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Question time: some of the big Cheltenham issues that have yet to be resolved

Benie Des Dieux: has a choice of three races at the Cheltenham Festival
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With the Cheltenham Festival a month away, we take a look at some of the more pressing questions still to be answered before the start of the four-day extravaganza

Benie Des Dieux: Champion or Mares?

Such is the wide open nature of this year's Champion Hurdle, connections of Benie Des Dieux are considering supplementing the star mare for the 2m showpiece. 

Benie Des Dieux is already favourite for the Mares' Hurdle – a race she looked sure to win last season before falling at the last – and behind only Paisley Park in the Stayers' Hurdle betting, so the fact a third race has been thrown into the mix suggests the temptation is strong.

Benie Des Dieux: won the Mares' Hurdle in 2018

The lure will be stronger still after trainer Willie Mullins' Champion Hurdle options were depleted last week by the setbacks to Saldier and Klassical Dream.

Benie Des Dieux has never even contested a hurdle race over two miles before – for all she did contest a 2m1½f race in France and win twice over two and a quarter miles – so it would be a bold shout to go for the Champion and with the spectre of Paisley Park looming large in the Stayers' Hurdle, the percentage call looks likely to be a return to the mares' race.


Watch: Benie Des Dieux pulverises the field on her Galmoy Hurdle return


Envoi Allen camp to go for big one?

Gordon Elliott has categorically stated the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle as Envoi Allen's festival target, but might there be time for a rethink?

Elliott made public the plan at the same time as ruling out a prep run for Envoi Allen at the Dublin Racing Festival, but the murky Champion Hurdle waters have not become any clearer since.

Envoi Allen (left) looks to be Ballymore-bound, but might connections reconsider?

Irish Champion Hurdle winner Honeysuckle had appeared to book her place in the Champion, yet connections have subsequently revealed they are leaning towards running in the Mares' Hurdle.

The unbeaten Envoi Allen might be a novice but he is the most exciting talent around and if a change of heart did happen, he would be challenging for Champion Hurdle favouritism.


Watch: Envoi Allen warms up for the Cheltenham Festival with a third Grade 1 win at Naas


Who will be on board in Ryanair?

A clash between Altior, Chacun Pour Soi and Defi Du Seuil – providing the latter definitely gets the go-ahead – would make the Champion Chase the race of the week and could persuade others to look towards the easier pickings of the Ryanair.

As a former festival winner and giant-killer of Chacun Pour Soi at Leopardstown over Christmas, A Plus Tard would be richly deserving of his place in the Champion Chase, but his festival win last year came over two and a half miles. 

Cyrname: will he run at the Cheltenham Festival?

Min, another with an entry in both races, heads the Ryanair betting with some firms, despite having never won at Cheltenham.

Frodon looks more likely to defend his Ryanair crown than run in the Gold Cup and the rapidly-improving Riders Onthe Storm is set to prep for the 2m4½f contest in Saturday's Ascot Chase, where he is poised to meet Cyrname.

That brings us nicely on to the highest-rated horse in Britain. Cyrname, who has blitzed his rivals in his last three chases at Ascot, has never run at Cheltenham and would be a fascinating addition to not just the Ryanair but the festival as a whole. 


Watch: Cyrname gallops home strongly to defeat Altior at Ascot


Where next for remarkable Faugheen?

The rebirth of Faugheen has been the story of the season so far and it would be the stuff of legend if another chapter of this remarkable tale was written come March.

There can't be anyone in racing that wouldn't crack a smile at the sight of Faugheen returning to the number one spot in the fabled winner's enclosure, five years on from his Champion Hurdle victory.

But which race will he run in? The 12-year-old has entries in the Marsh Chase (2m4f), RSA (3m½f) and National Hunt Chase (3m6f). It has to be a long shot that Patrick Mullins will be able to persuade his dad to run in the amateur riders' race, so it looks like a straight choice between the Marsh and RSA.

The RSA is often a gruelling race and Faugheen has won chases over trips between two miles three and a half furlongs and two miles five furlongs this season.

Age will have no doubt have blunted his speed, but the Marsh trip should still be well within his compass.


Watch: Faugheen produces magical scenes at Leopardstown by winning the Flogas Novice Chase


Superstar! Faugheen (far side) holds off easy game to bring the house down at the Dublin Racing Festival

Could Champ revert to hurdles?

A question that could be answered this week. After his second last-fence calamity at Cheltenham last month, Nicky Henderson is eyeing a confidence booster for RSA Chase favourite Champ.

He has entries this week, including at Kelso on Thursday, and presuming he comes through the test with flying colours, you would imagine all roads would lead to the RSA.

However, Champ has been far from fluent with his jumping, despite winning his two other chase starts, and the Stayers' Hurdle entry is there to fall back on should things go awry again. 

Champ: fell two fences from home in the Dipper Novices' Chase at Cheltenham

Last season, Champ won two Grade 1 novice hurdles in between finishing second in the Ballymore. He is trading at between 5-1 and 8-1 for the Stayers' Hurdle with firms offering the non-runner no bet concession.


Watch: Champ downs Black Op in a dramatic finish to a Grade 2 at Newbury


Who will get the gig on Gigginstown aces?

The unfortunate absence of Jack Kennedy from the festival means a number of big-race rides are up for grabs, including on leading Gold Cup contender Delta Work.

The jockey broke his right leg in the race straight after his Irish Gold Cup victory on Delta Work, who is generally third favourite for the Gold Cup. 

Davy Russell: has proved a master jockey at the Cheltenham Festival

Davy Russell has ridden Delta Work more than any other jockey and would be an obvious replacement, but he is also the regular rider of fellow Gold Cup hope Presenting Percy. 

Keith Donoghue, who will be bidding for a Glenfarclas Chase hat-trick with Tiger Roll, is another option, having ridden Delta Work when he was fourth in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal in November.

With 22 festival wins and a top jockey award to his name, Russell looks well-placed to pick up any plum Gigginstown rides that are going spare.

Rachael Blackmore will be in the reckoning too as she has impressed on Gigginstown horses trained by Henry de Bromhead, namely Arkle favourite Notebook.


Watch: Delta Work stays on best to win the Irish Gold Cup – but who will ride him at Cheltenham?


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Age will have no doubt blunted his speed, but the Marsh trip should still be well within his compass
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