A first look at form for Cheltenham Festival with racing expert Rishi Persad

04 Feb 2020

Between now and Tuesday 10th March you'll be repeatedly reminded of how long the wait is until the start of the Cheltenham Festival. I say we should embrace every second of the anticipation.

On the emerald isle

Anticipation was only heightened by events at the Dublin Racing Festival recently: heartwarming stories highlighted by our old hero Faugheen, the renewed promise of superstar status for Chacun Pour Soi and affirmation that we are already onto something special with Honeysuckle and Rachel Blackmore.

Although those achievements earned huge praise on the day, it was impossible not to view them and other notable performances at Leopardstown within the prism of what could be at the Cheltenham Festival.

Eyes on the prize

Of course, it's about betting and trying to make some money, so it's time for me to declare that I have an ante-post bet on three horses for the Festival: Chacun Pour Soi in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Defi Du Seuil in the Ryanair and Lostintranslation in the Gold Cup. I watched the racing from Leopardstown wondering whether the results would strengthen or weaken my faith in my ante-post position.

I will start with Defi Du Seuil. My choice of backing him for the Ryanair seems to have gone astray, given that it's been campaigned as inevitable that he'll run against Chacun Pour Soi in the Champion Chase. I live in hope that he will be re-routed to the two and a half mile championship.

Initially I felt that Chacun Pour Soi’s defeat of Defi at Punchestown last May was so convincing that, should both turn up in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, there would be only one winner, regardless of whether Altior runs in the race or not.

That belief was shaken when Chacun Pour Soi was beaten by A Plus Tard at Christmas and Defi established his position as this season’s leading two-mile chaser in Britain. Willie Mullin’s chaser, however, looked more like the real deal at Leopardstown and I remain convinced that Chacun Pour Soi Punchestown performance makes him the one to beat.

Surprises at every turn

The Gold Cup picture is still somewhat vague after Delta Work beat Kemboy and Presenting Percy again in the Irish equivalent. At the start of this season it was my hope that Lostintranslation would prove to be the new superstar staying chaser. His comeback win at Carlisle and defeat of Bristol De Mai at Haydock suggested he was on track, but his abject performance at Kempton was a big blow.

Last year’s Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo is the bookies’ favourite, but was beaten by Kemboy at Punchestown and Kemboy has now twice been beaten by Delta Work. The latter was beaten by Topofthegame and Santini at last year’s Festival and Topofthegame was thumped at Aintree by Lostintranslation.

I'm certain it's not quite as simple as that, but clearly Lostintranslation was prevented from producing his best at Kempton. As long as he's back to his best at Cheltenham, I would rather be with him than with any other Gold Cup contender.

These sentiments will all probably change again next week and the week after that, but that's just what happens on the way to the Festival. I for one am happy to embrace it and enjoy the ride.

- Rishi Persad

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A first look at form for Cheltenham Festival with racing expert Rishi Persad

04 February 2020

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