The 2020 Cheltenham Festival will soon be upon us, and all eyes will once again be on Prestbury Park for the best show on turf.
The packed stands will roar home equine stars from Britain and Ireland as they battle it out at the iconic venue for their place in horse racing history.
Punters enjoy it when their short-priced bankers romp home to hit the bookies hard, but equally love to identify a dark horse to cause an upset on the big stage.
Here we talk through five horses that might just be able to spring a surprise come the second week of March. With the Festival on the horizon, it’s now the time when punters start seeking out those sites that offer the best betting bonuses and shortlisting the horses they want to be on for the Festival.
Black Op’s price of 20/1 looks far too big for the three-mile RSA Chase.
The talented novice chaser has ran well in defeat this season. He did start with a win at Stratford back in October but has since finished second at Newbury and Kempton to two impressive types.
Despite that, his trainer’s decision to keep his novice status for this season could well bear fruit.
The loss at Newbury came against current market leader Champ. He got within a length-and-three-quarters of the winner that day despite being hampered on the run-in and making a mistake at the last.
Champ is currently priced as the 7/2 favourite but the extra stamina test afforded by the famous Cheltenham hill could help Tom George’s gelding get much closer when they meet again.
Black Op followed that with another second against Slate House in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase on Boxing Day where he just got outpaced at the business end on Kempton’s flat, shape track.
Second-favourite Minella Indo (11/2) looks the one to beat but Black Op’s form with the current favourite means he could well be in the mix here.
Nicky Henderson’s Pipesmoker is a huge price at 66/1 for the Ballymore Novice Hurdle over 2m 5f.
The five-year-old Authorized gelding was last seen when finishing fast over an inadequate 2m 1f contest at Cheltenham in December.
He stayed all the way to the line to land third place behind stablemate Chantry House and Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Stolen Silver. Both horses have come out and won since and the form looks rock solid with Chantry House being well-fancied to take the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on the opening day of the Festival.
While last year’s Champion Bumper winner Envoi Allen is going to be hard to beat, Pipesmoker’s price is far too big given how he’ll appreciate the step up in trip.
As mentioned above, the form of that trial race over course and distance in December has worked out very well indeed.
Stolen Silver was just held off by Chantry House that day, but the pair could take each other once again here. The Twiston-Davies-trained five-year-old lost by 1 and ¾ lengths but was giving the winner six pounds.
Chantry House is currently priced at around the 10/1 mark, but Stolen Silver can be backed at 50/1 with some firms.
You can put a line through Stolen Silver’s run in the Betfair Hurdle after a poor start put paid to his hopes of mounting a challenge. Don’t be surprised to see him put on a better showing should he line-up for the Festival curtain-raiser.
Sempo has continued his development this season after running a fine race to finish sixth in the Champion Bumper at the 2019 Festival.
Joseph O’Brien’s six-year-old son Oscar recorded his first win over hurdles when beating Minella Encore at Thurles in February. He relished the step up in trip that day and looks just the type to gallop them down in the 3m contest on Friday’s card.
Sempo lost to Cobbler’s Way before his Thurles success but that race had subsequent winner The Big Getaway in behind.
While he has some improvement to make, his price of 33/1 again looks far too big for a horse that has a chance to get in the mix on the big stage.
Only Kauto Star has ever reclaimed the Gold Cup after losing the title. Native River will be trying to emulate that in 2020.
That stat probably tells you how difficult the task will be for the popular Colin Tizzard chaser. However, despite his odds now falling to the 11/1 mark, the 10-year-old still looks like the Gold Cup outsider to be on.
He is two from two this term and has jumped and travelled with his familiar verve despite not beating a lot in either contest.
Last Year’s winner Al Boum Photo tops the batting at 4/1 with a host of young pretenders in behind such as Santini, Delta Work and Lostintranslation. But siding with the experienced former winner at a bigger price looks like a worthy bet in the blue riband event, especially if the ground was to come up soft on the day.