Eye On Cheltenham – Defi Du Seuil and Min the big Festival movers after Grade Ones wins this weekend

Defi Du Seuil won a vintage Tingle Creek back in 2019, who will come out on top in this year's renewal?Defi Du Seuil won a vintage Tingle Creek back in 2019, who will come out on top in this year's renewal?

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 from Sandown, Aintree and Punchestown came to an end on Sunday 8th December.

Last year, only three rivals turned up in the Tingle Creek to take on the mighty Altior. Saturday’s renewal, however, was a little different. Altior’s absence encouraged eight runners to take their chance, with Defi Du Seuil leading a field containing three Grade One champions and three Grade Two winners into the breach.

Champion of three years ago, Un De Sceaux took his customary position at the head of the field and Willie Mullins’ eleven-year-old still led the field along on the run to the last. Barry Geraghty, again, timed his late charge on Defi Du Seuil to perfection, hitting the front after the last. The favourite began to tie up in the closing stages, allowing Un De Sceaux and the fast-finishing Waiting Patiently to close the gap, but Defi Du Seuil hung tough in the dying strides to secure a third top-level triumph over fences.

It now seems certain that Hobbs and owner, JP McManus will favour the Champion Chase over the Ryanair, a race Defi Du Seuil remains the ante-post favourite for. Prior to the Tingle Creek, last year’s JLT winner was a 7/1 shot in the Queen Mother, but Ladbrokes moved quickly to cut Defi Du Seuil into 5/1 following his Sandown victory.

Un De Sceaux stuck to his guns valiantly and was clipped into 16s from 20s by Unibet in the betting for the Ryanair. Waiting Patiently’s team seem keen to remain over two miles, after watching their stable star power home at Sandown, and Ruth Jefferson’s eight-year-old was cut into 16/1 for the Champion Chase by Unibet.

Ruby Walsh celebrates Min’s emphatic Melling Chase win.

The second major Grade One of the weekend came to us from Punchestown on Sunday, where Min carried an odds-on price into the John Durkan Memorial Chase. 12 months ago, Willie Mullins’ charge repelled a spirited challenge from Shattered Love to win his first John Durkan. Again, it was a Gigginstown flag-bearer who laid down the stiffest challenge, with Hardline drawing upsides the front-running favourite on the run to the last. A giant leap enabled Min to re-establish a lead over Joseph O’Brien’s challenger and Paul Townend’s mount eventually ran out a comfortable winner.

Having captured his fourth Grade One over fences, Unibet cut Min’s odds in the Ryanair at Cheltenham, listing the former Supreme and Champion Chase runner-up as their 5/1 ante-post favourite, alongside Defi Du Seuil. Presenting Percy also made a pleasing return in the John Durkan, staying on stoutly to finish third, leading to William Hill cutting Pat Kelly’s star into 12s from 16/1 in the betting for the Gold Cup.

There was a second Grade One at Sandown on Saturday but, in truth, this year’s Henry VIII Novices’ Chase wasn’t worth shouting about. Evan Williams’ team were left celebrating as 14/1 shot, Espirit Du Large scored a surprise victory. The winner was then cut into 20/1 for the Arkle, while beaten market leaders, Torpillo and Summerville Boy drifted out to 40s with Paddy Power. It was hardly a race that would worry the likes of Laurina and Fakir D’Oudairies though, as Irish raiders continue to monopolise the ante-post betting for the novice contests at Cheltenham.

Attendees at Aintree this weekend were anticipating a thrilling clash between old foes, Native River and Might Bite in the Many Clouds Chase. Sadly, their showdown ended abruptly, as Nicky Henderson’s charge departed the scene early, allowing Native River to canter home virtually unopposed. The former Gold Cup winner was cut into 14/1 from 20s to reclaim his crown with Betway. Unibet, on the other hand, was unimpressed by the display, pushing Native River out from 12s to 14/1.

Colin Tizzard watched Fiddlerontheroof get off the mark over hurdles at the third attempt, having finished second on his first two starts. Tizzard’s charge then came into 20/1 for the Ballymore, with Unibet slashing Fiddlerontheroof in from 40s to 16/1 in the betting for the Supreme. At Punchestown, Longhouse Poet extended his unbeaten record over hurdles and Martin Brassill’s budding star was cut into 20s for the Ballymore by Unibet.

Tornado Flyer ran out a comfortable winner of a Grade Three Novices’ Chase on Saturday, forcing Unibet to offer fresh quotes of 20/1 in the Arkle and 14/1 for the JLT. Wide Receiver then brought the curtain down on Punchestown’s Saturday card with a smart victory on the flat and Gordon Elliott’s newcomer was subsequently cut into 14/1 for the Champion Bumper by William Hill.

Fiddlerontheroof bolts up under Robbie Power at Sandown on Saturday.

Before Min retain his John Durkan crown on Sunday, Minella Melody and Dunvegan had secured impressive victories of their own. Henry De Bromhead’s young mare was then cut into 12/1 to win the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle by Paddy Power, while Dunvegan received fresh quotes of 33/1 from William Hill for both the Arkle and the JLT.

The ever-popular Top Notch ran out a worthy winner of the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon on Sunday and Paddy Power was impressed enough to cut Nicky Henderson’s yard favourite into 14/1 to win the Ryanair. Earlier in the afternoon, Two For Gold proved his stamina with a decent victory in a three-mile novices’ chase, earning opening quotes of 40/1 from Paddy Power in the betting for the National Hunt Chase.

Cilaos Emery was the main attraction at Cork on Sunday, living up to his star-billing with a comfortable triumph over Ballyoisin in the Hilly Way Chase. Paddy Power then cut Willie Mullins’ chaser in from 12s to 7/1 in the betting for the Champion Chase. Another to impress at Cork was Clemencia, who bolted up in a juvenile hurdle, leading to William Hill inserting Brendan Duke’s filly into the Triumph betting on an opening price of 50/1.

Despite her lengthy win, Clemencia still sits a long way off Goshen, who shot to the head of the Triumph Hurdle betting after another emphatic victory at Sandown on Friday. Gary Moore’s youngster, who had cruised to a 24-length triumph on debut, bettering that performance with a 34-length demolition job in Friday’s opener, with William Hill pushing Goshen into 8/1 favourtism for the 2020 Triumph.

Enrillo came out on top in a weak renewal of the Grade Two Berkshire Novices’ Hurdle, but was still cut into 25/1 for the Ballymore by Unibet. Sporting John and Winningiseverything both managed to extend their unbeaten starts to life over hurdles last week too, with Paddy Power handing out quotes of 20/1 and 33/1 respectively in their betting for the Ballymore.