Cheltenham: surprise packages who could shake up festival
Moon Racer: Supreme favourite will be entered in the Champion Hurdle
PICTURE: Getty Images Surprise packages who could shake up festival
By James Burn 4:37PM 4 JAN 2017
SOME bookmakers have prices for every race the Cheltenham Festival, but most interest centres around the main four contests. Each of the week's championships have a firm favourite, but we take a look at some leftfield horses who could shake things up.
Stan James Champion Hurdle
Faugheen or Annie Power likely win this if they turn up, but that's the question. Neither has run this season and the longer their absences continue the more the rumour mill will go into overdrive.
David Pipe has already said Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle favourite Moon Racer, who won the Champion Bumper in 2015, will be entered in the race and connections could fancy crack if the main two bite the dust.
Buveur D'Air and Yorkhill were among the best novice hurdlers last season, but have not convinced everyone over fences this term, while their form from the spring with leading Champion Hurdle contenders Petit Mouchoir and Yanworth would make them players in the big one.
Buveur D'Air's stablemate L'Ami Serge might also not be the maddest suggestion. He returned over hurdles when second in the Relkeel recently and his only other defeat in that sphere in Britain came behind Douvan in the 2015 Supreme when he had an epiglottis problem. A strongly run two miles could suit, but he might be best on soft ground.
Altior: brave, and unlikely, call to run in the Champion Chase
PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
Douvan is the hottest of hot festival favourites and it will something special to stop him capturing a third straight Cheltenham crown.
Uxizandre, Sir Anthony McCoy's final Cheltenham winner in the 2015 Ryanair, is something of a forgotten horse, but that's because he hasn't been seen since then. However, trainer Alan King reports him to be coming on well and plans to give him an outing soon. He is 33-1 for the Champion Chase – he will be entered, King has said – and could make the frame as other course appearances resulted in a second in the JLT Novices' Chase and a victory in the Shloer Chase.
It is unlikely Racing Post Arkle favourite Altior would switch to this, but he has been given an entry in the non-novice Clarence House Chase at Ascot this month and the Game Spirit has been talked about – and as we've seen with Coneygree and Thistlecrack, fortune can favour the brave.
Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle
Unowhatimeanharry looks the one they have to beat in this, but the race that used to be known as the World Hurdle is perhaps most likely to allow a dark horse to emerge.
More Of That, who won the race in 2014 when beating Annie Power, has not really taken to fences and a switch back would not be the biggest surprise, but owner JP McManus owns Unowhatimeanharry and fellow leading contender Jezki.
Like More Of That, Alpha Des Obeaux has not hit the heights as a novice chaser, but take Thistlecrack out and he's a 22-length winner of last season's World Hurdle. He is 20-1 to go one better in March and his owner Gigginstown House Stud is deep in the novice chase department so could afford to redirect the seven-year-old.
The New One would also come into calculations, but it seems trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies's arm won't be twisted and he has his heart set on another Champion Hurdle attempt.
Vroum Vroum Mag: could the star mare go back over fences?
PICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos
Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup
Even if Cue Card goes for the Ryanair, the Gold Cup could be a Colin Tizzard benefit gig with Thistlecrack heading the market and Native River second in the betting.
Tizzard, however, has not been shy to talk up the chances of French import Alary, last seen finishing second in November's Grade 1 Prix la Haye Jousselin.
His claims will become clearer if he runs in the Betbright Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham on January 28, although you can get 50-1 about him now.
Douvan is as short as 14-1 for the Gold Cup, but the only way he seems likely to line up is if WWE scriptwriters take over the training and management of Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci horses.
The Gold Cup is, however, the race they covet most and they could turn to their supersub Vroum Vroum Mag, who ranges from 16-1 to 40-1 in the betting. Although given her versatility and class, she could easily step into any of the other championship races.
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