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The collective breath of UK racing is still being held as the latest cases of equine flu are investigated, but it seems racing authorities have acted swiftly and it will not impact the Cheltenham Festival. Racing fixtures were canceled for just under a week, but the action got back underway a couple of weeks ago.
During that resumed schedule, Kalashnikov a popular pick for the Arkle (12th March) was in action, running a poor race – by his standards – in the Kingmaker Novice’s Chase at Sandown. That caused sportsbooks to make a move on Kalashnikov, with one – Betfair – putting the 5-year-old’s Arkle odds out to 20/1. Le Richebourg is now favorite, given odds of 10/3.
There was some hope given for the well-liked Samcro, who had a difficult winter season and then faced a lung operation in the New Year. It is still not guaranteed that Samcro will go to the Festival, but trainer Gordon Elliott has suggested that it’s still a possibility.
At the start of the season, the Champion Hurdle was the target. But it seems that if Samcro is fit and ready in time, the longer trip of the Stayers’ Hurdle will be his trip. 9/1 is offered by William Hill, which, as with Kalashnikov, is another price that will tempt punters who know the quality of the horse. Paisley Park, who has looked superb over the last few months is market leader at 9/4.
The Gold Cup is given full coverage by this Cheltenham betting guide from Freebets.com, but much of the buzz seems to be centered around two horses, Presenting Percy and Clan Des Obeaux. The former is the favorite, given odds of 7/2 by Betfair. The same bookie gives Clan Des Obeaux odds of 9/2, but that price could drop given the groundswell of momentum around the King George VI Chase winner.
With all the focus on two horses, pundits and punters could end up looking really foolish. There are a host of very good horses who could win the Gold Cup, including last year’s winner, Native River. The 2018 winner hasn’t really done much wrong in terms of his preparation. 6/1 is on the cards from Betfair for Native River.
The one race that seems to be looking like a certainty is the Queen Mother Champion Chase. In a nutshell, the competition seems to be running scared from Altior. His odds have dropped to as low as 4/11 with Bet365, an incredible vote of confidence for one of Cheltenham’s feature races. The most likely candidate still seems like Min, yet there is still hope for stablemate Footpad. The odds for both horses range around 8/1.
Finally, there is what seems to be the most anticipated race of the Cheltenham Festival – the Champion Hurdle. The two-time winner Buveur D’Air will take on the superstar mare Apple’s Jade in what could be a race for the ages. Bookmakers have evenly matched both horses at around 2/1, and pundits are also equally split.
The question at hand is whether we have underestimated Buveur D’Air and overestimated Apple’s Jade chances, but this really does seem like a perfect match-up. However, like the Gold Cup above, when all the focus goes on two horses, other quality runners, like Sharjah, Laurina, and Verdana Blue, can get overlooked. Laurina especially has the goods to play spoiler on the day. The young mare is currently priced at 9/2 with Betfair.
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