Cheltenham Festival Eye-Catchers: Sky Pirate An Arkle Contender?

Sky Pirate has been touted as an Arkle contender, or should the Grand Annual be the target?
Sky Pirate has been touted as an Arkle contender, or should the Grand Annual be the target?

Steve Chambers looks back at the weekend action and picks out three horses that could play notable roles at the Cheltenham Festival in March...

Sky Pirate - Jonjo O'Neill (Grand Annual Chase or Arkle Challenge Trophy)

Jonjo O'Neill's decision to drop Sky Pirate back to two miles appears to have been an absolute masterstroke as having broken a long losing run over fences at Cheltenham in December, the Jackdaws Castle inmate duly followed up at the weekend at Warwick with a taking victory in the Edward Courage Cup Handicap Chase at Warwick.

Running off a mark of 145 on Saturday, Sky Pirate travelled serenely into the lead approaching the final fence before staying on for jockey Jonjo O'Neill Jr's urgings in the closing stages to follow up an impressive win at Cheltenham last month. Sent over fences for the first time in September 2018, Sky Pirate went on a ten-chase losing streak over a couple of years, with the O'Neill team trying him over a host of trips including the 3m 2f Kim Muir at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, where he finished seventh.

However, a drop down to the minimum trip of two miles has brought the best out of him, and Saturday's win has seen him launch to outright favouritism for the Grand Annual Chase on day two of the Cheltenham Festival. An 8/1 chance for that fiercely contested handicap chase, Sky Pirate will face an almighty task to claim victory of a mark most likely in the 150s, so could the O'Neill team be pushed to letting Sky Pirate line up in the Arkle Challenge Trophy.

Still regarded as a novice despite having 12 runs over fences, Sky Pirate was introduced into the Arkle betting as a 20/1 chance following his Warwick win, and he will have to continue his rapid rise if he is to lay down any sort of challenge to red-hot ante-post favourite Shishkin, who is an odds-on jolly for the Grade 1 contest. The Nicky Henderson-trained hotpot has made an impressive start to his chasing career and would be well clear of Sky Pirate on the ratings, but with Le Prezien the only horse to have won the Grand Annual in recent times off a mark of 150, when he won in 2018 for Paul Nicholls, then could Sky Pirate avoid a tough weight-carrying challenge in the Grand Annual and take on the two-mile novice chasing heavyweights in the Arkle? One to mull over!

Arkle Challenge Trophy
Sky Pirate silk

Sky Pirate

Next Destination - Paul Nicholls (Festival Novices' Chase or National Hunt Chase)

A Grade One-winning novice hurdler while under the stewardship of Willie Mullins, Next Destination is now making waves over fences for Paul Nicholls, and the nine-year-old enhanced his reputation with a gutsy win over Fiddlerontheroof in Warwick's Grade 2 Hampton Novices' Chase. Only three horses went to post for the 3m contest, but the aforementioned duo served up a thrilling finish with the Ditcheat raider just outstaying Colin Tizzard's Fiddlerontheroof, who may have just found the trip a bit too much.

Having only made his chasing debut in October, Next Destination made an instant impact as he claimed victory in the Grade 2 John Francome Novices' Chase at Newbury, and he made it two from two at the weekend with an impressive win, and it forced the bookmakers to trim him in the betting for both the Festival Novices' Chase (formerly RSA) and the National Hunt Chase.

A general 12/1 chance for the Festival Novices' Chase, Nicholls' charge is a few points shorter for the National Hunt Chase, as he is around an 8/1 chance, but where should he head in March? Harry Cobden was quick to cool the Cheltenham chat in the aftermath uttering that Nicholls could wait for Aintree, but Next Destination looks an improving novice chaser, and a tilt at the Cheltenham Festival could bring his big day in the spotlight.

