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It’s less than five weeks to go until we hear that famous Cheltenham roar as the four-day festival in the Cotswolds gets underway.
Punters are already scrabbling for form guides and checking the latest odds, as they look for Cheltenham Festival tips. As usual, the leading trainers are represented en masse and if you’re unsure who to back at this early stage this year, don’t worry – our guide to the five Irish-trained horses you need to consider will make things a little clearer.
Al Boum Photo
You don’t need to check the latest odds on Cheltenham Festival 2020 to see who the favourite for the Gold Cup is. Al Boum Photo gave Irish trainer Willie Mullins his first victory in the meeting’s blue riband event last year and is the favourite ahead of this year’s race. The signs look good for the eight-year-old, who’s prepared in exactly the same way this year. In 2019, Al Boum Photo won the Savills Chase at Tramore on New Year’s Day in the lead up to the Gold Cup – the only race he entered en route to Cheltenham. It’s a pattern that’s repeated itself this year too – and strangely, both victories were by six lengths. Could he win the Gold Cup again – and by two-and-a-half lengths? YOu would get a great price with Betenemy for this to happen.
Benie Des Dieux
Another from Mullins’ yard to keep an eye on, is mare Benie Des Dieux. The nine-year-old made her seasonal debut at Gowran Park last month, after eight months out, and in a scintillating return, won the Galmoy Hurdle by 21 lengths. Those looking for a competitive battle between Benie Des Dieux and Gordon Elliott’s mare Apple’s Jade were left disappointed, as she was pulled up and could well make her swansong next month. Mullins later revealed that Benie Des Dieux “could be better” than Annie Power, but has not yet confirmed whether she will race in the Mares’ Hurdle or the Stayers’ Hurdle next month. Since falling in last year’s Mares’ Hurdle, she’s been unbeaten with Paul Townend in the saddle.
Envoi Allen is unbeaten in eight races, a record that dates back to February 2018. The hot favourite for the Novices’ Hurdle didn’t race at the recent Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown. Instead, Elliott confirmed that his six-year-old would head straight to the Cheltenham Festival. On the decision, Elliott said: “He’s had three runs over hurdles and has plenty of experience. He’ll go for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the festival.” At last year’s meeting, Envoi Allen won the Champion Bumper and it’s believed the gelding will enter the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on the opening day, rather than the Champion Hurdle.
Mullins’ veteran, 12-year-old Faugheen proved that age is just a number when he wowed at the recent Dublin Racing Festival. Winning the Novice Chase by half a length, not only did the gelding hold off the challenge of Easy Game, but also the other horses five and six years his junior. It was an 11th Grade One victory, as well as a 17th win from 25 races. ‘The Machine’ as he is known, is expected to bring the house down in the Marsh Novices’ Chase on day three of the Cheltenham Festival, although Mullins has not yet confirmed which of the three races he will enter. One thing is for sure, watching Faugheen take to the Prestbury Park track once more will be a memorable occasion.
The six-year-old mare, trained by Henry de Bromhead is set to enter the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, off the back of a recent win at Leopardstown. While Honeysuckle beat Darver Star to the Irish Champion Hurdle by half a length, her jumping was far from perfect and despite regaining the initiative to hold on for victory, an improvement will be needed ahead of next month’s race. Honeysuckle has eight wins from eight races, but will be making her Cheltenham debut and racing fans will be rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of a potential showdown against Benie Des Dieux – although form favours Honeysuckle.