Get ready to roar from the comfort of your sofa — the tapes are set to rise for Cheltenham 2021.
The four-day extravaganza takes place without fans this year, due to coronavirus restrictions on sporting events.
Normally over 60,000 people would watch thrilling races each day from the grandstands at the meeting, which concludes with the WellChild Gold Cup on Friday.
All will be strangely quiet on-course as the runners are sent on their way for the first race at 1.20 on Tuesday.
The feature contest is the Unibet Champion Hurdle (3.05) and GOSHEN is tipped to halt JP McManus' winning run in the race.
The leading owner has taken the last four renewals – and the selection can see off his horse Epatante for the gold medal.
2 APPRECIATE IT
3 SOARING GLORY
METIER has achieved plenty in the first half of the season and has the potential to give favourite Appreciate It plenty to think about.
Having acquired the son of Mastercraftsman from Ireland, where he earned a rating of 90 in winning one of his eight starts, Harry Fry sought to prepare Metier for last year’s Triumph Hurdle.
But the project required patience, and Metier has rewarded his trainer’s forbearance with three wins over obstacles this winter.
Sent off the 9-4 favourite for a winning start in his new discipline at Newton Abbot last October, Sean Bowen’s mount went in by 10 lengths.
Racing under a 5lb penalty at Ascot 22 days later, Metier followed up by five and a half lengths, prompting Fry to take aim at the Grade 1 Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown Park on January 2.
The rise in class prompted my selection’s best performance yet, as the five-year-old scooted home 12 lengths to the good of Shakem Up’Arry.
Fry wisely resisted the temptation to take in the rescheduled Betfair Hurdle with Metier, who has more to offer as he seeks to defend his unbeaten record under the winter code.
Appreciate It, the first of a long line of Willie Mullins hotpots, isn’t passed over lightly, while Betfair Hurdle winner Soaring Glory can make the podium.
3 FRANCO DE PORT
SHISHKIN is hard to oppose as he seeks a second Cheltenham Festival triumph.
Twelve months ago, meeting trouble in running couldn’t prevent the son of Sholokov from landing a dramatic Supreme Novices’ Hurdle as Shishkin got up close home to shade Abacadabras by a head.
Nicky Henderson announced his wish to go chasing with the seven-year-old, who is now unbeaten in three starts over the larger obstacles.
Only the needy or greedy sought an involvement when Nico de Boinville’s mount made his chasing debut at Kempton Park in November, but they were spared any anxious moments as the bay put in a textbook round to win by a yawning 23 lengths.
Next came the Grade 2 Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at the Sunbury course over Christmas, and Shishkin sent the time anoraks into apoplexy as he came home 13 lengths to the good of Tamaroc Du Mathan.
The Seven Barrows runner completed his Festival build-up by shouldering a 5lb penalty in Doncaster’s Lightning Novices’ Chase at the end of January.
Despite showing a slight tendency to jump to his left, Shishkin had eight and a half lengths to spare over Eldorado Allen, and has all the attributes to give his trainer a seventh success in the two-mile novice championship.
Allmankind has scored at the top level over hurdles and fences and will seek to pour it on from the front.
He is respected, with Franco De Port next best.
1 AYE RIGHT
AYE RIGHT richly deserves to bag a big prize – and today could be his day.
Harriet Graham’s son of Yeats, a well-beaten fifth to Champ as a novice in 2020, has had little luck despite some sterling efforts during his second campaign over fences.
After a return-to-action second at Kelson in October, Aye Right performed with great credit when third to an on-song Cyrname in the Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby at the end of that month.
Graham then sent the eight-year-old south from Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders to contest Newbury’s Ladbrokes Trophy on the final Saturday of November.
There followed another heroic defeat at the hands of Cloth Cap, the Grand National favourite who competed from a mark of 136 for a 10-lenght margin. He is now rated 162.
A sixth in a jumpers’ bumper at Newcastle in January can be safely ignored in the light Aye Right’s second in the valuable Sky Bet Handicap Chase at Doncaster 10 days later, in which he showed up in the lead throughout before being mugged by 40-1 shot Takingrisks.
Tom Scudamore’s mount has edged up another 3lb to a British Horseracing Authority handicap mark of 154, but is the model of consistency and another good account is on the cards.
Market leader Happygolucky is progressive and feared, with Milan Native and Pym others to warrant a second look.
GOSHEN, so cruelly denied victory in the Triumph Hurdle 12 months ago, is ripe for redemption.
Success seemed assured for the Gary Moore-trained son of Authorized as he galloped to the final flight of the curtain-raiser to the 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup card.
