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Cheltenham Festival - Champion Hurdle

Cheltenham Festival 2024: The Shape of the Ante Post Markets

With the Christmas bonanza on both sides of the Irish Sea almost over for another year, the countdown to the Cheltenham Festival begins to gather pace. It’s not long now until Prestbury Park opens its doors for the big one on Tuesday 12th of March.

With many of the trial races in the books and the ante-post markets beginning to settle down, now is a good time to look at how things are shaping up in the feature event on each of the four days.

Tuesday 12th March – Champion Hurdle: Henderson Superstar Still King of the Hill

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - Champion Hurdle Ante Post Betting Odds

The main question surrounding the season’s biggest two-mile hurdle event was whether anything could emerge to threaten the magnificent defending champion Constitution Hill. It seemed unlikely back in October and, if anything, seems even more unlikely now.

Initially pencilled in to return in the abandoned Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, the seven-year-old then skipped the rescheduled event at Sandown due to the ground. All of which meant we had to wait until the Christmas Hurdle to see him in action, but it was certainly worth the wait. Showing all of his usual sparkle, the mount of Nico de Boinville found gears other horses simply don’t possess to power almost 10 lengths clear whilst barely breaking a sweat. Priced at just 4/11 when winning the Champion Hurdle in 2023, he’s around the same price to defend his title.

If anyone can produce a horse to challenge the champ, it is Cheltenham king Willie Mullins, but even he may be struggling this year. 2023 runner-up State Man is next in the betting at a general 6/1, having returned with a smooth success in the Morgiana Hurdle. One year younger than Constitution Hill, he may still be improving and remains the most likely to take advantage of a below-par display from the favourite. From the same yard and at a similar price, Impaire Et Passe (7/1) had been touted as Constitution Hill’s most likely challenger but would be dropping four furlongs in trip from his previous Grade 1 outings and lost out to Teahupoon on his comeback.

Wednesday 13th March – Champion Chase: Britain vs Ireland Blockbuster on Day 2

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - Champion Chase Ante Post Betting Odds

Whilst the Champion Hurdle is beginning to look like a one-horse race, the flagship event for the speediest chasers may provide one of the most anticipated head-to-head clashes of the meeting.

Going for Ireland in the all-green silks of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede is last season’s Arkle Chase hero, El Fabiolo. Backing up that impressive success with a devastating display in the Grade 1 novice event at the Punchestown Festival, El Fabiolo then took the step out of novice company in his stride when proving much too good for a decent field in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork. With five wins from five over fences, his credentials are hard to fault, and he’s a best price of 10/11 as we head into the New Year.

Laying down the home challenge is the horse who chased El Fabiolo home in the Arkle: the Nicky Henderson-trained Jonbon (11/4). Having finished five and a half lengths adrift of the Willie Mullins star, this full brother to Douvan has work to do to turn the tables but is unbeaten in four starts since, and it was hard not to be impressed by his back-to-back victories over Edwardstone in the Shloer Chase and Tingle Creek Chase.

It’s 16/1 bar the top two in the market, with the most interesting contender to thrust her hat into the ring being the Willie Mullins mare, Dinoblue. Only second in last season’s Grand Annual, the daughter of Doctor Dino appears to have found significant improvement over the summer and impressed many when winning the Grade 1 at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting in effortless style.

Thursday 14th March – Stayers’ Hurdle: French to Crash the Party?

The Day 3 centrepiece looks set to be the most wide-open of the meeting’s championship-level contests. Gordon Elliott’s Teahupoo (4/1) heads the betting, having run a cracker in 2023 to lose out by only three-quarters of a length to stablemate Sire Du Berlais (20/1). He turns seven in the new year, so ought to be coming into his prime, whereas the defending champ will be 12 by the time this rolls around.

Strong as the Irish squadron appears, they have more than the British challengers to worry about in 2024, as set to make the trip across the English Channel is the French staying superstar Theelme (9/2). A five-time Grade 1 winner in his homeland – including three at around this trip – he boasts strong claims to become the first French-trained winner since the great Baracouda in 2003.

With just one win in the past seven editions, the British trainers have been struggling of late. Hoping to change all that in 2024 is the rapidly improving Crambo (10/1) from the Fergal O’Brien operation. Long held in high regard by connections, two starts at this trip have resulted in an unlucky in running third in a competitive handicap at Haydock and a tough staying success when seeing off Paisley Park in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle.

Friday 15th March – Cheltenham Gold Cup: Champ Has a Fight on His Hands

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - Cheltenham Gold Cup Ante Post Betting Odds

Last but not least, the big one. Having won in such imperious style in 2023, many would have expected to see reigning champion Galopin Des Champs trading a little shorter than the 3/1 generally available. That price is partially a result of the Willie Mullins runner losing on his seasonal return in the John Durkan Memorial Chase and partly due to likely challengers doubling down on their credentials.

Gordon Elliott’s Gerri Colombe (4/1) got rolling a millisecond too late in last season’s Brown Advisory, but that short-head defeat to The Real Whacker remains the only blemish on his record. Bouncing back with a romp in the Aintree Bowl, he again showed bottomless stamina to reel in Conflated and Envoi Allen in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal in November.

Next in line is Martin Brassil’s Fastorslow, who, but for hailing from a relatively small yard, may already be sitting atop the market. He does, after all, boast a 2-0 head-to-head record over Gallopin Des Champs following wins in the Punchestown Gold Cup and John Durkan Memorial Chase. Gerri Colombe, Galopin Des Champs, and Fastorslow clash in the Savill’s Chase, with the result likely to go a long way towards determining who starts as favourite on Gold Cup Day.

Surprise King George hero Hewick (20/1) adds to a potent Irish challenge, with the best of the home team looking to be 2023 runner-up and King George second Bravemansgame (22/1), and the increasingly enigmatic Shiskin (12/1), who looked all set to win at Kempton until losing his footing after the second last.