Cheltenham Festival Tips

Stamina appears to be one of his strengths, so while he could run a solid race in the Festival Novices' Chase over three miles he will have a premier challenger in the shape of last year's Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle hero Monkfish, who is a warm order for the race (15/8), so Next Destination could more likely get his head in front in the National Hunt Chase. Slightly less than four miles, the National Hunt Chase has seen a host of runners come from victory in the Hampton Novices' Chase (Ms Parfois & OK Corral) to run in the National Hunt Chase, and Next Destination can continue that theme.

Third in the 2018 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, Next Destination has shown he can act around the undulations of Cheltenham, and having only had 11 career runs under Rules then he has very few miles on the clock, so is still open to significant improvement, and while Galvin looks a solid contender at the head of the betting for the marathon contest, Next Destination appears to have a little more class than that runner, so Nicholls should certainly head down that route with his exciting performer.

National Hunt Chase
Next Destination silk

Next Destination

Dreal Deal - Ronan McNally (Supreme Novices' Hurdle)

Sunday's card at Punchestown produced a whole host of thrills and spills with the obvious disappointment coming in the opening contest, the Killiney Novice Chase, as Asterion Forlonge's first fence fall meant the clash with Envoi Allen was somewhat of a damp squib, as Gordon Elliott's unbeaten superstar cruised to success to cement his place at the head of the Marsh Novices' Chase betting.

However, the standout story of the day came in the next race as the Ronan McNally-trained Dreal Deal defied a huge drift in the betting to claim victory in the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle. Opening a 9/1 chance, Dreal Deal amazingly drifted to the 22/1 outsider of the field, but the winning machine showed no signs of stopping his sensational run of late by pulling clear of Ganapathi to win by three lengths.

A winner off a mark of 84 in a mediocre handicap hurdle in September, Dreal Deal has rocketed up the ratings and is now to sit in the mid to high 140s following Sunday's win, which was his sixth success on the bounce. 

The bookmakers were forced to take his progression into account and having been 50/1 for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle prior to the off, he was cut into a 20/1 chance for the Cheltenham Festival curtain-raiser, and who's to say he won't continue to blossom over timber. The Willie Mullins-trained duo of Vautour and Douvan claimed victory in the Moscow Flyer before going on to romp to Supreme glory, and while Dreal Deal may not be in the same stratosphere as that Closutton duo, he is a very likeable horse who continues to defy the ratings. 

Set to be put away now until Cheltenham, he will face a multitude of exciting novice hurdlers with Appreciate It and Metier the two sitting at the head of the Supreme betting, but Dreal Deal has most certainly earned his place in the field now and will be a fascinating runner come March 16.

Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Dreal Deal silk

Dreal Deal

Cheltenham Festival Races
Advert Disclaimer is a free online resource which endeavour to provide helpful and useful content and odds comparison to its visitors. Please be advised that accepts affiliate commission from the companies appearing on the site, and agreed commission levels impact the location and order in which the companies (and/or their products) are presented on the website. Any ratings that appear on this site is determined by our subjective opinion of the brand but also based on market share and reputation, each brand's conversion rates, commission paid to us and general consumer interest. Company listings on this page don't imply our endorsement. We do not feature all providers on the market. Except as expressly set forth in our terms and conditions, all statements and warranties regarding the information presented on this page are disclaimed. The information, including odds, which appear on this site is subject to change at any time.

