2020 Cheltenham Festival review – day one

Well, as I start writing this post it's only a week since the 2020 Cheltenham Festival finished but given everything that has happened since it feels more like a lifetime ago. Racing will inevitably return, we just don't exactly know when... and there are far more important things for us all to worry about when than sport when the very fabric of our daily existence seems under threat.

So some of us suddenly seem to have a lot of time on our much-washed hands which we want to try and use it as constructively as we can, given the limitations racing is working within. We are currently working on a Cheltenham Festival Eyecatchers Notebook that will be highlighting horses from each day that will pay to follow in the future.

Before that, here's a day by day look at how we got on at the last week...

Day One

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2020 Cheltenham Festival - Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle

Asterion Forlonge - 1 point each way at 6/1

The first thing to say about the race was that Abracadabras was very unlucky, he was caught on his hocks at the standing start and probably crossed the line in last place, he travelled through the race like the best horse and like Shiskin was done no favours by the wayward Asterion Follonge and probably found himself in front too soon.

There was a worry before the race that Asterion Follonge might have a tendency to go right but nothing prepared us for how right he went... without an outside rail, he might have been up Cleeve Hill and off to Evesham!

He never had a chance from the first and he ballooned the second and then it rapidly got worse from there. It will be interesting to see him back on a right-hand track and we are likely to see him at Punchestown. Both Elixir D'Ainay and Captain Guinness were going well enough two out and watching it back it is surprising that they didn't switch inside, they must have known what was coming. Thankfully both Mark Walsh, Rachel Blackmore and their two mounts came back unscathed.

Credit to Shiskin though... he made an early mistake and seemed to run a bit in snatches (I did hear he touched 100/1+ in running). He was slightly inconvenienced by the carnage in front of him at the second last and looked to have it all to do running down to the last but he showed plenty of stamina and guts to wear Abracadabras out of it up the hill. Thy finished 11 lengths clear of Chantry House in 3rd and somehow Asterion Follonge managed to come home in 4th, but we were ATP and only playing with 3 places. I expect we'll see both of the first two rejoin battle in next year's Arkle although Shiskin looks more of a chaser. The form looks useful and it will pay to watch the race back a few times.

watch the race again here (you'll need a Skybet account to watch)

2020 Cheltenham Festival - Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Chase

Notebook 2 points win at 3/1

A surprise winner here with the Henry de Bromhead's second-string Put The Kettle On, but there looked to be no fluke about it. She was a massive trend buster being the first mare to win since Anaglog's Daughter won this 40 years ago and she overcome a near 120-day absence from the course. She is now the winner of 5 of her 6 chases and had decent course form when she beat Al Dancer, Getaway Trump and Rouge Vif here back in November. Always travelling with enthusiasm and jumping for fun, she had them all in trouble as they turned for home and jumped the last with her ears pricked. She idled a bit up the hill but pulled out more when the hard-driven Fakir D'Oudaries got to within a length and she was pulling away again at the line.

There were no excuses that I could see for her stablemate and the favourite; Notebook. Our antepost selection ran very flat and although he jumped well I thought Rachel Blackmore never looked happy with the way he travelled. The second here turned Leopardstown form round massively, and I'd be tempted to put a line through this, we know he's got a bit of temperant and maybe the travel/occasion just got to him.

watch the race again here

2020 Cheltenham Festival - Ultima Handicap Chase

Kildisart 1 point each way at 9/1

Oh so close and yet so far away... our selection Kildisart ran an absolute stormer under a great ride from Daryl Jacob but giving the winner the best part of a stone proved to be just too much and he went down by a fast diminishing neck. Kildisart has sometimes looked none too keen this year and has seemed to lose interest in his races, but Daryl Jacob set his stall out and made up the horses mind for him. The first-time cheekpieces seemed to work and he booted him into the first and kept him prominent all the way. He plotted a slightly wide course and gave him a good view of his fences as he is inclined to jump well then wack one. He was given a reminder passing home on the first circuit and apart from a couple of scruffy jumps, notably the third-last he jumped and travelled well.

Watching the race back The Conditional (a first Festival winner for David Bridgewater) looked to be going best a long, long way out. Given a peach by Brendan Powell he hugged the rails just behind the leaders and saved ground all the way and jumped noticeably well. He was given a breather down the hill and produced going to the second last, but he went through the top of it and it was a good sit by Powell and to pick his nose up from the turf. He obviously had plenty left and recovered to wing the last and stay on well up the hill, Kildisart kept finding for pressure for Jacobs but to me the best horse on the day won.

It was sod's law that I had said that The Conditional was the last one I threw out and I hope some of you might have nibbled at the exacta that paid £85

watch the race again here

2020 Cheltenham Festival - Unibet Champion Hurdle

Sharjah 1 point each way 14/1

It all seems so obvious in hindsight, it was not really 'the most open Champion Hurdle in years... the highest-rated horse (on adjusted ratings) won it easily from the 2nd highest rated with the rest toiling in behind. It was JP McManus's 4th win of the race in a row and provided the best birthday present possible for a huge supporter of racing and one of the undisputed 'nice guys' of the sport.

