Eye on Cheltenham – Five new Festival favourites after huge weekend of racing

We bring you all the latest betting and developments in the ante-post markets for the 2020 Cheltenham Festival after a huge weekend of racing at Sandown and Leopardstown.

Sub-zero temperatures couldn’t dampen the buzz over in Ireland this weekend, as Leopardstown hosted the second annual Dublin Racing Festival. Saturday’s action started with a bang and also produced the first of five new ante-post favorites for the Cheltenham Festival, as Commander Of Fleet hung on to claim his first Grade One victory in the Nathaniel & Lacy Solicitors Novice Hurdle.

With stablemate Battleoverdoyen looks set for the Ballymore, the Albert Bartlett will be Commander Of Fleet’s most likely target at the Festival, with William Hill cutting the Gigginstown flag-bearer in from 12s to 8/1 favoritism. Relegate produced a terrible round of jumping, but a strong finish saw last year’s Champion Bumper winner claim fourth at Leopardstown and BetVictor cut Relegate into 14/1 for the three-miler at the Festival.

Min comfortably retained his Dublin Chase crown with an effortless performance on Saturday. Willie Mullins’ charge strengthened his position at the head of the Ryanair betting while having his price in the Champion Chase cut into in from 10s to 5/1 by BetVictor.

Joseph O’Brien’s Le Richebourg then produced another excellent display of novice chasing to with the Frank Ward Arkle. William Hill had listed Le Richebourg as a 6/1 shot in a tightly-packed betting heat for the Arkle at Cheltenham, but after securing his second Grade One on the bounce, O’Brien’s top novice chaser was pushed into solo 7/2 favoritism.

Undoubtedly the star performer at Leopardstown this weekend was Gordon Elliott’s Apple’s Jade. On her first start over the minimum distance since December 2016, Elliott’s mare secured a wide-margin victory in the Irish Champion Hurdle with a blistering display of speed, meaning Apple’s Jade has now collected Grade One honors over two, two-and-a-half and three miles this season.

Initial reaction from the bookmakers was to push Apple’s Jade into 4/7 to win the Mares’ Hurdle, with many slashing her odds in from 10s to around 3/1 for the Champion Hurdle. Yet, after connections intimated she would likely be switched from the Mares’ to the Champion, bookmakers were forced to alter their odds again, with William Hill pulling Apple’s Jade back to 2/1 for the Mares’ Hurdle and listing the former Festival winner as the 2/1 joint-favorite for the Champion.

Mere minutes after Apple’s Jade laid down a marker at Leopardstown, Buveur D’Air returned to winning ways in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown. Barry Geraghty expended little energy in encouraging the two-time Champion Hurdle winner to see off the attentions of Vision Des Flos, but that wasn’t enough to impress the Cheltenham bookmakers, with many now quoting Buveur D’Air at the same price as Apple’s Jade.

The big Grade One at Sandown was the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase. Defi Du Seuil lost out to Lostintranslation in the Dipper at Cheltenham, but Philip Hobbs’ former Triumph winner turned the tables on his rival on Saturday, claiming a narrow victory after a thrilling battle after the last.

With Le Richebourg set to fly the flag for JP McManus in the Arkle, the JLT looks Defi Du Seuil’s most likely Cheltenham target and he was installed as the new favourite for that two-and-a-half-mile Grade One, with Paddy Power quoting fresh odds of 4/1. Lostintranslation remained a 6/1 shot in the JLT betting, with Vinndication – who lost his unbeaten record when finishing third – drifting back to 14/1.

Joseph O’Brien’s stranglehold on the juvenile division grew even tighter on Sunday afternoon, as Sir Erec justified a short price with a dominant victory in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle, beating stablemate Gardens Of Babylon by six lengths. Fakir D’Oudairies had jumped to the head of the Triumph Hurdle betting after leading home another O’Brien 1-2 at Cheltenham on Trials Day, but he was usurped at the head of the Triumph market by Sir Erec, with Ladbrokes quoting a top price of 9/4.

Klassical Dream and Aramon strengthen trainer Willie Mullins‘ hand in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle betting, with Ruby Walsh pushing Klassical Dream to a nose-victory in the Chanelle Pharma. After proving his Grade One credentials, William Hill cut Klassical Dream into 8/1 for the Supreme, while also listing Aramon at the same price, after he lost nothing in that narrow defeat.

The second thrilling finish of the day came in a depleted renewal of the Irish Gold Cup, with frozen ground meaning just four horses went to post. Ruby Walsh, once again, came out on top, pushing Bellshill to an oh-so-narrow victory over the favourite, Road To Respect. Noel Meade’s runner-up remained at 14/1 to win the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, with Bellshill coming in from 20s to 12/1 in the Festival betting with BetVictor.

Dallas Des Pictons was the fifth horse to head a market at the Cheltenham Festival, with his handicap victory at Leopardstown enough to earn fresh quotes of 10/1 in the Martin Pipe market with William Hill. La Bague Au Roi then gave British fans something to shout about as she claimed victory in the Flogas, holding off a modest field aftermarket rival, Delta Work was withdrawn on account of the ground.

Some bookies cut La Bague Au Roi’s odds in the JLT at Cheltenham. However, after the race, Warren Greatrex reiterated his thoughts that the track at Cheltenham doesn’t suit his dual-Grade One-winning mare and it’s unlikely she will make a third appearance in the Cheltenham Festival.