Betting Favourites To Oppose At The 2021 Cheltenham Festival

Gavin Beech picks out five Cheltenham Festival favourites who might not be as nailed-on as bookies think

Betting Favourites To Oppose At The 2021 Cheltenham Festival

The Supreme is a bit of a graveyard for short-priced favs and much better horses down the years than Appreciate It have been beaten in this race so Willie Mullins’ hotpot looks well worth taking on.

Admittedly, this doesn’t look the strongest edition of the Grade 1 showpiece for the fastest two-mile novices but even so, Appreciate It has already let favourite backers down once at the festival and the prospect of drying ground at Prestbury Park could well prove his undoing given he has looked so at home on bad ground.

The 6/4 about Willie Mullins’ charge looks far too tight and he wouldn’t even be certain to confirm form with Ballyadam were that rival to get his jumping together.

Brown Advisory Chase – Monkfish

You may think I have lost the plot here but bear with me. I have been as impressed with Monkfish as everyone has been, perhaps even more so than many, but every horse has his price and I’m just not sure he should be as short as 8/11.

Perhaps I’ve been permanently scarred by what happened to Nick Dundee in 1999 but plenty have top-class horses have been beaten in this race in recent years, most notably Delta Work who seemingly carried the confidence of the entire Irish nation in 2019.

And then there is the trip for Monkfish. I must admit that prior to the Dublin Racing Festival I had him down as an out-and-out stayer but he looked much speedier at Leopardstown, bowling along at the head of affairs and jumping impeccably. Whether he’ll be ridden the same way remains to be seen but it’s interesting that Ruby Walsh is on record saying he has doubts about him staying beyond three miles, although I have to say that Monkfish certainly wasn’t stopping at the business end of last year’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.

Monkfish could well be streets ahead of his rivals but this race has history for short-price backers and I wouldn’t be in a rush to dive in at his current price. I could see him going off odds-against on the day.

Cross Country Chase – Easysland

I wouldn’t normally be in a rush to oppose a horse that has shown his best form in the same race previously but it’s not so simple with Easysland this time around.

Roll the clock back 12 months and Easysland posted one of the performances of the entire 2020 Cheltenham Festival when sensationally hammering Tiger Roll by 17 lengths in the Cross Country Chase and there was even talk that this horse could compete in a Gold Cup, which was entirely justified at the time. However, he went into that race in great form having won all three of his previous runs that season and he got his ground last year (unlike Tiger Roll) so the stars aligned perfectly.

The landscape is a bit different this time around. Easysland has only been seen once this season and it resulted in a 9-length defeat at Cheltenham’s November meeting. It is easy enough to argue that he faced a very tough task that day anyway given it was a handicap and he was conceding lumps of weight to those that finished in front of him but the market expected much better and he jumped with nothing like the fluency that he is capable of over those unique fences.

He’ll be meeting the same rivals on much better terms at the festival where they will be racing off level weights but it’s impossible to be confident that he’s the same horse as he was 12 months ago and it is looking increasingly like he won’t be getting his ideal ground either. Throw in the fact that the 7-year-old is less than half the price he was last year and I would rather be a layer than a player this time around.

Champion Bumper – Kilcruit

Kilcruit looked a monster in the Future Stars bumper at Leopardstown, sauntering clear of a classy field without Patrick Mullins having to ask him any sort of question. However, there has to be a chance that he isn’t quite as good as he looked that day given he was suited by the way the race unfolded (they went hard up front and set it up for the closers) and even his trainer appeared quite surprised by the emphatic nature of that performance.

Kilcruit has done nothing but progress so far but all of his form is on bad ground and I just have my doubts about him being equally effective if conditions dry out a notch by next week, although his supporters will be encouraged by the fact that his dam’s sole success came on rattling fast ground.

The fact that he’s trained by Willie Mullins is obviously a big plus given the trainer’s record in this race but the same connections had the short-priced Appreciate It turned over in the bumper 12 months ago and I wouldn't be at all surprised if lightning struck twice. Sir Gerhard looks a massive player in that race and he is readily preferred.

Gold Cup – Al Boum Photo

The form of last year’s Gold Cup hasn’t worked out very well at all and Al Boum Photo could have his work cut out coping with new kids on the block Champ and A Plus Tard this time around.

Sure, Al Boum Photo is the rock-solid ‘been there and done it’ horse and there is no doubt that he has less to prove than his challengers but a neck defeat of Santini 12 months ago hardly sets the pulse racing and I am convinced that this year’s Gold Cup is going to go to one of the less exposed runners.

Champ is actually the same age as Al Boum Photo but he’s only had five chase starts, one of which was a 1-length success in last year’s RSA Chase, where he fairly flew up the Cheltenham hill. Although Minello Indo has proved a bit disappointing this term, that RSA form is very strong which is backed up by the fact that third-placed Allaho is favourite for this year's Ryanair Chase.

Champ’s warm-up at Newbury went better than many expected, including myself, and I have a strong suspicion that he is the most talented horse in the Gold Cup.