Outside bets for Cheltenham’s five biggest races

11th February 2021

As we entered the new year, the attention of horse racing fans was already being drawn towards the Cheltenham Festival, such is the meeting’s magnitude in the horse racing calendar. Usually, hundreds of thousands of spectators will descend on the Cheltenham concourses across the four days, and while sadly that won’t be possible this year, there is still the prospect of a hugely entertaining Festival.

For many fans, much of the excitement surrounds the meeting’s feature races, namely the Champion Hurdle, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Ryanair Chase, the Stayers’ Hurdle and of course the Gold Cup. These are the races that every jockey and trainer want to win, and they’re the races that the punters spend the most time agonising over when the new Cheltenham betting odds are released each year.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five horses that could make an impact in each of these respective races, even though they may not be among the top favourites.

Champion Hurdle – Saint Roi

The day one showpiece could be a big occasion for Saint Roi this year. Trained by Willie Mullins, the six-year-old earned a fine victory in the County Handicap Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, and now sights will be set on the Champion Hurdle. It’s a big ask given some of the competition, with Epatante the clear favourite and Sharjah and Honeysuckle not far behind.

Defeat in his last two races means Saint Roi’s odds are lengthier than they might be otherwise, but there is no doubting the talent of Mullins’ youngster.

Queen Mother Champion Chase – First Flow

All talk ahead of the Champion Chase is focused on evens favourite Chacun Pour Soi, along with two-time Queen Mother winner Altior. Both horses were forced to withdraw from the day two feature race last year, and so this year the focus of both horses’ connections will be on making the most of the opportunity. However, with a win in the Clarence House Chase in January, First Flow’s odds have been shortened and he could be an interesting pick.

The Kim Bailey-trained horse got the better of last year’s Champion Chase winner Politologue in that Ascot success, and that could be a sign that he is ready to take on the big guns at Cheltenham.

Ryanair Chase – Samcro

It’s not altogether clear which race Gordon Elliott will choose to enter Samcro in, but if he does opt for the Ryanair Chase then perhaps the nine-year-old could be an interesting shout to win it. Last year at Cheltenham, Samcro emerged triumphant after an incredibly close finish to the Marsh Novices’ Chase, getting the better of Melon and pre-race favourite Faugheen.

Although Samcro’s form since that win has been unconvincing, the experience of winning at Cheltenham last year will stand Elliott’s horse in good stead.

Stayers’ Hurdle – Fury Road

Fury Road’s quest for a maiden Cheltenham Festival victory fell just short last year as he lost out in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle by the narrowest of margins. He was right in with a shout but both Monkfish and Latest Exhibition pipped him at the post, but with more experience under his belt, the Elliott-trained seven-year-old could be in with a shout in the Stayers’ Hurdle.

Top favourites for the race include Paisley Park and Thyme Hill, but it’s tough to predict how the Cheltenham Festival racecards will end up when push comes to shove next month.

Gold Cup – Frodon

Given Frodon’s win in the King George VI Chase back in December, it’s perhaps slightly surprising that the Paul Nicholls-trained horse is as far out as 14/1 to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Jockey Bryony Frost will be determined to earn another fine win with Frodon, and although they have the small matter of two-time defending champion Al Boum Photo to deal with, Frost will be relishing the challenge.

Al Boum Photo is seeking to equal Arkle and Best Mate’s record of three successive Gold Cup triumphs, but the pressure could get to jockey Paul Townend. If it does, there’s every chance Frodon and Frost will be there to capitalise.