100% Up To £50 Welcome Bonus + 25 Spins

#AD 18+; New bettors get 100% of deposit up to £50; Once per household; Min deposit £15 (no Skrill/Neteller); Wager a total of 8 times deposit + bonus, with max qualifying bet stake equal to your initial bonus amount; Bonus expires after 60 days; Min odds of 4/5 on singles, or 2/5 per leg for acca; Some bet types excluded; Free spins validity: 7 days; Free spins max. winnings = £100; See full terms; Terms apply.
Bet £10 Get £30 In Free Bets
#AD 18+. Play Safe. New customers using Promo code H30 only, Min £10/€10 stake,  min odds 1/2, free bets paid as 2 x £15/€15, free bets credited after  settlement of first qualifying bet, free bets will expire 30 days after  the qualifying bet is placed, payment method/player/country restrictions apply.
Bet £10 Get £30 Free Bets (APP Only)
#AD New UK, IE & Malta customers only. 18+. Min £10/€10 first deposit using Debit Card or Trustly. Place a bet of £10 at min odds of 1.5. Free bets expire in 90 days. Full T&Cs apply.
Welcome Offer
#AD Bet £10 & Get £50 in Free Bets for new customers at bet365. Min deposit requirement. Free Bets are paid as Bet Credits and are available for use upon settlement of bets to value of qualifying deposit. Min odds, bet and payment method exclusions apply. Returns exclude Bet Credits stake. Time limits and T&Cs apply. The bonus code SPTS365 can be used during registration, but does not change the offer amount in any way.
Bet £10 Get £60 in Bonuses
#AD New UK customers only. Register using the promo code BETFRED60, deposit and place first bet of £10+ on Sports (cumulative Evens+) within 7 days of registration. First bet must be on Sports. £20 in Free Bets to be used on Sports, £10 in Free Bets to be used on Lotto and 50 Free Spins (20p per spin) credited within 48 hours of bet settlement. Further £20 in Free Bets credited 5 days after settlement. Bonuses have a 7-day expiry. Payment restrictions apply. SMS verification and/or Proof of I.D and address may be required. Full T&Cs apply.
Bet £20 & Get It Back As CASH If It Loses
#AD New customers only. Place your FIRST bet on any Horse Racing market and if it loses we will refund your stake in CASH. Max refund for this offer is £20. Only deposits made using cards will qualify for this promotion. T&Cs apply.
Money Back As Cash Up To £20
#AD Max £20 refund on first bet. Bet must be placed in first 7 days of account opening. Only deposits made via Debit Card will be eligible for the promotion. T&Cs apply. 18+
Bet £10 Get £30 Free Bets + £10 Casino Bonus
#AD Minimum deposit of £10 using deposit code 30F - A qualifying bet is a ‘real money’ stake of at least £10 placed on any sports market - Minimum odds of 1/2 (1.5) - Free bets credited upon qualifying bet settlement and expire after 7 days - Free bet stakes not included in returns - Casino Bonus must be claimed within 7 days • To withdraw bonus/related wins, wager bonus amount x40 within 14 days • Wagering req. vary by game • Withdrawal restrictions and Full T&C’s apply. 18+
Bet £10 Get £30 Free Bets
#AD Offer includes a free £1 Race Index spread bet to try out our exciting 50-25-10 race markets. Place a £10 fixed odds bet at minimum odds of 1/2. Get 2 x £10 free fixed odds bets + 2 x £5 free Winning Favourites spread bets. Bet with live streaming on all racing and greyhounds! Ts&Cs Apply. 18+
Bet £10 Get £10 + £10 Casino Bonus
#AD New UK customers (Excluding NI) mobile only. £20 in FREE Bets (FB) as £10 in sports bets & a £10 casino bonus (CB). Min stake £10. Min odds Evs. FB applied on 1st settlement of any qualifying bet. FB 7 day expiry. 1 FB offer per customer, household & IP address only. Payment restrictions. 14 days to accept £10 CB, then active for 3 days. CB 5x wagering & max redeemable £100. Game restrictions apply. Cashed out/Free Bets won’t apply. 30 days to qualify. 18+.  T&Cs apply
£25 Free Bet + 10 Free Spins
If your account has Sportsbook losses at the end of your first day's betting, QuinnBet will refund 50% of your losses as a Free Bet up to £25 (min 3 bets) Plus 10 Free Spins on Asgard Warriors. Even if your account is up, you're guaranteed a £5 Free Bet Plus 10 Free Spins provided you place at least 1 bet of £10 or greater at the minimum odds. T&Cs apply | 18+ New UK Customers Only |
Latest racing results
3rdGolden Valour
4thValentine Getaway
1stFortunes Melody
2ndVoice Of Calm
3rdFairfield Ferrata
View All Today's Results