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Eye On Cheltenham – Champion Hurdle betting becomes even more blurred as Call Me Lord enters Festival equation

We take a look through all the major developments in the betting for the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, following an excellent weekend of racing at Cheltenham and Naas came to an end on Sunday 15th December.

The International Meeting at Cheltenham always throws up plenty of clues for that season’s Festival, and this year’s meeting was no different. The feature race of the meeting was the International Hurdle and it was Nicky Henderson who was left celebrating, after Call Me Lord claimed Grade Two glory.

Despite no previous runs on left-handed tracks in Britain, Call Me Lord was backed into short-priced favouritism before the off, with punters preferring James Bowen’s mount over last season’s Triumph winner, Pentland Hills. The race itself turned into a bit of a sprint down the home straight and Call Me Lord rewarded his backers with a fine display, holding on from fast-finishing outsider Ballyandy to make a winning debut at Cheltenham.

Events during the early weeks of the campaign have left the Champion Hurdle picture looking decidedly murky and Call Me Lord was the latest to throw his hat into the ring with race-sponsors Unibet, who cut Henderson’s charge into 16/1 from 25s. Pentland Hills, who tanked through the race before finishing a tired fourth, initially drifted out from 7s to 12/1, before bookmakers took stock on Sunday and cut the two-time Grade One-winning juvenile back into 8/1.

Along with Call Me Lord, the other big Festival mover from this year’s International Meeting was French raider Easysland, who bounded to a comfortable victory in Friday’s Cross Country, despite a few perilous leaps. William Hill then made Easysland the 6/1 second-favourite behind the great Tiger Roll, while pushing Yanworth – who fell when biding his time in the rear – out to 8/1 from 6s.

Chantry House made a winning start to life over hurdles in the opening race of the International Meeting, battling back bravely after looking beat to score in a two-mile Novices’ Hurdle. Bet365 were quick to cut Chantry House into 12/1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, while also cutting Nicky Henderson’s novice in from 20s to 8/1 for the Ballymore.

Pym was cut into 20/1 for both the RSA and the National Hunt Chase after an impressive victory over 25-and-a-half furlongs on day one. Then, on Saturday, Botox Has earned fresh quotes of 20/1 from Paddy Power to win the Triumph Hurdle, after seeing off Langer Dan to win the opener on day two by five lengths.

Mister Fisher wins nicely over fences at Cheltenham.

Mister Fisher and Good Boy Bobby went head-to-head in the Ryman’s Novices’ Chase, with the former displaying a nice turn-of-foot to put the race to bed. Mister Fisher was then cut into 12/1 to win the JLT at the Festival with Unibet, who also clipped Good Boy Bobby in from 40s to 20/1 after running a fine race behind an impressive winner.

Redford Road then got the better of Champagne Well to win the Grade Two Bristol Novices’ Hurdle, earning himself quotes of 16/1 in the betting for the Albert Bartlett with bet365. Champagne Well, who jumped the last in the lead before being outstayed on the run to the line, remained an unchanged 40/1 shot in the Albert Bartlett, but had his odds cut for the Ballymore by bet365, who clipped Fergal O’Brien’s runner-up into 25/1.

While there was another major meeting taking place at Doncaster over Friday and Saturday, in truth, it was hardly high in quality. Sam Spinner survived a scare to win the December Novices’ Chase and remains a 12/1 shot to win the National Hunt Chase at the Festival. Navajo Pass held Lord Lamington at bay to win an attritional renewal of the Summit Juvenile Hurdle, leading to Paddy Power pulling him into 33/1 to win the Triumph at Cheltenham.

The most eye-catching winner at Doncaster this week was Knight In Dubai, who carried a penalty to victory in a two-and-a-half-mile Novices’ Chase, forcing Unibet to cut Dan Skelton’s charge into 25s from 33/1 to win the JLT. First Flow also earned quotes of 33/1 to win the Arkle with William Hill, after scoring a 20-length triumph in a match-race over two miles.

Over in Ireland, all eyes were on Andy Dufresne, as Gordon Elliott’s youngster carried odds of 1/3 into a Grade Two over two-and-a-half miles. The Navan crowd, however, were left slightly dumbstruck, as Last Exhibition ground down the front-running favourite to eventually score a convincing victory.

With no excuse as to why the overwhelming market leader was beaten, Andy Dufresne drifted massively in the betting for all three of the novice hurdles at Cheltenham. Unibet pushed Gordon Elliott’s charge out from 10s to 25/1 for the Supreme, while William Hill handed Andy Dufrene fresh quotes of 20/1 for the Ballymore, having previously been as short as 8/1. Paddy Power was also unimpressed with the favourite’s display, pushing Andy Dufresne out from 10s to 20/1 in the betting for the Albert Bartlett.

Last Exhibition (near) passes Andy Dufresne after the last to win at Navan.

Having lowered Andy Dufresne’s colours, Last Exhibition moved in the opposite direction, with Unibet quoting Paul Nolan’s charge as a 14/1 shot for both the Ballymore and the Albert Bartlett. Monkfish also made waves in the Albert Bartlett betting, following a simple triumph in a three-mile novice hurdle, with Paddy Power cutting Willie Mullins’ youngster into 20s from 25/1.

On Monday, Bapaume got off the mark over fences with a faultless jumping display at Naas, forcing Unibet to cut Mullins’ charge into 16/1 for both the JLT and the RSA. Willie Mullins’ week got off to the perfect start at Tramore last Tuesday too, with debutante Dolcita establishing herself as the new favourite for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle by trouncing a field of fellow fillies by an impressive 11-length margin.