Cheltenham Festival clues at Ascot and Haydock this weekend

Cheltenham Festival clues: Bristol De Mai will bid for a hat-trick in the Betfair Chase
Cheltenham Festival clues: Bristol De Mai will bid for a hat-trick in the Betfair Chase

Steve Chambers takes a look at the weekend action at Ascot and Haydock, where the Betfair Chase and Coral Hurdle take centre stage, and looks at where some 2021 Cheltenham Festival clues could emerge...

Ascot 14:05, Saturday (Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase)

Paul Nicholls has trained six of the last ten winners of the 1965 Chase at Ascot, and the Ditcheat handler is set to unleash a dual-pronged attack on Saturday's contest, which has only attracted four entries. Despite the disappointing turnout for the Grade 2 race run over 2m 5f 8y, it should still serve up a thrilling contest and Nicholls will be hoping that either Black Corton or Real Steel can claim glory at the Berkshire venue.

Kim Bailey's Imperial Aura and Olly Murphy's Itchy Feet complete the quartet of the entries, and it's the former of that pair that makes most appeal when finding a potential Cheltenham Festival winner in March. A spectacular winner of the Novices' Handicap Chase at last season's festival, Imperial Aura kicked off his campaign with an authoritative victory at Carlisle, which saw the bookmakers slash his price to 16/1 for the 2021 Ryanair Chase. Run over the same distance of 2m 5f on Saturday that the Ryanair is run over, Imperial Aura will be looking to emulate some top notch horses that have won this event en route to Ryanair glory.

Jonjo O'Neill's Albertas Run won the 2009 1965 Chase before going on to land the 2010 Ryanair Chase, while the mighty Willie Mullins-trained Vautour tasted success in the 2015 1965 Chase before he went on to steamroller the 2016 Ryanair Chase field by six lengths. If Imperial Aura can strike gold in this weekend's renewal then the seven-year-old could propel to the head of the Ryanair Chase betting, as with the bookmakers going 8/1 the field in the Grade 1 event on March 18, 2021, at the time of writing, then there's no horse currently dominating the betting in the Thursday highlight.

While two horses have used this event as a stepping stone to Ryanair glory in the last decade or so, it can be a race that throws up some genuine Queen Mother Champion Chase contenders, with the abovementioned Nicholls having saddled some sparkling winners of both. Dual Champion Chase (2008,2009) hero Master Minded lined up in the 2010 1965 Chase as the star two-miler was stepped up in trip, and the classy jumper went on to not only land victory in 2010, but he retained his crown the following year. More recently, Politologue was a fine winner of the 2018 1965 Chase at Ascot, and it was only in March the galloping grey got his day in the spotlight at the Cheltenham Festival, as he landed victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

While this season's quartet may not have the two-mile division on their radars, there could be some eye-catching Ryanair Chase clues on offer, with Imperial Aura being the standout figure when trying to unearth a festival winner in March.

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Haydock 15:00, Saturday (Betfair Chase)

Since the Betfair Chase was first run in 2005, Kauto Star is the only horse to win both the Haydock Grade 1 and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the same season, and there will be some class acts looking to emulate the Paul Nicholls-trained superstar on Saturday in an intriguing renewal. Colin Tizzard's Lostintranslation (2019) and the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Bristol De Mai (2017, 2018) have both tasted victory in the Betfair Chase previously, while dual King George VI Chase winner Clan Des Obeaux will be attempting to notch up another notable Grade 1 success.

Kauto Star may be the only horse to achieve the Betfair Chase/Cheltenham Gold Cup double in the same season, but many leading Gold Cup contenders take in the Betfair Chase en route to the festival, and this year's renewal should throw up some genuine Gold Cup players. Clan Des Obeaux isn't one of them, as the Ditcheat raider will be sent to the King George VI Chase at Christmas and then bypass Cheltenham, as he has struggled to fire in that event in recent seasons.

Cheltenham Festival Tips

The most likely contender for Gold Cup glory in March is Lostintranslation, who having won this race 12 months ago then went on to finish a gallant third in the 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup, and the eight-year-old could prove to be a more improved staying chaser this season. Travelling smoothly into the Gold Cup, Lostintranslation was just outstayed by Al Boum Photo and Santini, but Saturday's three-mile test should prove ideal for Tizzard's charge, who is making his comeback run. Currently a 14/1 shot for the Gold Cup, Lostintranslation will contract in the betting, should he ease to glory at the weekend.

Bristol De Mai maybe heading into the twilight of his career, but the nine-year-old, who won the 2017 and 2018 Betfair Chase will be looking to land the hat-trick this weekend. A 40/1 shot for the Gold Cup, Bristol De Mai showed when finishing third in the 2019 Gold Cup that he can land a blow at the top level, but Saturday's test could well pathe the way for where his season heads, as defeat to Lostintranslation again could see him drop out of the Gold Cup market altogether, and a tilt at the Grand National (33/1) could be in line for the Naunton challenger.

Ascot 14:40, Saturday (Coral Hurdle)

Another Grade 2 contest taking place at Ascot on Saturday is the Coral Hurdle, which can be used as either a trial for the Champion Hurdle or Stayers' Hurdle. Run over 2m 3f 58y, the Coral Hurdle will see the speedsters step up in trip, while the stayers will drop back in trip. The last winner of the Coral Hurdle that went on to taste Champion Hurdle glory was the mighty Faugheen, who won the 2014 Coral Hurdle before going on to win the 2015 Champion Hurdle.

You have to go back to 2001 to see the last Coral Hurdle winner that went on to claim Stayers' Hurdle success four months later, as French raider Baracouda did the Ascot/Cheltenham double, but this year's renewal looks like it could throw up a more likely Champion Hurdle contender than that of a Stayers' Hurdle challenger.

Goshen, who was a final flight faller in the Triumph Hurdle last season when miles clear, is entered to take his chance, and the Gary Moore-trained four-year-old is currently an 8/1 chance to win the 2021 Champion Hurdle. Last seen running flat on the level, Goshen will relish a return to the hurdling sphere, and if he can take a notable success then his price in a wide open Champion Hurdle market could shorten.

Paul Nicholls last won this race with Silviniaco Conti in 2010 and the Ditcheat handler will saddle Laurina, who has switched from Willie Mullins' yard to Nicholls' stable, and the former Mares' Novices' Hurdle heroine will look to recapture the form she showed when winning at the Cheltenham Festival earlier in her career. Last year's Martin Pipe hero Indefatigable is a 33/1 shot for the Stayers' Hurdle and will take his chance, while the likes of Call Me Lord and Song For Someone add more depth to the event, but neither of those will likely to turn into leading Cheltenham Festival contenders.

Cheltenham Festival Races

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