It looks like it’s going to be another bumper year at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival. Entries for the first three races – the Queen Mother Champion Chase 2020, the Ryanair Chase and the Gold Cup are already in and there’s plenty to look at.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase 2020 has attracted 31 entries, however, within a day of getting the green light, potential runner, Waiting patiently, has already been ruled out due to injury. That leaves 30 hopefuls vying it out for one of only 20 places allowed in the race. As this is not handicapped, all runners will automatically go off carrying 11-10 each. So whittling down the prospects will often happen by default as many are entered into other races and may opt to run elsewhere at the Festival.
It is absolutely no surprise to see Altior head the list of entries. The Nicky Henderson superstar won 19 consecutive races spanning October 2015 to April 2019 before his run came to an end at Ascot when beaten by Cyrname in November 2019. Despite this ante-post odds on Altior to win his third consecutive Queen Mother Champion Chase are as low as 3/1. Cyrname is also entered and has odds of 16/1 but also has a second option of the Ryanair Chase for which he is a general 10/1.
Altior may be the current favourite but now that is seen as beatable he will have plenty of challenges on his hands. First among them is Defi Du Seuil who is just marginally behind him on the betting markets. The Philip Hobbs trained seven-year-old is also on incredible form. Owned by JP McManus, who is no stranger to Cheltenham winners, he won the JLT Novices Chase at the Festival last season. He has started off strongly again this season notching up wins at both Cheltenham and Sandown in the Tingle Creek.
Another potential runner to keep a close eye on is Chacun Pour Soi. Trained by Willie Mullins, he actually beat Defi Du Seuil last May at Punchestown in the Ryanair Novices Chase. However, on his seasonal return in December, he lost out to A Plus Tard at Leopardstown. Both are also entered into the Ryanair Chase for the 2020 Cheltenham Festival.
The Ryanair Chase is just 4f longer than the Queen Mother Champion Chase and both are well within the capability of A Plus Tard. What makes this even more interesting is that Rachael Blackmore is likely to be on board. If she can bag a win in either The Queen Mother or the Ryanair Chase, she could become the first female jockey to win two Grade 1 races at the Festival. Her first was last year on Minella Indo in the Albert Bartlett. However, that win came after Bryony Frost won the Ryanair Chase on Frodon, making history in the process. If Blackmore can pip her to the post in at the Cheltenham Festival 2020, she too will go into the history books.
Champion Chase 2020 Trainers
The Queen Mother Champion Chase 2020, despite it’s 31 entries, only has prospects from 16 trainers. Willie Mullins heads the pack with seven of them. He has some pretty heavy hitters in the bunch including Douvan (12/1), Min (20/1) and Footpad (40/1). In fact, Willie Mullins trains six of the top 10 in the betting markets. And yet, despite the caliber of runner that he sends to the Cheltenham Festival every year, he has never won the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Will 2020 change all of that?
He is followed closely by Paul Nicholls who has entered six. His big runners include Politologue (25/1) and the much-fancied Cyrname (16/1). Unlike Mullins, Paul Nicholls has tasted plenty of success in this race over the years. He has won it five times with his first in 1999 with Call Equiname, ridden by Mick Fitzgerald. He can also add Azertyuiop (2004), Master Minded (2008 and 2009) and Dodging Bullets (2015) to the list.
Can any of them take on the task of beating Altior? As the Cheltenham Festival 2020 draws closer the picture should become a lot clearer. For now, it’s a waiting game. Full ante-post odds are available with Paddy Power, should you fancy an early flutter!