Cheltenham 2020: Two Legendary Horses Sprinkle Stardust on UK Festival
Who have been the best-performing racehorses of the last decade? Triple Crown winners American Pharoah or Justify, perhaps? Gun Runner, maybe? Winx certainly has the phenomenal numbers to back up such claims. But in the unique world of national hunt racing, few could hold a candle to the brilliant Altior over the last decade. He went four years unbeaten, a stretch that consisted of 19 consecutive wins – a world record for national hunt racing.
While Altior’s astounding winning record gives him claims of being the best in his discipline in modern times, there is another jumps horse that is arguably held in higher affection – Faugheen. The 12yo won the Champion Hurdle back in 2015 but has, somewhat surprisingly, reinvented himself as a novice chaser this season with some spectacular results.
Both Altior and Faugheen will head to Cheltenham this year in pursuit of different goals, but the team behind them will be well aware that history and legacy are also on the line. It’s the kind of stardust any great racing event needs to capture the imagination of the spectators.
Altior ran into headwinds
With 20 wins in his last 21 races, Altior no longer needs to prove himself. But the tantalising chance of becoming only the second horse in history to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase three times must be at the forefront of trainer Nicky Henderson’s thoughts.
That is not going to be easy, however. That one tick in the loss column, coming in late 2019, has caused bookmakers to set what is effectively a three-way tie at the top of the betting markets for the 2020 Champion Chase. William Hill provides a price of 2/1 for Altior, making him the slight favourite ahead of Defi Du Seuil at 9/4 and Chacun Pour Soi at 5/2.
That price of 2/1 for Altior is, as you might expect, not commonly seen for a horse that is usually odds-on, but there have been enough doubts over his preparedness and form to encourage punters to bet elsewhere. One would imagine, however, that the odds will tighten further as we approach race day.
It’s going to be the most anticipated race of the festival, going off at 3.30 pm on Wednesday 11th March. The coverage of the race is on ITV, with the broadcaster showing the first five races for every day of the festival. It’s also possible to watch the action via betting sites. If you want to find out how, you can learn how to watch Cheltenham racing 2020 live at Freebets.com. Normally a small bet (£1 or less) is required to watch live racing through a bookmaker’s website stream, but betting sites have plenty of promotions on during Cheltenham, including free bets, that can negate any cost.
Faugheen enjoying swansong as chaser
As for Faugheen, the Willie Mullins-trained horse looks likely to contest the Grade 1 Marsh Novices’ Chase, which is perhaps a bit more low-key than the Champion Chase but will undoubtedly receive extra attention given the participation of the horse known as “The Machine”. Faugheen sits at an interesting price of 7/1 (Betfair), with many bookmakers now opting for Itchy Feet, a horse only half Faugheen’s age, as the marginal favourite at 6/1.
If both Faugheen and Altior are at their best at the festival, there will be no contest, and their legions of fans will happily cash in their bet slips for a tidy profit. However, in Faugheen’s case, age, and form struggles in Altior’s, mean that there is more hope than usual for the rest of the field.
And yet, in recent races we have seen some of the qualities that made Faugheen and Altior modern greats; namely, that sense of being on a different level than the mere mortals lined up beside them. We saw it as Faugheen slapped down Samcro at Limerick at Christmas time, and again when Altior found an extra gear at the last fence in his return at Newbury.
At their best, both horses tend to make winning look effortless. And regardless of where they are in the field, the eye of the spectator is drawn towards them. Horse racing fans are an emotional folk, and they will be well aware that these two stars are coming towards the end of their careers. The stage is set for two modern greats to light up Cheltenham, for one last perhaps.