Cheltenham 2019: Big Rivalries Could Make for Vintage Festival
There are many factors that can make for a great racing festival. Factors like hospitality and the weather can be very important, but you also want the action on the course to be memorable. While it’s great to see horses stamping their authority on a race and winning at a canter, the races that stick with us for longer are those that are battles between great rivals.
Last year at Cheltenham we were treated to a thrilling Gold Cup when the two favourites, Might Bite and Native River, recalling the epic battles of Denman and Kauto Star, battled all the way to the finish. However, this year it looks like some unmissable duels are shaping up in the biggest races. Here’s a flavour of some of the battles you could witness if you are making the trip to the 2019 Cheltenham Festival:
Cheltenham Gold Cup: Presenting Percy vs Native River
Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that Might Bite will be in good enough condition to give us a rerun of last year’s Gold Cup showdown, although he may still have some backers at 16/1. However, it looks like last year’s winner, Native River, may have a huge test on his hands with the highly-rated Presenting Percy, who has been given the nod as 3/1 favourite in the current Cheltenham betting markets with 888sport. Native River has the stamina, but the brilliant Presenting Percy seems ready to step up and take his first Gold Cup. This could be a classic.
Champion Hurdle: Buveur D’Air vs Apple’s Jade
Make no mistake about it: Gordon Elliott’s statement that he would likely but his superstar mare Apple’s Jade into the Champion Hurdle has made it the must-see race of the Festival. Two-time champion Buveur D’Air has blown away the opposition in this race in the last couple of years, but he has yet to come up against a horse with the credentials and form of 10-time Grade 1 winner Apple’s Jade. Both horses are given odds of 7/4 for the race. However, don’t rule out Willie Mullins’ unbeaten Laurina (7/2), an incredible prospect who could take the spotlight away from the leading pair.
Queen Mother Champion Chase: Altior vs Min
History can repeat itself in horse racing, and we could have been making the same case this time last year. On one hand we have Altior, arguably the best jumps horse on the face of the earth. He will be going for his 18th successive victory and his fourth consecutive Grade 1 win at the Cheltenham Festival. On the other hand, we have Min, fresh off a win in the Dublin Chase and installed, as in 2018, as Altior’s closest challenger at odds of 6/1. The problem for Min is that he has faced Altior twice at Cheltenham before, finishing runner up in the 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the 2018 Champion Chase. Min is a brilliant, well-loved horse, but can he step up to the challenge of the 4/9 hot-favourite?
The Festival: Ireland vs Britain
The only rivalry at Cheltenham that has stood the test of time. The Irish have had the upper hand in recent years, with trainers from the Emerald Isle taking 17 of the 28 races last year. Nicky Henderson, Colin Tizzard and Paul Nicholls will be hoping to readdress that balance this year. It’s a friendly, yet fierce, rivalry, something enhanced by the legions of Irish fans making the trip to the south of England for the national hunt racing spectacular.