The Cheltenham stars are lining up
Al Boum Photo, Chacun Pour Soi, Honeysuckle, and Paisley Park feature among a host of stars going forward for the six non-novice Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival
Al Boum Photo (Willie Mullins) heads 29 acceptors for the feature Grade 1 Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday 19 March, in his quest to become the first three-time winner of Jump racing’s Blue Riband since Best Mate in 2004.
Fellow Irish challenger A Plus Tard (Henry de Bromhead) is set to pose a serious threat following his thrilling victory in the Grade 1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Grade 1 Ladbrokes King George VI Chase victor Frodon (Paul Nicholls) will attempt to become the first horse since Long Run to win Kempton Park’s mid-winter highlight and chasing’s most prestigious prize in the same season.
Fast improving novice Royal Pagaille (Venetia Williams) and 2020 Grade 1 Festival Novices’ Chase victor Champ (Nicky Henderson) also go forward.
Chacun Pour Soi (Willie Mullins) is the red-hot favourite for the Grade 1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday 17 March, following two deeply impressive displays in Grade 1 company at Leopardstown.
The 24 remaining entries also include Altior (Nicky Henderson), who landed the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2018 and 2019 during a 19-race unbeaten streak. Badsworth Boy in the 1980s is the only triple winner of the race.
Star mares Honeysuckle (pictured) (Henry de Bromhead) and Epatante (Nicky Henderson), the defending champion, are on course for an exciting clash in the Grade 1 Unibet Champion Hurdle on Tuesday 16 March.
Epatante has something to prove after a shock defeat behind Silver Streak (Evan Williams) in the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle, while Honeysuckle looked as good as ever in the Grade 1 Irish Champion Hurdle, notching up her 10th consecutive win under Rules.
Other names to note among the 23 acceptors include Buveur d’Air (Nicky Henderson), the winner of this race in 2017 and 2018, and classy five-year-old Aspire Tower (Henry de Bromhead).
An intriguing showdown in the Grade 1 Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle is on the cards, with Paisley Park (Emma Lavelle) and Thyme Hill (Philip Hobbs) headlining the 42 remaining entries.
The score between the pair stands at one apiece this season, with Thyme Hill victorious in the Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November before Paisley Park reversed the placings in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December.
Grade 1 Irish Gold Cup winner Kemboy has been left in after trainer Willie Mullins suggested he could pitch up here instead of taking up an engagement over fences at thr Festival.
Ante-post favourite Allaho (Willie Mullins) and Imperial Aura (Kim Bailey) top 35 acceptors for the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase on the same afternoon, Thursday 18 March.
Min (Willie Mullins) and Saint Calvados (Harry Whittington), the first and second from last year, also go forward along with Mister Fisher (Nicky Henderson) and Master Tommytucker (Paul Nicholls).
Willie Mullins has a formidable record in the Grade 1 Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle on the opening day, winning nine of the 13 renewals. He is responsible for five of the 23 remaining entries, with his team headed by the 2019 winner Benie des Dieux and Concertista.