Cheltenham Festival 2020: All the key market movers for the Championship races

Cheltenham fence
We're just four weeks away from this year's Cheltenham Festival

With just four weeks between now and the start of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, Mike Norman is here to mark you card on what is being backed, and what isn't, in the four Championship races...

"With hindsight it seems incredible that he was once available to back at 9/25.4 to defend his crown given he's done absolutely nothing wrong and very few pretenders to his crown have emerged."

A new champion hurdler will be crowned... but who?

This year's Champion Hurdle has been a murky picture almost since the market opened shortly after last year's renewal.

The winner that day, and visually one of the most impressive winners in recent years, Espoir d'Allen, sadly injured himself in a summer exercise canter and had to be put to sleep a few days later. Dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D'Air then suffered a serious foot injury in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle in December, putting an end to his campaign for another season.

Fancied runners in the antepost market were coming and going with regularity, and just last week the Willie Mullins pair of Klassical Dream and Saldier - backed at a low of 3.65 and 5/16.0 respectively - were also ruled out of the race through injury.

It all means we're left with two horses with differing Cheltenham Festival fortunes heading the Champion Hurdle market.

Epatante, who was a well beaten ninth at the Festival in last year's Dawn Run, is now the 3/14.0 market leader - having been matched at a high of 35/136.0 - following a smooth success in Kempton's Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle.

Epatante1280.jpg

Last season's Triumph Hurdle winner Pentland Hills is the second favourite at 11/26.6 from a high of 29/130.0, while the unbeaten mare Honeysuckle, winner of the Irish Champion Hurdle earlier this month, is rated a 16/117.0 chance having been matched at a high of 109/1110.0.

The interesting horse in the market is undoubtedly Benie Des Dieux, winner of all eight completed starts for Willie Mullins, who can currently be backed at around the 9/110.0 mark.

Those who got matched on the horse at upwards of 199/1200.0 will be hoping he lines up, but the 9yo mare also has entries in the Mares' Hurdle on the same day and in the Stayers' Hurdle later in the week.

Champion Hurdle: highest price matched - current price

Epatante: 35/136.0 - 3/14.0
Pentland Hills: 29/130.0 - 11/26.6
Benie Des Dieux: 229/1230.0 - 9/19.8
Honeysuckle: 109/1110.0 - 16/117.0
Envoi Allen: 249/1250.0 - 16/117.0
Sharjah: 99/1100.0 - 15/116.0

Champion Chaser Altior back on track

Thankfully, a much clearer picture has emerged for Wednesday's highlight, the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

It wasn't always a clear picture however, with defending champion and superstar chaser Altior having a very mixed season to date.

Beaten for the very first time when firmly put in his place by Cyrname at Ascot in November, Nicky Henderson's 10yo was then the subject of conflicting reports about his wellbeing and a missed engagement in the Clarence House last month was enough to push Altior out to 7/17.8 in the Champions Chase betting.

He has since resumed winning ways, showing a devastating turn of foot after the last in Saturday's Betfair Exchange Chase, meaning he is now the 9/43.25 favourite to defend his crown next month.

In what is shaping up to be a three-horse market, Defi Du Seuil is the current second favourite at 13/53.6 - from a high of 33/134.0 - after winning all three starts this term including the Grade 1 Betfair Tingle Creek and the aforementioned Clarence House Chase.

The Willie Mullins-trained Chacun Pour Soi completes the leading trio at the head of the market, currently trading at 16/54.2 having been matched at a high of 10.5.

Champion Chase: highest price matched - current price

Altior: 7/17.8 - 9/43.25
Defi Du Seuil: 33/134.0 - 13/53.6
Chacun Pour Soi: 10.5 - 16/54.2

A walk in the Park for Paisley

The Stayers' Hurdle market is all about one horse, and not surprisingly it's last year's winner Paisley Park.

With hindsight it seems incredible that he was once available to back at 9/25.4 to defend his crown given he's done absolutely nothing wrong and very few pretenders to his crown have emerged. Emma Lavelle's 8yo is now the 4/51.79 red hot favourite for the Stayers' Hurdle, a price that might only get shorter should second favourite Benie Des Dieux, as expected, line up in the Mares' Hurdle.

That really only leaves Summerville Boy - runner-up to Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle last month - as the favourite's main market rival, though a lot more was expected of If The Cap Fits this season, who now trades at 89/190.0 from a low of 6/17.0 after finishing only fifth behind Paisley Park last time.

Stayers Hurdle: highest/lowest price matched - current price

Paisley Park: 9/25.4 - 4/51.79
Benie Des Dieux: 149/1150.0 - 10/111.0
Summerville Boy: 74/175.0 - 10/111.0
If The Cap Fits: 6/17.0 - 89/190.0

Photo heads wide open Gold Cup market

Possibly the most fascinating antepost market ahead of this year's Festival is the Gold Cup, with no fewer than eight runners trading at a price below 14/115.0 and uncertainly about who will even go off as favourite.

Currently it's last year's winner Al Boum Photo who heads the market at 9/25.4 though he has only been seen once on the racecourse this season, winning a four-runner Grade 3 Chase on New Year's Day. Both he and Santini have been matched at around the 18/119.0 mark, and although now trading much shorter, both have their doubters with the latter scrambling home by just a head at odds of 1/3 on his seasonal reappearance.

Santini has since won a Grade 2 at Cheltenham in more convincing fashion, confirming his likeness for the venue, but perhaps the biggest improver this season has been the Gordon Elliott-trained Delta Work, who now trades at 13/27.4 from a high of 41/142.0 after winning back-to-back Grade 1s, including the Irish Gold Cup earlier this month.

Delta Work at fence 1280.jpg

Delta Work got the better of Kemboy that day, and although the Mullins horse has been matched at a high of 37/138.0 to win the Gold Cup, it's worth noting that he's also been matched at a low of 9/25.7 and now trades at 13.5.

Presenting Percy is another horse who has drifted on the back of a winless campaign, now available to back at 14.5 having been matched at a low of 5/16.2.

Some will be surprised that 2018 Gold Cup winner Native River is only sixth on the antepost list having done little wrong in the last 12 months. He was fourth in his defence last year, and has since won back-to-back Grade 2s, including Saturday's Betfair Denman Chase.

Colin Tizzard's star has remarkably been matched at 99/1100.0 to win a second Gold Cup but now trades at 12.5.

Gold Cup: highest price matched - current price

Al Boum Photo: 19.5 - 9/25.4
Santini: 18/119.0 - 5/16.2
Delta Work: 41/142.0 - 13/27.4
Lostintranslation: 49/150.0 - 8/19.2
Clan Des Obeaux: 59/160.0 - 9/110.0
Native River: 99/1100.0 - 12.5
Kemboy: 37/138.0 - 13.5 (matched at a low of 9/25.7)
Presenting Percy: 27/128.0 - 14.5 (matched at a low of 5/16.2)

Don't miss Betfair's Cheltenham Preview Evening

Taking place on Thursday March 5, the night will be hosted by Racing TV pundit and Betfair columnist Gary O'Brien and will feature Betfair ambassadors Paul Nicholls, Gordon Elliott, Joseph O'Brien and Olly Murphy, with betting insight coming from Kevin Blake and the Racing Post's Dave Orton. Betfair's Barry Orr will be on hand with all the latest prices and enhancements. Click here for full details.

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