Five Festival Hotshots: Cheltenham favourites going to war for punters

Willie Mullins is set to dominate the first day of the Festival
Willie Mullins is set to dominate the first day of the Festival
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Quevega aside, there hasn't normally been more than one or two well-backed Cheltenham Festival bankers in recent years, but thanks in large to Willie Mullins next month's festival has a plethora of hotshots. Mike Norman highlights just five...

"Faugheen's novice campaign was spectacular, culminating in a facile win in the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown, and already officially rated 168 (3lb more than Jezki was rated when winning last season's Champion Hurdle) he is undoubtedly the one they all have to beat come the first day of the Festival."


1. Un De Sceaux - Arkle Chase
1.84/5 to back from a high of 17.5

Already suggested by many as having 'only to stand up to win', Un De Sceaux will most likely be the shortest price favourite of the week. After joining the Willie Mullins yard in 2013 the 7-y-o bay gelding rattled off five consecutive wins over timber by an incredible combined total of 117 lengths. He side-stepped the Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown festivals however, winning one more hurdle race - a €110k Grade 2 contest at Auteuil - before embarking on his chasing career.

A fall on debut at Thurles was merely a mishap, and this unbeaten gelding (when standing up) proved to the whole world how good he was when winning the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown in devastating fashion (see clip below). He is a free-going sort who might just get het up by the occasion, but that's about your only worry. If Ruby Walsh settles him, and he jumps well, then Un De Sceaux should reward favourite backers with an easy win.



2. Faugheen - Champion Hurdle
2.3611/8 to back from a high of 60.059/1

Faugheen took his unbeaten record to eight when easing down to win the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day, and despite not running since it's all systems go for the Champion Hurdle with Mullins reporting last week that his potential star will head straight to Prestbury Park.

It's been argued that Faugheen hasn't beaten much this season but that's testament to his lofty reputation that a few have 'run scared' when they see the 7yo gelding's name amongst the entries.

Faugheen's novice campaign was spectacular, culminating in a facile win in the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown (see clip below), and already officially rated 168 (3lb more than Jezki was rated when winning last season's Champion Hurdle) he is undoubtedly the one they all have to beat come the first day of the Festival.



3. Annie Power - Mares Hurdle
1.9520/21 to back from a high of 3.45

You don't need me to tell you that Annie Power wouldn't look out of place in the World Hurdle - in fact she finished second in that race last year and easily beat the current favourite, Zarkandar, twice last term. And given that Mullins doesn't have a strong hand in the Grade 1 3m contest then it's a little surprising that Annie Power isn't trying to go one better in the race.

But Mullins holds the Mares Hurdle in such high regard following Quevega's never-to-be-beaten six consecutive wins in the race that he simply had to attack it with his two leading ladies - Annie Power and Glens Melody.

The former hasn't been seen this season, but don't let that worry you not one iota - just take a look at Quevega's race record - as she is reported to be in great form at home and is officially rated 20lbs superior to Glens Melody, who is currently the second favourite for the race.



4. Peace And Co - Triumph Hurdle
3.259/4 to back from a high of 48.047/1

You won't see a more emphatic winner all season than Peace And Co's British debut success at Doncaster (see clip below), where Nicky Henderson's 4yo gelding slammed an experienced 128-rated hurdler in the style of an animal that has the potential to take a leading role in all the major juvenile races and beyond.

He immediately went to the top of the Triumph Hurdle betting after that victory and has been steadily backed ever since, and even more so following a further success, this time at Cheltenham in the Triumph Hurdle trial, where he quickened smartly up the hill to beat Alan King's well-regarded Karezak.

Officially rated 11lb superior to anything else in the race with a rating, Peace And Co's mark of 155 is 5lb higher than what the ill-fated Our Conor was rated before he destroyed a strong field in the 2013 renewal of the Triumph Hurdle. Peace And Co looks the real deal, and a Festival hotshot who is likely to deliver.



5. Silviniaco Conti - Gold Cup
4.57/2 to back from a high of 21.020/1

Eyebrows may well be raised with the inclusion of a 4.57/2 chance as a Festival hotshot but the fact remains that Silviniaco Conti will be carrying the weight of punters' money for this year's Gold Cup having been backed from 21.020/1 when the market opened immediately following last year's renewal.

To be labelled a doubtful stayer after failing to get up the hill just once (he fell too far out in 2013 to have a strong opinion) is a little unfair in my eyes, but as Paul Nicholls explains in the clip below, Conti is a different animal this year to the one in previous seasons.

What isn't in doubt is Conti's class and form, and if he arrives at Cheltenham on Gold Cup day in the same mood as winning the Betfair Chase and King George this season then he is undoubtedly the most likely winner, presuming he gets up the hill of course - 4.57/2 to find out? Yes please.



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