2021 Cheltenham Festival tips – Tips for Championship races and Ryanair

Al Boum Phot (far side) winning the 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup.Al Boum Phot (far side) winning the 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Jon Vine picks out his best 2021 Cheltenham Festival tips in the four Championship races and the Ryanair Chase at next year’s meeting on Tuesday 16th March.

The dust is starting to settle on another Cheltenham Festival, and the 2020 meeting delivered just as much as we all expected. Epatante and Al Boum Photo lived up to their short price-tags in the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup respectively. Politologue downed Defi Du Seuil’s colours with a fine front-running effort in the Champion Chase, before Lisnagar Oscar pulled off one of the biggest shocks in Cheltenham history, carrying odds of 66/1 to victory in the Stayers’ Hurdle.

With the coronavirus pandemic causing a halt to all major sporting events, it’s given me a little more time to look back on last week’s festivities to see if I can find some good value bets for next year’s meeting. I’ve taken a look at the markets for the four major Championship races, plus the fifth major, the Ryanair, and come up with my best 2021 Cheltenham Festival tips.

2021 Cheltenham Festival Ante-Post Tips

2021 Champion Hurdle Tips – Goshen

Despite many claiming it was one of the most open Champion Hurdles for years, Epatante proved she was a cut above the competition with a composed performance. Nicky Henderson’s mare was very good value for her victory and could have further improvement left in the tank. However, there’s no denying that it was a very weak division this year. The fact that Sharjah – a known hater of soft ground – and Darver Star – who started the season rated just 119 – finished so close to Epatante illustrates the lack of depth in the two mile division.

Abacadabras will surely be pointed at the title that has long eluded Gigginstown and Gordon Elliott’s Supreme runner-up is greatly respected. That being said, the 2021 Champion Hurdle tip you simply have to back at this stage is GOSHEN.

I thought Gary Moore’s charge was a big-fat lay leading into a very competitive Triumph Hurdle. Out of the four leading contenders, Goshen brought the worst form to the table and he’s never run on a left-handed track. What followed was nothing short of a procession. Goshen sat happily alongside the front-running Allmankind, and the early pace was too much for the likes of Solo and Aspire Tower to live with. As his rival began to paddle, Goshen pulled effortlessly clear on the turn for home and victory seemed a mere formality.

In a shocking turn of events, Goshen clattered through the final flight. Jamie Moore might have been able to survive that error, had his mount’s front-left and back-left shoes not become tangled, causing Goshen to stumble even further out of balance and fling his rider from the saddle.

Gary Moore will have been devastated to have not collected the Triumph Trophy. Yet, it was a performance that left everyone in no doubt that Goshen is the best juvenile of this generation and a really exciting hurdler moving forward.

I’m often at pains to side with juveniles during their second-season over hurdles, as they can often struggle. Just look at how Pentland Hills and Fusil Raffles have failed to progress this term. I am, however, prepared to relax that rule for Goshen and he’s my early 2021 Cheltenham Festival tip.

Goshen Triumph Hurdle Cheltenham

Goshen’s shoes get tangled after that mistake at the final flight in the Triumph Hurdle.

2021 Champion Chase Tips – A Plus Tard

Nicky Henderson remains confident Altior will be back for a third crack at the Queen Mother in 2021. Yet, the four-time Cheltenham king will be 11 when next year’s meeting rolls around and he will have to prove he’s not a force on the decline. Chacun Pour Soi heads the current ante-post betting, but Willie Mullins’ charge is simply too fragile to be trusted with any type of bet.

We certainly didn’t see the real Defi Du Seuil at Cheltenham last week. Philip Hobbs’ charge didn’t travel with his usual fluency, and the tank was empty a long way from home. He’ll likely return for another crack at this prize in 2021 and I wouldn’t put anyone off backing the former two-time Festival winner.

That being said, if you’d have told Henry De Bromhead that both Altior and Chacun Pour Soi would be forced out of the 2020 Champion Chase, I have no doubt he would have sent A PLUS TARD to Wednesday’s feature instead of the Ryanair and he could be an excellent 2021 Champion Chase tip.

A Plus Tard used his superior staying ability to streak clear of Chacun Pour Soi when then clashed over Christmas. Many would argue that Mullins’ charge was in need of the run that day. Yet, the time of that race was three seconds quicker than the Dublin Chase Chacun Pour Soi won over the same course-and-distance in February, and the later of those races was run on quicker ground.

A Plus Tard didn’t run badly at all in the Ryanair, but he couldn’t must the turn of foot he displayed over two-miles. Rachael Blackmore’s mount would have had no trouble sitting on the pace set by Politologue in the Champion Chase, and I would have bet my hat that a Plus Tard would have been able to pass the leader on the run to the line. De Bromhead’s star could be an excellent each-way 2021 Cheltenham Festival tip in the second Championship race of the meeting.

