The busiest Cheltenham Festival market over the last week has been on Betfair, where around £1.5m has been staked on whether it will happen at all. At one point the meeting was no better than evens to take place but it is now long odds-on to open as planned on Tuesday, and also a very short price to do so on soft ground.
There is much less certainty, though, about running plans in several of the novice hurdles in particular, as Gordon Elliott delays a decision on whether to send Envoi Allen to the Supreme on Tuesday or the Ballymore a day later while everyone else tries to second-guess him.
From a betting point of view the shape of both races will change abruptly when the opening-day declarations appear on Sunday and there is little point putting any money down now, though Asterion Forlonge has little to find with Envoi Allen on his winning form at the Dublin Racing Festival and will be a live contender wherever he ends up.
There is no absolute certainty about the make-up of the Champion Hurdle and Mares’ Hurdle either, though it seems likely that both Honeysuckle and Benie Des Dieux will end up in the latter contest, which could leave a slightly under-the-radar Cilaos Emery, whose chasing career has been cut short for now, as a value alternative to Epatante in the Champion.
Elsewhere on the opening-day card, the versatile Who Dares Wins, who has finished third and fifth in competitive handicap hurdles at the last two Festivals off 146 and 149, could be on a very handy mark of 147 for the Ultima Handicap Chase.
Wednesday’s Queen Mother Champion Chase promises to be the race of the meeting as Altior, the winner for the last two seasons, takes on Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi, who is, a little surprisingly, the outsider of the top three in the betting at 11-4. He beat Defi Du Seuil convincingly at Punchestown last year and stopped the clock in an exceptional time in the Dublin Chase last month.
Champ remains favourite for the RSA Chase the same day despite a fall last time out, but his winning form to date does not amount to a great deal and the fast-improving Copperhead could be a very strong opponent.
There will be plenty of sentimental support for the veteran Faugheen in the Marsh Novice Chase on Thursday, but there is a decent case to be made for him on form as well, as his win in the Grade One Flogas Novice Chase last time out is a match for anything in the field. A Plus Tard may be a little too good for Frodon in the Ryanair while Aspire Tower is another interesting contender for the Henry de Bromhead/Rachael Blackmore partnership in Friday’s Triumph Hurdle.
Friday’s Gold Cup, meanwhile, has seven entries at 12-1 or shorter, any one of which would be a plausible victor. Al Boum Photo, last year’s winner, has a clear chance to follow up but his stable-companion Kemboy, who got no further than the first fence last year, has a similar chance on his overall form and is much more generously priced at around 9-1.