But, with an unassailable lead, Goshen conspired to clip his own heels, hitting the last obstacle and giving the trainer’s son Jamie no chance of staying on board, as Burning Victory profited to beat Aspire Tower by 10 lengths.
The path back has not been smooth, as Goshen followed autumn defeats on the Flat at Haydock Park and Goodwood by finishing stone last of 10 in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in mid-December.
At that point – atrial fibrillation was initially mooted as a possible cause of the five-year-old’s no-show – Cheltenham restitution appeared a forlorn hope.
But a doom-laden picture changed dramatically with the Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton in February.
Starting the 100-30 second favourite in a field of six, Goshen simply thundered clear of International Hurdle winner – and reigning Kingwell title-holder – Song For Someone to win by 22 lengths.
There’s little denying the selection has a chessboard profile, but at his best Goshen is very hard to beat.
Twin threats come from the mares Epatante and Honeysuckle.
Epatante won the Champion Hurdle in style from Sharjah last year and is entitled to the utmost respect, despite a shock Christmas Hurdle defeat by Silver Streak at Kempton Park in December.
The same must be said for the unbeaten Honeysuckle, who last month landed a second Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown by 10 lengths from Abacadabras with Sharjah third and Saldier – who like James Du Berlais and Not So Sleepy is up against it here – last of six.
ROKSANA is better than ever at the age of nine and gets the vote to repeat her success of 2019.
Two years ago, Dan Skelton’s daughter of Dubai Destination needed the final-flight departure of Benie Des Dieux to get her hands on the prize.
But the evidence of this winter is that Roksana can come out on top without the need for misfortune to befall her rivals.
Although only fourth to Honeysuckle in defence of her crown last year, Roksana returned with a bang when beating Next Destination by eight lengths in the Grade 2 bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby in October.
Harry Skelton’s partner took on Paisley Park and Thyme Hill for the top-level Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot six days before Christmas and emerged with tremendous credit in finishing third, a couple of lengths adrift of the two best staying hurdlers in training.
Roksana travelled with menace in beating Magic Of Light by eight lengths in Ascot’s Matchbook Betting Podcast Mares’ Hurdle on her latest start, and wouldn’t have been out of place in the Stayers’ Hurdle.
Concertista is a short-priced favourite and will be no pushover, while Dame De Compagnie and Indefatigable also enter calculations
1 HOME PUBLIC
HOMME PUBLIC has the profile of an improving young hurdler and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Originally trained in France by François Nicolle, my selection finished second at Auteuil on his first two attempts over hurdles, latterly going under by a neck to Houx Gris at the end of October.
Having moved across the English Channel to join Oliver Greenall, the four-year-old son of Cokoriko made his British debut in a juvenile event at Catterick Bridge at the start of February.
Homme Public finished second to Tinnahalla, but went one better at Market Rasen 16 days later
Punters made Henry Brooke’s mount the 11-8 favourite against eight rivals, and he made no mistake, beating Gilbertina by six and a half lengths.
My selection makes his handicap debut from a British Horseracing Authority rating of 125 – and that’s a mark that looks within range.
Homme Public has the scope to progress past the handicapper’s assessment, and it’s of note he receives 3lb from Hous Grix – who heads the market – but can be backed at significantly bigger odds.
In a race of many possible outcomes, Saint Sam, Busselton and Youmdor, who made the frame behind Quilixios in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown last time, make the shortlist, along with fellow Irish raider Coltor, for whom the booking of Jonjo O’Neill jnr catches the eye.
1 NEXT DESTINATION
NEXT DESTINATION, once a smart hurdler, is now a smart chaser – and should thrive for the chance to tackle an extreme distance of ground.
During his time with Willie Mullins, the son of Dubai Destination won twice at the top level over timber, including when capturing the Grade 1 Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle at Punchestown in April 2018.
Then followed an absence of 920 days before Next Destination, by now in the care of Paul Nicholls, chased home Roksana in Wetherby’s Grade 2 bet365 Hurdle at the end of October.
Nicholls sent the nine-year-old chasing and must have thrilled by his recruit’s win from One For The Team in the Grade 2 John Francome Novices’ Chase on Newbury’s Ladbrokes Trophy undercard four weeks later.
Next Destination warmed up for Cheltenham by carrying a penalty to a length-and-a-half victory from Fiddlerontheroof in Warwick’s Grade 2 Hampton Novices’ Chase in January.
Harry Cobden’s mount jumps safely and grinds it out, and those two attributes will serve him well here.
Irish challenger Galvin racked up a sequence for Gordon Elliott before moving back to his original trainer Ian Ferguson and goes into the melting pot, while Remastered also has a role to play.
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