Following tireless research, Chad Yeomans looks into the future to reveal his top antepost tips for Cheltenham 2021, which he's combined into a Lucky 15.
1. Ferny Hollow – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle –
The first leg of my antepost Lucky 15 is in the opening race of the Festival.
I’ve already flagged how impressive Ferny Hollow was in winning this year’s Champion Bumper and I think, going forward, he could win multiple Grade 1s.
His stablemate, Appreciate It, who he beat in that race and is the same price for the 2021 Supreme, looks as though he already needs to go up in trip. He’ll probably end up in the Ballymore next season but has got ‘three-mile chaser’ written all over him.
What made Ferny Hollow’s performance in the Bumper even more extraordinary was the fact that, as shown by the green arrow in the image below, he was at the back of the field when the tapes went up.
He therefore had to pass every other horse in a race where the pace was strong from the start – quickening to get among the pack and then quickening once again to go past them all.
Coming down the hill, when the pace of the race had stepped up a gear, he was still in behind a wall of horses. As you can see in the image below, the eventual second (blue arrow) and third (red arrow) are both handily positioned at the front, with no horses ahead to block their path. From here, it is simply a case of who can run the fastest.
By the time Ferny Hollow crossed the winning line, he was two-and-a-half lengths in front of Appreciate It, who is three-and-a-quarter lengths ahead of the next three, with the rest of the field strung out like washing.
He had to do it the hard way, but such a performance suggests this horse is way above average and, if he’s campaigned at two miles – which he clearly isn’t inconvenienced by – then he’ll be some force in the Supreme next season.
2. Shishkin – Arkle Chase –
Stay over hurdles or go over fences? That will be the question that Nicky Henderson is asked in every interview between now and next National Hunt season.
Henderson has been very vocal in saying that he thinks Shishkin could win a Champion Hurdle, but it would be tough to then go and learn his craft over fences in time to reach the top of that ladder as well.
If he stayed over hurdles, he could be faced with one of the most competitive Champion Hurdles of recent times, featuring the defending champion (Epatante), a previous dual winner (Buveur D’Air), a mightily talented mare (Honeysuckle) and a host of young pretenders including Goshen and Abacadabras.
Going over fences, then, is surely a no-brainer.
Much has been made of Shishkin’s troubled passage on his way to winning this year’s Supreme, but I think he actually won it with more ease than meets the eye.
To win any Grade 1 after making a hash of a hurdle down the back straight and being severely hampered by fallers takes some doing, but to come back onto the bridle running to the last flight suggests this horse is special.
After he went ahead of Abacadabras on the run-in, his pilot, Nico de Boinville, simply used his hands and heels to push him out, confident that he had plenty of horse underneath him.
Ignoring this year’s Arkle, which was exceptionally short of top class, this Grade 1 race usually cuts up to a small field.
In six of the last 10 years, it’s been won by an odds-on shot who has established himself as being the best in the division, and I think we’ll be in a similar position in just under a year.
3. Defi Du Seuil – Ryanair Chase –
For plenty of punters, Defi Du Seuil was probably the most disappointing and costly loser at the 2020 Festival. However, although I don’t see him as a superstar, I do think he’ll be back to win more Grade 1s in the future.
This time last year, he had just won the JLT (now the Marsh Chase) over 2m4f, with the Ryanair the obvious race to aim at in 12 months’ time. Yet murmurings that Altior could be about to vacate the 2m division in order to step up in trip meant he was campaigned with the Betway Champion Chase as his target instead.
He was superb all season, winning the Shloer Chase, the Tingle Creek and the Clarence House Chase before arriving at the Festival as a long odds-on shot. Yet, when it came to the big one, it was obvious that something was amiss. He just had a bad day at the office, which is not uncommon with these horses who, we have to be reminded, are not machines.
Next year, I think he’ll be campaigned back up to 2m4f for the Ryanair Chase, and there’s plenty of value in backing him now to do just that.
By process of elimination, Min will be a year older and unlikely to improve. A Plus Tard will most likely be campaigned around 2m, with his pace a danger in the Betway Champion Chase. Samcro is likely to step up to 3m and Allaho, who perhaps didn’t fully stay three miles this season, will surely be able to find that extra bit of stamina in order to go for the Gold Cup.
In my book, that leaves Defi Du Seuil as an obvious favourite for this race, which is often diluted in numbers by various connections opting to do battle elsewhere.
After mapping out those potential routes for his rivals, I don’t think the National Hunt middle-distance division will be the strongest, and Defi certainly has the class to get back to winning ways at a Festival where he has been successful twice already.
4. Thyme Hill – Stayers’ Hurdle –
The final leg of the antepost Lucky 15 is in the Stayers’ Hurdle.
Thyme Hill was unlucky in the Albert Bartlett this year, but is clearly full of class and is only going to get better with age.
The Albert Bartlett doesn’t usually appeal to me, but the 2020 renewal was one of my favourite races of the Festival, and I’m convinced it will have featured plenty of future winners.
The three that filled the placings for Ireland (Monkfish, Latest Exhibition and Fury Road) will all make smashing chasers, while Thyme Hill, just behind them in fourth, also looked way above average.
Richard Johnson twice suffered a troubled passage when trying to make a winning move as the front four pulled clear but, despite having the door shut in his face on both occasions, the Betway Challow Hurdle winner still kept on all the way through to the line.
Philip Hobbs and his owners have made it clear that schooling over fences was more to see if he was up to it, and that they’ll most likely stick over hurdles for a crack at the Stayers’.
With Paisley Park having something to prove following a shock defeat to a 50/1 winner in Lisnagar Oscar – who, although showing a liking for Prestbury Park, had looked a little shy of top class before this victory – this year’s renewal could be more open than ever.
The 3m division has a good series in the build up to the Festival, with early-season races at Wetherby, Newbury and Ascot, giving horses a good campaign on the way to the pinnacle in March.
If anything, you’d say that Thyme Hill has more class than anything that ran in the race this year, meaning it’s just about proving his stamina, and, for me, he did that in the Albert Bartlett.
If he keeps improving, he’s almost guaranteed to go off at a single-figure price for next year’s Stayers’.
ANTEPOST LUCKY 15
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