Friday 26 June 2020

Can Old Favourites Get Back to Cheltenham Festival in 2021?

One of the endearing qualities of jumps horse racing as opposed to the Flat is that National Hunt horses go on for longer.
They really do become public property and the Cheltenham Festival sees the same equine stars turning up year after year. There were some high-profile absentees from Britain’s premier jumps meeting in 2020, so will we see familiar faces return perhaps for the last time next year?
The legendary Sea Pigeon was the last 10-year-old to win the Champion Hurdle way back in 1980. That is the size of the task facing Buveur D’Air if he overcomes the gruesome injury suffered during the 2019 Fighting Fifth at Newcastle and races again next term.
While owner JP McManus and trainer Nicky Henderson won the Champion Hurdle anyway this past season with Epatante, Buveur D’Air has arguably been the leading British hurdler of recent times. It is pretty late in his career to spend time on the sidelines, but the freak accident that saw a splinter from an obstacle sticking out of his hoof is not necessarily the end.
Buveur D’Air owes nobody – connections or punters – anything after many years of loyal service at Seven Barrows. The comeback trail is tough and that is reflected in his odds of 20/1 for the 2021 Champion Hurdle, but Henderson has done it with other great horses in the yard.

Sprinter Sacre immediately springs to mind, and that brings us on to another absent friend from Cheltenham, in his fellow dual Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Altior. Drama has followed this horse in some of his races and during past preparation for previous Festivals.
Last-minute lameness caused Altior to miss his tilt at a Champion Chase hat-trick. There was no late reprieve or miracle poultice that could get him to the track.
As the MansionBet Cheltenham blog highlights, Henderson is the joint-most successful trainer in Champion Chase history though, and Altior is 13/2 to regain his crown aged 11 next year. It’s not unheard of for a horse in double figures to win this prestigious event at the Festival either.
Sprinter Sacre regained it aged 10 to much fanfare from an adoring Cheltenham crowd in 2016. The following year, the ill-fated Special Tiara caused an upset when he won it at the same point in his career.

Altior still showed plenty of ability, registering an easy third success in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury in February after losing his famous match with Cyrname over an extended two-and-a-half miles at Ascot. This is a four-time Cheltenham Festival winner we are talking about. Moscow Flyer regained the Champion Chase in 2005 at the age of 11, and another great Irish raider called Skymas doubled up in the race at 11 and 12. Recent trends show that younger horses landing the spoils are the exception rather than the rule. As with Buveur D’Air, there is no denying the fact that Altior is vulnerable to rivals with less wear and tear, but no racehorse has yet had the class to beat him over obstacles at two miles.

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