Eye on Cheltenham – Festival markets shaken up as Honeysuckle leaps ahead of Benie in Mares’ Hurdle betting

Last year's Mares Hurdle winner Honeysuckle may have bigger fish to fry this time aroundLast year's Mares Hurdle winner Honeysuckle may have bigger fish to fry this time around

We take a look at the latest moves and developments in the ante-post betting for the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, as a weekend of fantastic racing at Newbury and Fairyhouse came to an end on Sunday 1st December.

Wow, what a weekend! National hunt racing fans were treated to three days of thrilling racing from across Britain and Ireland. Emma Lavelle and her team had plenty of reasons to smile at Newbury, as De Rasher Counter landed the Ladbrokes Trophy with a thrilling performance. The best place to start our roundup, however, is Fairyhouse, as the Irish venue staged three fantastic Grade Ones on Sunday afternoon.

First up was the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle, where Envoi Allen extended his unbeaten career record. Like on his hurdles debut at Down Royal, Gordon Elliott’s Champion Bumper winner made the running and gradually pulled clear of his rivals entering the home straight. Stablemate Abacadabras put it up to the odds-on favourite after the last, but Envoi Allen was simply too strong and comfortably held his rival on the run to the line.

Envoi Allen came into 7/2 from 5s with Ladbrokes to win the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. The Ballymore still seems his most likely objective though, with William Hill cutting Envoi Allen in from 3s to 2/1 favouritism for that two-and-a-half miler. Abacadabras impressed with his strong second-place finish and saw his price in the Supreme cut from 12s into 8/1 with William Hill.

Fakir D’Oudairies making a winning start to life over fences at Navan.

Fakir D’Oudairies and Samcro then clashed in the Drinmore Novice Chase and it was Joseph O’Brien’s charge who garnered most of the support in the build-up. Fakir D’Oudaires made the running and outjumped his rivals throughout. Samcro always kept himself within touching distance though, and seemed to be going the better as he pulled upsides his rival on the run to the second-last.

Just when it seemed he was about to take over, Samcro slipped upon landing the penultimate fence and Jack Kennedy was hurled to the ground. This left Fakir D’Oudairies alone at the head of the field and O’Brien’s four-year-old cantered home to win by 22 lenghts.

Despite his fall, Samcro impressed enough to see his odds in the JLT cut across the boards, with Paddy Power going as short as 4/1. Although Fakir D’Oudairies was cut into 12/1 from 16s by Ladbrokes in the betting for the JLT, a drop back to two miles seems to be the most sensible plan for the Festival, with William Hill now listing Joseph O’Brien’s charge as the 9/2 second-favourite for the Arkle behind Laurina.

An hour later, Apple’s Jade set out on her mission to win a fourth-straight Hatton’s Grace Hurdle. Yet, it was fellow mare Honeysuckle who made the headlines. Henry De Bromhead’s unbeaten hurdler sat comfortably in the midfield throughout and moved into contention rounding the final bend. Bacardys attempted to hang onto the favourite’s coat-tails, but his efforts were in vain, as Honeysuckle ran out an emphatic victor.

A general 9/2 shot before the race, Honeysuckle shot to the head of the Mares’ Hurdle market following her Hatton’s Grace victory. Ladbrokes now list De Bromhead’s charge as the 7/4 favourite, ahead of previous winner Benie Des Dieux, who remains a 2/1 shot.

The first Grade One this weekend should have been a walk in the park for Buveur D’Air, who went into the Fighting Fifth Hurdle as the 1/5 favourite. With no-one keen to make the running, Cornerstone Lad stole a ten-length lead right at the start of the race and, try as he might, Buveur D’Air failed to bridge the gap, falling to defeat by a nose.

Micky Hammond’s winner then entered the Champion Hurdle betting at 33/1 with Ladbrokes. Buveur D’Air, who may have suffered a season-ending splinter injury during that defeat, slipped down the betting for Tuesday’s Championship race, with Ladbrokes now listing the former two-time winner as a 10/1 shot.

The Paisley Park team celebrate their triumph in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Champ kicked off Newbury’s Winter Carnival in dramatic fashion on Friday, powering home late in the day to win the Berkshire Novices’ Chase. Barry Geraghty had some ground to make up coming down the home straight and was forced to take evasive action on the run to the line to avoid the elbow on the run to the line. Yet, Champ got the victory and Nicky Henderson’s charge was cut at the top of the betting for the RSA, with William Hill now quoting Champ as the 7/2 lone favourite.

Paisley Park then took the track at Newbury, as last year’s top staying hurdler made his highly-anticipated reappearance in the Long Distance Hurdle. Shouldering a Grade One-winners penalty, Paisley Park travelled and jumped beautifully, hitting the front on the run to the last. Thistlecrack rolled back the years to really test Emma Lavelle’s stable-star, but the favourite did enough to get the job done and was much better value for his victory than the winning margin suggested.

Last year’s winner was already the firm favourite to retain his Stayer’s Hurdle crown, and after making a winning start to the campaign, Paisley Park was cut into 7/4 from 2/1 by Paddy Power. Thistlecrack, who’s next assignment will be in the King George, entered the Stayers’ Hurdle reckoning with a fine runner-up finish, receiving quotes of 20/1 with Paddy Power.

Like Champ and Paisley Park before him, Reserve Tank was expected to carry an odds-on price to victory in the John Francombe on Saturday. Yet, Colin Tizzard’s charge was upstaged by outsider of the three, Danny Whizzbang. Whereas the market leader was inclined to jump out to his left and found little when push came to shove, Harry Cobden’s mount jumped straight as an arrow and responded brilliantly to his rider’s urgings, claiming an impressive Grade Two victory on his first start over the larger obstacles.

William Hill was suitably impressed enough to enter Danny Whizzbang into the RSA betting on a price of 14/1, while also quoting Paul Nicholls’ chaser as a 10/1 shot in the betting for the National Hunt Chase. Another big mover in the National Hunt betting was Carefully Selected, who survived a terrible error at the second-last to open his account over fences, earning fresh quotes of 14/1 to win what was formerly known as the four-miler.

Floressa produced an eye-catching performance to win the Listed Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle that opened proceedings at Newbury on Saturday, and her price to win at the Cheltenham Festival was halved as a result, coming in from 16s to 8/1 with William Hill. In the opening juvenile contest at Fairyhouse on Sunday, Cerberus got the better of stablemate A Wave Of The Sea and both of Joseph O’Brien’s youngsters were cut in the Triumph Hurdle betting afterwards, coming into 12/1 and 20/1 respectively.