Festival Fever is on the horizon…

As the cold of winter sets in, all of the pieces are moving and forming into the picture that will become the 2017 Cheltenham Festival in a couple of months time. The Christmas period always provides a whole bunch of insights and clues as to the likely contenders and their target races for Cheltenham, but as usual there are countless possibilities.

One thing is for sure, betting on Cheltenham Festival races will be fierce not just that week, but ante-post in the weeks leading up to the event in March. As we alluded to above, several high profile horses have more than one possible target.

The hugely exciting Colin Tizzard trained Finian’s Oscar is now as low as 6/1 with SkyBet to win the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on day one. The Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle winner has only had two career starts and is clearly a horse of huge potential, but he could also be headed for the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle over four furlongs further. This race will be very tempting for connections, especially when they see the bookmakers make the horse a clear favourite in the ante-post markets. This is in part owing to us not knowing what Willie Mullins will come up with, but Finian’s Oscar has been one of, if not the most eye-catching novice so far, on either side of the Irish Sea.

Meanwhile, Gordon Elliott last weekend said that Death Duty is the best horse he’s had at this stage, this on the same week that his Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Don Cossack was retired due to injury. The popular trainer will be hoping this exciting novice hurdler can pick up where Don Cossack left off in terms of Grade 1 potential and the six-year-old has done all the right things so far, winning a Grade 1 over two miles four furlongs at Naas last week.

But again in terms of a Cheltenham target, Death Duty could go for the Neptune, for which he is around 8/1 (12/1 with Betfair), or the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle. The latter named race is generally seen as the more likely target, a point cemented by the fact he is a general 9/4 favourite for the three mile Grade 1 contest, but equally the Neptune could make sense closer the time.

Getting into the conversation of Willie Mullins and what he might run and where is a dangerous game to play, but the most high profile of his potential runners on day one will be defending Champion Hurdler Annie Power and her predecessor Faugheen, both of whom are on the comeback trail. Racing purists would absolutely love to see these two enigmatic champions and indeed stablemates clash in the Champion Hurdle, but owner of both Rich Ricci is likely to spread his wealth among other big races; with Faugheen or Annie Power capable of stepping up in trip for the Sun Bets Stayers Hurdle.

One horse whose target is not in question is Thistlecrack, who trades at a shade of odds-on for Gold Cup glory after his King George romp. A very special talent, we can only wish him a safe preparation and hope he gets there in one piece. He is a unique horse, brilliantly handled by Colin Tizzard and is one to savour in the final day showpiece.

It remains to be seen how the Cheltenham Festival 2017 betting scene will unfold as a whole, but whatever happens the festival is coming and along with it, a legion of jumps fans descending upon Prestbury Park for a week of the best racing around – bring it on!

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Photo source https://www.flickr.com/photos/43555660@N00/5583185146

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