'It's baffling Bravemansgame's not favourite' - your festival questions answered
Racing Post judges Paul Kealy and David Jennings share their shrewd advice
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You both couldn't stop talking about your bankers Imperial Aura and Aramax last year, and both duly obliged – who are your captains this year? Jack Barnes
Paul: If Lieutenant Rocco runs in the Ultima he would be my banker. He will get the softest ground of the meeting if it is a dry week and looked a high-class novice when upped to this trip last time. I can't see him being good enough to beat Monkfish in the Brown Advisory but a mark of 147 is tasty.
David: Imperial Alcazar has been handed the armband in the Pertemps Final. He has escaped with an 8lb rise for his Warwick win, which was far more emphatic than the winning margin suggests. Immediately after the race Fergal O'Brien mentioned the Stayers' Hurdle but he has since seen sense and realised there is a festival race there for the taking. He remains unexposed and I cannot believe he is still 8-1. It looks a poor running.
Is Honeysuckle the real deal? Mark Livingstone
Paul: She's a high-class mare who has won ten out of ten, so it's hard to knock her. She's not going to get an easy lead this time though and it's going to be a really competitive heat. I'm not in a rush to back her at the odds but you'd be mad not to give her serious respect.
David: I don't think it matters whether she wins the Champion Hurdle or not for her to be considered the real deal. She already is. She is ten from ten and only real deals can do things like that. If she repeats her Irish Champion Hurdle performance and does not get tapped for toe coming down the hill, she will be hard to beat with a 7lb allowance.
With so many people focusing on the first race of the festival, I always find the last race is the most important because more often than not it can be a saver. Could you give us the likely winner of the Martin Pipe and one you can see going off a lot shorter? Filippo Rizzo
Paul: There couldn't be a harder race to look at in advance, especially when we don't know the Irish marks. However, former mares' novice winner Eglantine Du Seuil seems to like the track, has become well handicapped and may fair a lot better on drying ground, so she looks potentially big at 33-1.
David: I was originally keen on Wide Receiver, but all did not look right with him at Leopardstown last time so I've gone lukewarm. If Monte Cristo runs here rather than the Coral Cup I think he would outclass them. He's got the ceiling rating of 145 so would have topweight but he deserves it. He looked a reformed character at Kempton.
What are your fancies for the Ballymore? Dean Brannigan
Paul: Personally I would have Bob Olinger and Bravemansgame ahead of Gaillard Du Mesnil in the betting. I think both are very good and would just prefer Bob Olinger.
David: It baffles me Bravemansgame is not favourite. Challow winners may have a woeful record in the Ballymore but this guy is different. He's annihilated good horses like Star Gate and The Glancing Queen – indeed, I think Es Perfecto is smart too – and the nimbleness with which he jumps is very easy on the eye. He's only going to get better and he is one of my strongest fancies of the entire week.
Which Mullins favourites should I put together in my Lucky 31 because there are so many to pick from? Philip Lewis
Paul: A short-priced Lucky 31 is just about the last bet I would ever have, but in order of the ones I think are most likely to win: Concertista, Monkfish, Chacun Pour Soi, Kilcruit, Al Boum Photo. That doesn't mean I think they're all going to win, though!
David: Saint Sam in the Boodles is the best-value Mullins representative at a single-figure price. He's got a mark of 136 in Ireland, so if he sneaks in off a mark of around 140 he would seriously interest me. He's been craving cover in a truly run race. Chacun Pour Soi looks bullet-proof in the Champion Chase given the poverty of opposition, while the three others I would include are Elimay in the Mares' Chase, Kilcruit in Champion Bumper and Hook Up in the mares' novice hurdle.
What should punters be looking for when trying to pick a handicap winner at the festival? Jack Pierrepont
Paul: Not an easy question to answer succinctly, but the ability to travel in race certainly helps. Too much is made of Cheltenham being a stiff test at times and if you can't hold a position in a race it doesn't matter how well you'll stay at the end of it.
David: I'm a big believer in form at previous festivals. Take the Grand Annual for instance. Croco Bay, Le Prezien, Next Sensation had all run in the race previously. With that in mind, I'm very sweet on Deise Aba in the Kim Muir off the same mark as last year.
Is Imperial Aura not excellent value each-way for the Ryanair as a festival winner and strong traveller who can finish? Bernie Corless
Paul: I'd never rule out a horse who has powered up the hill to win at the festival, but the alternative argument is that he's short enough for a horse who unseated at the second in January. Effectively he hasn't run since November, and has a few behind him in the betting who boast similar, if not better, form.
David: No. I think Mister Fisher is the best of the British in the Ryanair. He's unexposed, ran really well in the Marsh last year and strikes me as a chaser we have certainly not seen the best of yet. I liked what I saw in the Peterborough Chase.
What do you reckon to the chance of Amoola Gold in the Grand Annual? James Mackie
Paul: I wouldn't want to be accused of putting anyone off a 20-1 winner but you normally need to be around 10lb ahead of your mark to win a festival handicap and I'm not sure I can see that.
David: He's quite interesting but I thought all season Entoucas would win it so I'm not going to change my mind now.
Who is JP McManus's best handicap chance? Martin Udy
Paul: I'm sure he'll have plenty, but it wouldn't be a great surprise if Entoucas proved a good deal better than his chase mark when he hits some decent ground, which he might do in the Grand Annual.
David: I like Magic Tricks in the County Hurdle. His Irish mark could underestimate him. He has been disappointing in hot races since his maiden hurdle win at Navan but better ground could show him in a completely different light. There is some 25-1 available. That's big.
