Cheltenham Festival 2021 – the headline entries
We look at the headline entries for three of the most prestigious races at the Cheltenham Festival 2021 – the Gold Cup, Ryanair Chase and Queen Mother Chase – plus trainer quotes
Magner’s Gold Cup
Entries have been published for the G1 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup, the most prestigious chase run in Great Britain. Staged over three miles, two furlongs and 70 yards, the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup takes place on day four of the Festival, 19 March.
The two latest runnings of the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup have gone to the Willie Mullins Al Boum Photo. The now nine-year-old, owned by Joe and Marie Donnelly, returned to action with a smooth success in the Grade 3 Savills New Year’s Day Chase at Tramore on 1 January – the same contest he won prior to his victories in 2019 and 2020.
If successful again in 2021, Al Boum Photo would become only the fourth horse to win the contest three times following Best Mate, Arkle and Cottage Rake. Golden Miller is the most successful horse ever in the contest with five victories.
There are 17 Irish-trained entries overall, including recent Grade 1 Savills Chase victor A Plus Tard from Henry de Bromhead’s yard and his stablemate Minella Indo, runner-up to Champ in the Grade 1 Festival Novices’ Chase last season before beginning this season with impressive victories at Wexford and Navan. He fell on his latest appearance in the Savills Chase.
Needs one more win
Britain’s 11-time champion trainer Paul Nicholls is the most successful current trainer in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup with four wins and needs just one more victory to equal the record of the late Tom Dreaper.
Nicholls’ four entries this time round are headed by Frodon, who landed the Grade 1 Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day under Bryony Frost. The eight-year-old boasts a formidable record at Cheltenham, with six victories, including the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase at the Festival. In 2019.
Nicholls’ quartet also includes Cyrname, who impressed on his seasonal return when winning the Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby before disappointing when pulling up behind Frodon at Kempton.
Runner-up in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase was Waiting Patiently, trained by Ruth Jefferson, who was making his first racecourse appearance in over a year. He enjoyed his finest hour when taking the G1 Betfair Ascot Chase in 2018.
The North Yorkshire based Jefferson reported: “Waiting Patiently is very well at home and has come out of the King George absolutely bouncing. He has been doing handstands and was squealing yesterday morning because the lot was late going out!
“We have decided to enter him in all of the possible targets at the Cheltenham Festival just to keep our options open – at least for now. The Champion Chase, Ryanair Chase and the Gold Cup are all championship races and it just makes sense at this stage to keep him in all three.
“We still don’t know how far he will be dropped back down in trip so the Champion Chase comes into the equation and he has got an entry for that.
“The Ryanair Chase is obviously another race to consider, whilst the Gold Cup, given these uncertain times could be an interesting race.
“With so much going on, entering in all three races just keeps our options open and then we’re not tied down about having to go for one particular race.
“He will probably run again before Cheltenham, but where we go is something we are still discussing. The Ascot Chase was originally the race I had pencilled him in for, but I don’t know whether that will then be too close to Cheltenham and it therefore becomes difficult to run in both.
“With that in mind, I am not sure where we will go next at the moment, but I would like to get another run into him before Cheltenham.
“Things are just very uncertain at the minute. We don’t know what the ground will be like come the spring so what race we go for at Cheltenham could be dictated by other factors.
“His run at Kempton was brilliant, but it didn’t surpass my expectations because I have always known that he is an exceptionally talented horse.
“The only time I got him wrong was when I ran him at Aintree in the Melling Chase. He was coming back from his second to Cyrname in the Ascot Chase and had mucus when we scoped him, but apart from that, he has always run his heart out and just been an absolute superstar for us and his King George run showed how talented he is.
“It was quite a fast King George, so with the Gold Cup in mind, will he stay the trip? He was finishing very strongly at the finish, so it is another thing to think about.
“His profile in Grade 1 races is so variable. He has run in Grade 1s over a variety of trips and has always run well.
“Waiting Patiently has never been to Cheltenham. I guess for us in the past, it has not really been the be all and end all for him to run there, because he has had other options like Aintree.
“We have sometimes planned for Cheltenham and sometimes haven’t. We have always made the entries but for different reasons he has never ended up there.
“However, I have thrown caution to the wind this year with the entries and maybe this is the time where he does make it to the Cheltenham Festival.”
The neck runner-up to Al Boum Photo in 2020 was Santini, who is one of three entries for reigning champion trainer Nicky Henderson alongside Champ and Terrefort. Santini began the season when runner-up to Lake View Lad (Nick Alexander) in the G2 William Hill Many Clouds Chase at Aintree before going on to take fifth behind Frodon at Kempton Park.
Others engaged include 2018 hero Native River, trained by Colin Tizzard, and The Conditional from David Bridgwater’s yard. The Conditional won last year’s Grade 3 Ultima Handicap Chase at the Festival and has run well on both his starts so far this season, including when third in the Grade 3 Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in November.
Bridgwater went close to Cheltenham Gold Cup success previously with The Giant Bolster, who was runner-up to Synchronised in 2012 and also fourth in 2013 and third in 2014.
