Horse Racing in the next 12 months: What can we expect? One eye on the 2021 Cheltenham Festival

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Richards guarded on Simply Ned's Cheltenham chances

2020 has had a nasty habit of throwing up surprises thus far. In fact, I have never seen the word ‘unprecedented’ used in such abundance in all my years on this earth.

With life as we know it taking a huge hit from the influence of Covid-19, of course the world of horse racing has been no exception. We were without racing at all for a few weeks from March 18th and into April in what many consider the beginning of the outbreak of the virus within the UK, as it reached our shores from foreign lands. Since, we have been lucky enough to have racing back up and running, if only with the absence of spectators, punters and of course bookmakers on the course itself.

Various postponements to high profile flat race meetings have no doubt been a schedulers nightmare and its credit, in my opinion at least, to the BHA and other involved authorities that we have been able to see plenty of high-quality race meetings in the UK. The lack of crowds has not seemed to dampen spirits too much and whether it be from Frankie Dettoris’ exuberant fist pumping and leaping celebrations on Enable when romping home (admittedly in a depleted field) for her record breaking fourth King George VI as Ascot last month or be it at the more modest venue Lingfield park where we saw the enviably talented Hollie Doyle scuttle off yet another treble in her inevitable journey to the top – we’ve been very lucky to have the sport we all know and love back in close to all its former glory. Horse racing can often be the target for criticism (rightly or wrongly) on a plethora of issues, but it is hard not to feel proud of how the sport has conducted itself during a time of crisis.

However, what is behind us is firmly behind us and we are now blessed with the prospect of horse racing in the remainder of 2020 and into 2021, with the conclusion of the flat season and the return of National Hunt racing with the build up to the crescendo to the Cheltenham Festival 2021. Who knows what the racing scene will look like by that point, with economic concerns for stables only somewhat allayed by the government’s £2.5 million scheme and many fingers being pointed at the fact that Cheltenham 2020 was even allowed to go ahead as a flashpoint for the initial spread of the virus in the Gloucestershire area and ultimately the UK. This could point to a very different feel at least in terms of public perception of mass gatherings, but hopefully we will be somewhat over the hill by that point in time and things will be safe enough for fans to have returned to the racecourse in some form so that the famous Cheltenham roar can be heard on March 16th  (Champion Day) when the tape goes back for the off for the Supreme Novices Hurdle.

Ones to Follow

With all this in mind, it is worth looking at a few familiar names to follow for the big races in the remainder of this calendar year and looking into next. Some inspiration has been taken from last year’s festival to analyse and speculate about where they might end up in 2021. Similar insight can be found via Betting Gods daily free horse racing analysis from their in house team of experts.

Envoi Allen

We begin with an obvious choice for a horse to follow. Cheveley Park’s Envoi Allen is trained in Ireland by Co. Meath trainer Gordon Elliott. Envoi Allen is yet to lose a race under any code since debut in 2018 where he won a Ballinaboola maiden. His real emergence onto the scene was through the Champion Bumper at the festival in 2019. We’re yet to hear from Elliott on where he plans to take 2020’s Ballymore hurdle winner, but it’s relatively safe to say he will probably go chasing in the season ahead. As a 6-year-old entering the NH hunt season, the way in which he pings the hurdles in a style reminiscent of a 2018 Buveur D’air should indicate that his talent will be translated over larger obstacles. We are likely to see him attempt the RSA Chase in a steppingstone to the 2022 Gold Cup, but it will remain to be seen whether that is his course for now. More will be revealed as the beginning of the season pans out.

Appreciate It

Second in the Cheltenham festival bumper last year to Ferny Hollow – incidentally another Cheveley Park owned horse- Appreciate It went off as a 15/8 favourite on the day, after being heavily supported in Ante post markets after back to back wins at Leopardstown in the winter of 2019. If it were not for the upending of Benie des Dieux and Tiger Roll earlier in the week, there would have been some seriously miffed multiple backers watching their bet go down by a couple of lengths in the last race of the festival. Although it goes to show, that the old mantra of not backing a favourite in the Champion Bumper once again rang true. Appreciate It will be campaigned over hurdles this year as a 5-year-old with a run at the Supreme Novices or Ballymore the most likely targets. I think it’s a fair shout to say that the Mullins horse is decent value at 16/1 Antepost for the races respectively and possesses the kind of profile required to turn the tables on Ferny Hollow. Other notable runners in the division to follow include; Flinteur Sacre (brother of the notable chaser Sprinter Sacre), Queen’s Brook (third in the Champion Bumper), The Glancing Queen for Alan King who travelled with a great deal of credit for the most part of the race until having to go very wide for the last 3f and Fergal O’Brien’s Ask A Honey Bee.