Why am I the only person who thinks Envoi Allen is opposable in the Marsh? Do you really think he is that much of a certainty? Michael Walker
Paul: I never think anything is a cert at Cheltenham, and ten losing odds-on shots from the last 17 would suggest that is not a bad stance to take. He is in the weakest division for novice chasers, though (as he was with novice hurdlers last season) and fully deserves to be favourite. I've still taken him on, though, and have backed Shan Blue and Chatham Street Lad each-way.
David: He is. No argument needed. He does all his arguing on the track.
Should Royale Pagaille run in the Gold Cup? Peter Small
Paul: Ask Ruby Walsh and he'd say a novice should run in novice company and that if Royale Pagaille were with Willie Mullins you can be sure he'd be in the National Hunt Chase. He has had more chase runs than many recent Gold Cup winners, though, and has shown a good enough level of form to take his chance.
David: No, but I completely understand if connections have a go. I think he will be taken out of his comfort zone on the first circuit on quicker ground and might not get back into it. He'd win the National Hunt Chase with his eyes closed.
Al Boum Photo looks a lay to me. He's not far in front of last year's field and takes on strong new challengers in A Plus Tard and Champ. What are your views? Stewart Jones
Paul: Winning two has to count for something, but yes, a literal reading of a neck win over Santini should not have anyone running for cover. I actually think Santini will go well again, but Champ and A Plus Tard have that bit of speed to go with their stamina and that could prove a potent weapon.
David: I agree, Stewart. He was all out to beat Santini, Lostintranslation, Monalee and Delta Work last year and I think the young pretenders are better than those. I fancy Champ.
Would you be worried about the lack of good horses Envoi Allen and Shishkin have come up against this season? Mark Cutler
Paul: I'd be less worried about the latter simply because Shishkin has won by wide margins and impressed the clock-watchers at the same time. Envoi Allen has been up against weaker opposition and not really been asked to race. He'll probably be fine, but there are loads of horses who would beat Fils D'Oudairies by three and a half lengths (Monkfish did it by 44).
David: No. I think they are beating good horses. Envoi Allen beat Coko Beach in the Drinmore and he hacked up in the Thyestes next time. Shishkin destroyed Tamaroc Du Mathan at Christmas and he looked more than good in the Pendil.
How much does a stable's form influence your betting for the festival? I like a few of Colin Tizzard's horses. James Watts
Paul: There are some who don't believe in trainer form at all, suggesting it's all random overall. I can't say I'm in that camp and I would prefer evidence that all was well within the yard.
David: It's obviously worrying that the Tizzards have not had more winners, but I think The Big Breakaway has so much raw ability that he will give Monkfish a major scare in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase.
I really think Put The Kettle On will be suited by the Mares' Chase. Could we have the chase version of Quevega on our hands here? June Higgins
Paul: That's assuming she goes there and not to the Champion Chase, but she's not going to be favourite even if she does. You can't knock her Cheltenham form, though, and the extra yardage is not going to be a problem, so she is a massive player if she runs.
David: That's a big statement, June. I do think it would be the right race for Put The Kettle On as I don't see how she can beat Chacun Pour Soi.
What's your opinion on Champ in the Gold Cup? John Hughes
Paul: I wouldn't have touched him with a bargepole before the Game Spirit as I thought he'd had an awful prep, similar to the one given to Presenting Percy a few years ago with no chase run for a year from a sometimes dodgy jumper. It was hard not to be impressed by his second to Sceau Royal, though, and we know he stays well.
David: He wins it. Simple as that.
Are Appreciate It and Kilcruit bankers? Geoff Reilly
Paul: I won't be backing either and will be actively taking on the former. I think Appreciate It needs very soft ground and that's beginning to look unlikely. Kilcruit looked very good in a race run at far too strong a pace and he might have been flattered.
David: I'm not so sure. I worry about Appreciate It being tapped for toe coming down the hill. I'd prefer Kilcruit of that pair. He looked awesome at Leopardstown.
Can Altior use his experience of running up the hill to his advantage to beat Chacun Pour Soi? James Down
Paul: I'm afraid I just don't think he's as good as he was. It takes a very special horse to win a Grade 1 at Cheltenham at the age of 11 and he's hardly had an ideal preparation.
David: I think he's got slow. If he's still in contention turning for home, he will have a massive chance but I wonder whether he will be.
What are your thoughts on Frodon in the Gold Cup? In theory he shouldn't stay but there's just something about Bryony and horse when leading from the front. Ashley Pooley
Paul: He's the one horse I would absolutely love to win and on good ground he'd get plenty of them beaten before giving way himself. I'm not convinced he'll get home either but then I was convinced he wouldn't under a big weight over 3m1f in October and it was no problem.
David: He's been an incredible horse and Paul Nicholls has done an incredible job with him, but I can't see him winning the Gold Cup.
How do you rate Chantry House? Ben McHugh
Paul: It was good to see him get back on track at Wetherby last time and hopefully that Cheltenham effort was a one-off. If he gets his jumping right he'll go well against Envoi Allen.
David: If he gets into a decent rhythm in the early stages of whatever race he runs in, he will go close.
If you want more on the 2021 Cheltenham Festival . . .
Don't miss the Racing Post Cheltenham Festival Guide 2021 – 208 pages featuring Paul Kealy's race-by-race guide, Racing Post Ratings, top tipsters, bookmaker Q&A, trainer analysis and more. Only £12.99. Order here or call 01933 304858. Out now!