The Gloucestershire-based trainer said: “The Cheltenham Gold Cup is a potential long-term target for The Conditional.
“His owner [Peter Cave] is an older gentleman who would love to have a runner in the race, and we all have dreams don’t we so we’ve made the entry and who knows, he may end up in the race in March.
“I guess one of the factors which could come into the mix is whether the Irish are allowed to come over? I mean you would have to say in the Gold Cup picture, the best form is with the Irish horses so that is something which will be interesting to see.
“The Conditional has come out of his last run at Ascot in good form. I think if it was a left-handed track, he would have won that day, but we have been really pleased with him since.
“The target for him is going to be the Cotswold Chase [Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham on 30 January]. That will give us an idea of where we stand with him and if maybe the Gold Cup is something to think about.”
There is a scratchings deadline for the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup on 9 February with the six-day confirmation and supplementary entry stage following on 13 March.
There are 50 entries, the highest number since 2008, for the Ryanair Chase, which takes place over the intermediate distance of an extended two and a half miles.
In 2020 it was Min, trained by Willie Mullins (pictuted), who came out in front and he is one of 23 Irish-trained entries in 2021. The 10-year-old recorded the seventh Grade 1 success of his career when making a winning seasonal return in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown in December, when he accounted for stablemates Tornado Flyer and Melon, and heads the market with most bookmakers.
If successful again in 2021, Min would become just the second dual winner of the Ryanair Chase after Albertas Run, successful in 2010 and 2011.
Also engaged again this year are last year’s neck runner-up, the Harry Whittington-trained Saint Calvados, fourth to Frodon on his return to action in the Grade 1 Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, and the third home from 2020 A Plus Tard, representing Henry de Bromhead, who landed the Grade 1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown over the Festive period.
Vying with Min for favouritism at this stage is Imperial Aura, from Kim Bailey’s yard. The eight-year-old is already a winner at the Festival, having landed the Listed Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase over two and a half miles in 2020.
He has picked up where he left off so far this season, beginning his campaign with win in the Listed Colin Parker Intermediate Chase at Carlisle on 1 November and following up with a five-length victory in the Grade 2 Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase at Ascot 20 days’ later.
Bailey commented: “Imperial Aura is in good form and he runs on Saturday in the Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton.
“That race is essentially his prep run for the Cheltenham Festival where he will hopefully line up in the Ryanair Chase.
“He won at the Festival last year and I have been delighted with his performances so far this year.
“I am very happy with him and Saturday should hopefully tell us more, but Cheltenham is definitely a target for him.”
The Ryanair Chase has also been left open for leading Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase contenders Altior for Nicky Henderson and Chacun Pour Soi for Willie Mullins while Ruth Jefferson’s recent Ladbrokes King George VI Chase runner-up Waiting Patiently has the option of the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase as well as the Ryanair Chase.
Queen Mother Chase
The Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase is the championship contest for two-mile chasers and has attracted 31 entries, including previous winners Altior from Nicky Henderson’s yard, successful in 2018 and 2019, plus 2020 scorer Politologue for Paul Nicholls.
Politologue began his season with the fourth Grade 1 success of his career in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown Park in December while Altior endured just his second defeat in 17 chase starts when runner-up to Nube Negra, trained by Dan Skelton, in the Grade 2 Ladbrokes Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton Park on 27 December.
Trainer Paul Nicholls (pictured) and Nicky Henderson are jointly the most successful trainers of all time in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, alongside the late Tom Dreaper, with six winners each. Henderson has also made an entry for Grade 2 scorer Janika, while Nicholls’ other potential starters include Duc des Genievres, Greaneteen and Magic Saint.
Heading the market at 5/4 with sponsor Betway is the Willie Mullins-trained Chacun Pour Soi, one of 14 Irish-trained entries. Nine-year-old Chacun Pour Soi has yet to start at Cheltenham, having missed this contest last season due to a last-minute injury.
He has however looked imperious on his two starts so far this season, most recently cruising to victory in the Grade 1 Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase at Leopardstown on 27 December.
Third behind Chacun Pour Soi at Leopardstown was Put The Kettle On for Henry de Bromhead. The seven-year-old mare boasts a formidable record at Cheltenham, having won all three of her starts at the Home of Jump Racing.
At the 2020 Festival she landed the Grade 1 Arkle Novices’ Chase and began the 2020/21 campaign with success in the Grade 2 Shloer Chase at The November Meeting.
Another Irish entry to have already tasted success at Cheltenham this season is Chatham Street Lad. The Michael Winters nine-year-old was most impressive when taking the Grade 3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup by 15 lengths on 12 December.
First Flow for Kim Bailey has won six of his 10 starts over fences, including his last five starts. Most recently, he defied a big weight to capture the Castleford Handicap Chase at Wetherby on 27 December.
Gloucestershire-based Bailey is considering options for the nine-year-old and said: “First Flow is a horse that needs heavy ground, and he was very brave when winning at Wetherby over the Festive period.
“The Champion Chase is something we would think about, but the ground is going to be an important factor for him.
“He could run in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot later this month.”
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