'He looks banker material' - assessing the returning Cheltenham Festival winners
Eight winners from last year's Cheltenham Festival are bidding to repeat the feat in the same race this month. Here we assess their chances of striking again at jump racing's biggest meeting
Last year’s Champion Hurdle was run without the ill-fated 2019 hero Espoir D’Allen, dual winner Buveur D’Air and the well-fancied Saldier, leaving Epatante to justify favouritism with a ready three-length success.
This season has not been as straightforward for her, as after running away with the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on her return, the star mare was turned over at odds of 1-5 when beaten six and a half lengths into second behind Silver Streak in the Christmas Hurdle.
Epatante returned from Kempton with a sore back that has been treated, but there is no doubt she faces a tougher task in the opening-day highlight with the unbeaten Honeysuckle, back-to-form Goshen and reopposing Silver Streak among the opposition.
Repeat chance ***
With 2019 winner Altior sidelined with injury and the highly promising Chacun Pour Soi a late absentee with a foot abscess, the Champion Chase last year looked a golden opportunity for Defi Du Seuil but he failed to fire and Politologue capitalised.
It was a third top-level success for the Paul Nicholls-trained grey, who took that tally to four on his reappearance in the Tingle Creek at Sandown this term. He was a seven-length second to First Flow in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot last time, however, and will need to bounce back to his best at Cheltenham with Chacun Pour Soi, Altior and Nube Negra shorter in the betting.
Repeat chance **
There was 2021 Gold Cup talk about Easysland after he routed the Glenfarclas Chase field by 17 lengths on the cross-country course last year.
He has run only once since, finishing fourth when giving away lots of weight in a handicap chase around the unique track in November, but should strip much fitter now. Grand National hope Potters Corner and Tiger Roll, who finished second last year but has performed way below par since, are his main dangers but Easysland looks banker material.
Repeat chance *****
Last year's Ryanair Chase did not appear a vintage edition at the time but the form of Min’s success has been boosted, with third-placed A Plus Tard winning the Savills Chase and fourth-home Frodon landing the King George VI Chase.
Min was victorious in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown on his return but had a rare blip when pulled up in the Dublin Chase last time. He needs to bounce back but his spring record and form figures at the meeting – 2251 – offer plenty of hope in an open renewal.
Repeat chance ****
Lisnagar Oscar caused a 50-1 upset last year as odds-on favourite Paisley Park underperformed in seventh.
The stayers’ division looks notably stronger this time with Paisley Park back to near his best in the Long Walk Hurdle, Thyme Hill confirming the promise of his novice campaign and Sire Du Berlais – a dual Pertemps winner – open to improvement at the top level.
Lisnagar Oscar, trained by Rebecca Curtis, was well beaten in the West Yorkshire Hurdle and Long Distance Hurdle this term but shaped encouragingly after wind surgery when second in the Rendlesham Hurdle last month. If improving on that effort, he has each-way claims.
Repeat chance *
The festival showpiece went to Al Boum Photo for the second year running in 2020 after he pulled out all the stops to beat Santini by a neck. There was no significant depth to the race, but the dual scorer does not win by far – evidenced by just one of his nine victories coming by a margin of more than nine lengths.
Al Boum Photo took the tried-and-tested route of a return at Tramore on New Year’s Day and his success there proved his wellbeing if not much else. Champ, A Plus Tard and potentially Royale Pagaille, as well as Frodon, Native River and Santini, will ensure this year’s Gold Cup is his toughest task, but Al Boum Photo is very much the one to beat.
Repeat chance ****
It was a fairytale success for Eugene and Maxine O’Sullivan last year as 66-1 shot It Came To Pass left favourite Billaway ten lengths back in second.
This race has been won consecutively by Salsify, On The Fringe and Pacha Du Polder in the last ten years and It Came To Pass, who has to bounce back from unseating his rider at Thurles last time, is generally a single-figure price to repeat the feat. With Billaway favourite again, his best price of 10-1 looks good each-way value.
Repeat chance ****
Chosen Mate was a fairly ready winner of this 2m handicap chase last year but not many people would have predicted a 1m6f Flat maiden would be the only race he would win before a repeat bid.
The eight-year-old returns off a 9lb higher mark after some indifferent efforts in good-quality handicap chases. A sounder surface could bring about an improved performance, but another career best is required.
Repeat chance *
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