Goshen

Probably one of the biggest shocks of the 2020 Cheltenham was when Goshen unseated Jamie Moore over the last hurdle when tanking along on the bridle. You had to feel for Jamie Moore as a jockey with only one strong festival ride seeing his chance slip as Goshen stumbled and he was unable to correct himself. That being said, Gary Moore’s horse clearly has bundles of ability and can be seen to equally good effect on the flat to over hurdles. There is no doubt that Goshen will be back, he’s supposedly going to be targeted at the Champion hurdle where he will likely meet Epatante as an adversary. We will have to wait and see if this transpires and see how the Moores’ campaign the horse but what a potential match up we have if the two line up against one another come next March.

Chacun Pour Soi

Willie Mullins Chacun Pour Soi was officially the highest rated chaser in training in 2019/2020. He was many punters choice for the Champion Chase, even with Altior and Defi Du Seuil. In the end, CPS was withdrawn on the day due to a stone bruise picked up on the gallops. Bitterly disappointing for connections and backers alike and added to the drama that Altior was also withdrawn due to injury, the door was left open for other fan favourite Defi to capitalise…. Queue Paul Nicholls Politologue hosing up and delivering the eleven-time Champion Trainer his third Champion Chase. CPS is the picture-perfect idea of a Champion Chaser, and with any progress should be bang there in 2021. Bun Doran ran an absolute screamer in the 2020 Champion Chase also and isn’t without ability. He is one to keep on side for the 2021 season.

Champ

Named after one of racings most famous and successful National Hunt jockeys, A.P McCoy, Henderson’s Champ somehow managed to win last year’s RSA in an astounding finish to the race. Allaho was favourite for the race and travelled like the winner much of the race, with a mistake at the second last blunting his potency at the finish. It looked certain that either Minella Indo or the aforementioned Allaho had it between them right until the final 200 yards where Champ came flying past the two who, in all fairness, looked dead on their feet for their respective exertions. The naming of this horse after such a revered sporting icon should indicate at the very least that he is talented, Nicky Henderson indicated he had been waiting some time to name a horse after McCoy. It’s fair to say, however, that his jumping has been a little questionable. He whacked just about every single fence he jumped in 2019, but there’s still some hope for him to mature and progress into something akin to his namesake yet. You can get 12/1 about him for the Gold Cup next year and that might not be such a bad bet. Could he dethrone back to back winner Al Boum Photo?

Easysland

Easysland looked an absolute revelation in his 7 unbeaten performances last season. Previously owned by Cristopher Edwards, he joined J P McManus’ incredible roster of talent in February 2020. Remaining with French trainer David Cottin ahead of 2021, the conqueror of Tiger Roll in last year’s festival X-Country race is touted to continue in ruthless fashion. It was no surprise to those in the know to see this horse streak seventeen lengths clear up the run in and despite the fact that Tiger Roll was likely feeling the effects of the marathon Grand National trip just a month prior in combination with the less than ideal soft ground, it was a mightily impressive performance on the clock. He will be weighted in handicap races accordingly should his progress resume but a high handicap mark didn’t stop Tiger Roll in his progress when winning back to back nationals, so if that is to be where Easysland is aimed – it’s entirely possible he could be coming for the King’s throne. Cottin himself, however, has been quoted saying “It would be a dream to win the Gold Cup” so plenty of question marks remain over where the horse may run in 2021.

Night Edition

Slightly less high profile than the megastars mentioned thus far is the Tizzard trained Night Edition. Second only to monster Gamble, Aramax, in the Fred Winter of 2020 this horse will have been in a fair few shrewd operator’s trackers ahead of the festival and nearly slipped the field at generous odds of 20-1. A promising run at Cheltenham in the January at a festival trial saw him beaten into second by Galahad’s Quest, but with more than his fair share of excuses. Backed up next time out at Ludlow with a winning favourites performance, the conditions were in his favour as the soft ground he had recently thrived on came to the fore. With further progress to be expected, there is surely more to come from this 4-year-old.

Emitom

Lastly is the Warren Greatrex trained, Emitom. He is a scopey and imposing hurdler sired by Gold Well. At only 6 years old, this horse has plenty of experience and seems to progress the further he runs. Beaten by Rebecca Curtis’ 50/1 shot Lisnagar Oscar in last year’s staying hurdle race, Emitom showed an impressive engine to stay on for fourth. Greatrex said “He is only six and is maybe still a bit weak to get home properly in a race like that, but he has run very well and from my point of view the most exciting part is there is plenty more there. There is a lot to look forward to.” Everything about this horse screams chaser, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him running in one of the 3m chasing races at Cheltenham come March 2021, with a price of 20/1 available Ante Post for the RSA currently.

 

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