hurdle. Melon, surprisingly, travelled best throughout the race and had even wrestled a narrow lead jumping the last, before Buveur D’Air hacked through the mud to preserve his winning streak.

After just four appearances last season, Henderson will be hoping Buveur D’Air - a horse he has often said needs plenty of races to stay fit – can be much busier during the new campaign. The presence of Samcro and Laurina in the Champion Hurdle betting has resulted in the Champion carrying a rather generous price. If Samcro ends up going chasing and Laurina is taken down the Mares’ Hurdle route, then you’ll be lucky to find Buveur D’Air at evens, so you better jump on the value while it lasts.

Following a simple maiden triumph and an emphatic Listed victory, Gordon Elliott stepped Cracking Smart up to Graded company last winter. Only Next Destination was good enough to beat the Gigginstown flag-bearer – losing out by six lengths in the Navan Hurdle, before his late rally can up a length short in the Grade One Lawlor’s Of Naas.

Davy Russell was hard at work on his mount entering the home straight, with Paul Townend still unmoved on the winner. Cracking Smart, however, responded magnificently under pressure, steadily narrowing the gap and might have won the race had the finishing line come a furlong later. The RSA Novices’ Chase is an obvious option, but Gordon Elliott often sends one of his best novices to the National Hunt Challenge Cup and Cracking Smart looks every inch a top stayer.

Next Destination (right) holds off Cracking Smart (left) to win a Grade One at Naas over hurdles.

Home fans had their heads in their hands as the Champion Chase field made their way down the hill at Prestbury Park, because it seemed like Altior was struggling. Nico De Boinville issued the favourite with a couple of reminders entering the final mile and, for a while, it looked like his efforts might have been in vein. Yet, in the style of a true champion Altior responded - bridging the gap Min had opened up between the final two fences, before streaking clear to eventually win by a comfortable margin.

Like stablemate Buveur D’Air, Altior endured a stop-start campaign last year and didn’t make his reappearance until the Game Spirit Chase. Workmanlike best described the favourite’s performance at Newbury - and again at the season-ending meeting at Sandown - but Nicky Henderson’s star managed to end the season where he started it, on top of the two mile chasing ranks.

Douvan was shaping like his old self before taking a tumble at Cheltenham and Footpad arose as a possible challenger for this season when storming to Arkle glory the previous day. This season’s Champion Chase could be the stiffest challenge Altior has been posed to date, but everything the three-time Cheltenham winner does oozes quality and – given a clear run of things during the winter – he should be too classy for any rival he faces come the Festival.

Next Destination suffered defeat just once during his novice hurdling campaign, claiming Grade One victories at Naas and again at Punchestown in April, where Willie Mullins’ gelding outfought two Cheltenham Festival winners in Delta Work and Kilbricken Storm. That solitary loss came in the Ballymore at Cheltenham, as Samcro stormed home to leave Next Destination in a battle for the places.

Ruby Walsh’s mount was ten lengths off the pace and floundering entering the home straight, but Next Destination stuck to his task really nicely and overhauled some good hurdlers before snatching third on the line. Willie Mullins said in a recent stable tour that the son of Dubai Destination had schooled really well over fences during the summer and I’d be surprised if he didn’t return to Cheltenham as a strong contender in this year’s RSA.

Native River (right) shakes off Might Bite (left) after the last in the Gold Cup.

History tells us that second-season chasers are the ones to side with in the Gold Cup, so it’s no surprise to see Presenting Percy heading the ante-post betting. Native River, however, managed to buck that trend when he hacked up to win last season and – given more favourable ground conditions – I really think Might Bite will claim Gold Cup glory at the second attempt.

The King George winner matched Native River stride for stride for 90% of the trip, as the two British challengers pulled a long way clear of their rivals. Nico De Boinville was still yet to ask his mount for an effort approaching the second-last, with Richard Johnson already pushing the leader along. Might Bite produced another excellent jump, but when the race to the finishing line arrived, the heavy ground had emptied Might Bite’s tank and he failed to find that extra gear.

Better ground conditions at Aintree saw a return to winning ways for Henderson’s charge. Might Bite jumped his way to the front at the third-last and the favourite cruised clear of Bristol De Mai to secure his fourth Grade One over fences. Henderson has said that the Betfair Chase at Haydock will be first up for Might Bite, after which he will return to the King George before bidding for Gold Cup glory again.

Everyone will be praying that the weather forecast in the build-up to this year’s Festival is bright and clear. If we get the decent ground that an event like the Cheltenham Festival deserves, then I feel Might Bite will be the one to beat in the 2019 Gold Cup.

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2019 Cheltenham Festival tips – Top five ante-post bets

We’ve taken a look through the ante-post markets for the Cheltenham Festival, which starts on Tuesday 12th March, and provided readers with our top five bets.

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