Barry Geraghty always had her positioned nicely and she travelled well within herself following Petite Mouchoir at a generous pace. Although a bit novicey at a couple of flights her jumping was generally slick and fast, he was able to take a pull going down the hill and keep her in behind the leaders but it very much looked a case of 'when' not 'if'. He produced her going to the last and she breezed past them winging the last. Sharjah came from the back to try and throw down a challenge but never looked like getting there and Epatante won as she liked. At the age of 6, we can expect her back in 12 months and I dare say the year after.

This was an object lesson in talking yourself into something... supporters of Supasundae, Pentland Hills, Cilaos Emery, even Oh So Sleepy and Call Me Lord talked about her underperformance here last year and does she handle the track, they pointed out that she hadn't faced going as soft as this, that she was a bit inexperienced still.... we were all clutching at straws and favourite backers never had a moments worry!

watch the race again here

2020 Cheltenham Festival Mares' Hurdle - N0 bet

We didn't have a bet in this, and it was probably the result of the day for the bookies as Bennie de Dieux was seen by many as one of the 3 bankers of the week and would have anchored many doubles, trebles and multiples. But it could have been worse; there was a lot of uncertainty as to where she, and indeed Honeysuckle would turn up with both the Champion Hurdle and Stayers mooted and this must have had an effect on punter's decisions. Given that all 3 Bankers lost it, ultimately didn't make much difference but this was one the most eagerly anticipated clashes of the week and it didn't let us down!

It was a great race... both jumped and travelled through the race supremely well and the coming down the hill for the last time both jockeys looked to have plenty of horse underneath them and as they jumped the second the pace really hotted up. Benie got to the outside and ranged up to Stormy Ireland and for a second it looked as though Rachel Blackmore might get trapped behind the weakening Elfile, but she is so tactically astute, seeing the danger she immediately asked Honeysuckle to quicken and dived for the inside rail and seemed to come off the turn with a bit more momentum and straight away Paul Townend was in a bit of trouble. The big two powered clear approaching the last and Honeysuckle went into it a length clear but met it a bit awkwardly and jumped a bit big, but Benie flew it and she was only a neck down as they started a ding dong battle up the hill. But the younger mare was always holding her and claimed a fabulous victory.

watch the race again here

2020 Cheltenham Festival - Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase

Precious Cargo 1 point each way 16/1

Our selection here was Nicky Henderson's Precious Cargo who ran a decent race travelling and jumping well, he was always prominent and took the field along for a lot of the second circuit, but to be honest, I felt that he was probably beaten when he fell at the second last (thankfully both he and Nico de Boinville walked away unscathed) as both the winner and Galvin were going a lot better at the time.

I was told on the day that Galvin (owned by Ronnie Bartlett) was really well fancied and had been laid out for this and he'd certainly been the subject of strong support during the day from a double-figure price in the morning down to 4/1 joint fav. The gamble looked to be landed as Davy Russell sat in behind motionless with a double handful going down the hill but David Bass was also going well on Imperial Aura (who was also very well supported) and he took it up at the second last and went a few lengths clear and although Galvin did run on he never quite looked like he would catch Imperial Aura who stayed on really well all the way to the line.

The winner has improved all season and the form of this race looks strong, it will be interesting to see if the winner can improve again next year and become a serious contender for next years Ryanair.

watch the race again here

2020 Cheltenham Festival - National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders' Novices' Chase

Ravenhill 1 point each way at 11/2

This did not look to the most competitive renewal of the race and so it turned out with very few of the field getting into it. You have to feel for the gallant Lord du Mesnil who turned in a fabulous and bold front-running performance and when Jamie Codd produced Ravenhill at the last under his usual ice-cold ride I couldn't believe that Lord du Mesnil actually found a bit more from somewhere to try and rally. But The Codfather had judged it to perfection and Ravenhill under a strong drive pulled a couple of lengths clear, it was a yawning 30 lengths back to the third.

We tipped Ravenhill at 11/2 the night before and he was an unbelievable drifter touching 16/1 at one point before returning an SP of 12/1 and a BSWP of 16.0, for our calculations we think it only fair to use the advised price but are glad that plenty of you did get BOG...

watch the race again here

In conclusion...

A good start to the festival with 2 each-way seconds and a winner from our six tips all at double-figures giving us a 3 point profit or over 8 points if you were BOG on Ravenhill.

See our Cheltenham Festival Day One tips post here
See our Cheltenham Festival Day One ratings here

read our day two festival review
read our day three festival review
read our day four festival review

Best wishes
The team at Cleeve Racing