2021 Ryanair Chase Tips – Saint Calvados

Min finally claimed the Cheltenham Festival title his career-deserved last week, hanging tough at the front of the field to repel two capable challengers in the Ryanair. Mullins’ star is the early favourite to retain his crown in 2021. I. however, would rather side with this year’s runner-up, SAINT CALVADOS turning the tables on his rival.

Gavin Sheehan held his mount up off the pace early on, steadily working their way into contention as the race unfolded. Approaching the second-last, Saint Calvados had the leader in his cross-hairs, but Min comprehensively outjumped his rival at the final couple of obstacles. Whittington’s star rallied on the run to the line, but Min held on gamely to secure a narrow victory.

Considering that was just his second start over two-and-a-half miles, and the fact he’d run well in three gruelling handicaps in the build-up, I thought it was a magnificent performance from Saint Calvados. He proved he had the class to hang with the best over that trip and, seeing as he’s still only seven-years-of-age, there’s plenty of reason to suggest there’s more improvement to come from this classy chaser. Saint Calvados is a confident ante-post 2021 Cheltenham Festival tip.

Min Saint Calvados Ryanair Chase

Min heads Saint Calvados jumping the last in the 2020 Ryanair Chase.

2021 Stayers Hurdle Tips – Thyme Hill

Paisley Park succumbed to defeat in the Stayers’ Hurdle, but there’s no reason to write Emma Lavelle’s charge off. An unusually poor display could be attributed to the irregular heart-beat the veterinary staff discovered after the race, and the former winner offers excellent ante-post value sitting on a price of 8/1.

However, that defeat proved Paisley Park wasn’t infallible and I’m going to take him on with THYME HILL, who will almost certainly be pointed at the 2021 Stayers’ Hurdle after an excellent novice hurdles campaign.

Philip Hobbs’ star went into the Albert Bartlett on the back of three smart victories. Back-to-back Grade Two triumphs were followed by a workmanlike victory in the Challow Hurdle, where Thyme Hill made a real hash of the final flight but still had enough left in the tank to secure victory.

Richard Johnson trod a wide path around the large field in the Albert Bartlett, but your eyes were drawn to Thyme Hill as he loomed into contention coming down Cleeve Hill. Johnson’s move to grab the stands’ rail was repelled by Latest Exhibition, after which Thyme Hill was sandwiched by Monkfish, who drifted right in-towards his Irish rival. Thyme Hill was again forced to find another path to glory after the final flight, but Johnson’s charge couldn’t pick up again, crossing the line a not-so-distant fourth.

Had it not been for those traffic problems, Thyme Hill could easily have won the Albert Bartlett. Hobbs confirmed earlier in the season that this is a Stayers’ Hurdle horse, and not a future chaser. Thyme Hill has plenty more to learn about three-mile racing, and he looks to have guts and quality to progress into Stayers’ Hurdle contender. He looks the best 2021 Cheltenham Festival tip sitting on 16/1.

20201 Gold Cup Tips – Lostintranslation

Many believe that backing a second-season chaser in the Cheltenham Gold Cup is the best way to go. Three top contenders came out of the 2020 RSA, where Champ surged home to deny Minella Indo and Allaho. Of the three, Minella Indo would be my preferred bet. However, I would rather side with one who has experienced National Hunt racing’s most prestigious event.

Al Boum Photo ran out a deserved winner for the second year on the bounce. Willie Mullins will take his star down the same route as he bids to join the illustrious club of three-time Gold Cup winners, and it’s hard to side against Al Boum Photo at this stage.

Santini ran a blinder to place second, and has relatively few miles on the clock compared to some of his rivals. Delta Work enjoyed a torrid trip on his Gold Cup debut, and for Gordon Elliott’s charge to finish as close as he did to the winners is testament to this horse’s ability. Both make appealing cases, yet, I’m inclined to take another chance on my Gold Cup tip in this year’s contest, LOSTINTRANSLATION.

The Betfair Chase winner was a big drifter on the day of the Gold Cup. Mainly due to the poor form Colin Tizzard’s stable had been in during the week. Despite arriving with several strong contenders, the best result any of Tizzard’s horses had managed was The Big Breakway’s 14-length fourth in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. As support came from the likes of Al Boum Photo, Santini and Delta Work, Lostintranslation drifted right out to 10/1 and was barely mentioned in the build-up.

In stark contrast to his showing in the King George, Robbie Power’s mount travelled sweetly throughout the opening circuit-and-a-half, jumping confidently along the inside rail. At the top of the hill, Power angled his mount out into the centre of the track and, jumping the last, Lostintranslation had nosed his way to the front. Al Boum Photo was quicker away from the final flight, and try as he might, Lostintranslation couldn’t respond, and was relegated into third by the fast-finishing Santini.

Al Boum Photo gained all the plaudits after the race, and rightly so. However, considering the dismal form his trainer’s yard was in, and the injury-hit build-up to the race, I thought Lostintranslation was the one to take out of the race. Tizzard’s star will be back for another crack next year, and I see no reason why he can’t follow in the footsteps of Native River and win with Gold Cup on his second attempt. At 16/1, he’s the best 2021 Cheltenham Festival tip in the Gold Cup.