CHRIS Graham (@chrisgraham79) casts his eye over previous Cheltenham Festival results and highlights six trends to heed with regard to the 2020 action.
Six key horses to avoid at the Cheltenham Festival
The storylines of Cheltenham past are always treasured, but as well as providing heart-soaring memories they also help fill the pieces of the latest Cheltenham jigsaw puzzles that need to be solved.
Previous results provide us with typical profiles of certain race winners at Cheltenham and in this piece I'll highlight six well-fancied horses who don't fit the typical winner profiles of the race they're running in.
Let's see if we can get some of them beaten.
Champion Hurdle | Tuesday 15:30 | ITV1
Key Trend: 23 of the last 25 winners ran in the same calendar year before winning the Champion Hurdle
Going back to the early 1990's, this trend reflects the strength of a (fairly) recent run for Champion Hurdle winners. The Irish Champion Hurdle and Sandown's Contenders Hurdle (both now in early February) have been the key springboard for Cheltenham glory and trainers clearly like the idea of keeping their Champion hopes strongly engaged a few weeks before the big race.
This year's favourite EPATANTE does not fall into this category as her last run came on Boxing Day in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
RSA Chase | Wednesday 14:10 | ITV1
Key Trend: Only two 8 year olds have won this race since 1999
CHAMP makes the one-to-avoid trend list for the second year running due to his age. The Nicky Henderson trained beast was too old at seven for the Ballymore last year and despite a few tentative moments he came up short against City Island.
This year he goes in search of squashing another big age trend as he looks to become only the third eight-year-old to win this novice contest in the 21st Century.
Champ is 0/2 at Cheltenham with jumping issues so I'm happy to see him in the dodge list here.
Champion Chase | Wednesday 15:30 | ITV1
Key Trend: 19 of the last 21 Champion Chase winners had ran at Cheltenham before
I'm a huge fan of Festival form and would be reluctant to back a horse in a championship race who'd never set foot at Prestbury Park before. Enter CHACUN POUR SOI.
If Altior gets to the course on Wednesday then this year's Champion Chase sits atop this year's festival bill, it has a real 10pm Pyramid Stage slot feel to it. The reigning champ with a bit to prove, this season's two mile hero and the French freak who no one had heard of this time last year. It's said freak who hits the avoid list as this will be his virginal trip to the Cotswolds.
Only Newmill (2006) and Master Minded (2008) won this race first time Cheltenham out.
Ryanair Chase | Thursday 14:50 | ITV1
Key Trend: 13 of the 15 winners of this race had won a race at Cheltenham
This will be MIN‘s fourth trip to the Festival and he'll be looking to follow in the footsteps of The Fellow who won the 1994 Gold Cup after three fruitless jaunts across the Channel to Cheltenham.
Min's CV is hard to crab with a fine second to Altior in the 2016 Supreme Novices Hurdle and 2018 Champion Chase but he's attempting something in the Ryanair that's only happened twice in the race's history – a hitherto non Cheltenham winner winning the Thursday contest.
In Min's favour he's a better horse than the two who did smash that stat (Riverside Theatre and Balko Des Flos) but neither of them had failed at the course three times like he has.
Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle | Friday 14:50 | ITV1
Key Trend: Only one Challow Hurdle winner has won at the following Cheltenham Festival in the last 29 years
The Challow Hurdle is the headline race on the final Saturday of the calendar year and always takes centre stage within media coverage that day. When you look at the recent roll of honour (of more later) then you can understand the fuss regarding this Grade 1 Newbury contest.
But as regards a Cheltenham trial for later in the season then the Challow Hurdle has a dreadful record. Margaret Thatcher was still in Downing Street when Forest Sun followed up his 1989 Challow Hurdle win by winning the following year's Supreme Novices Hurdle. As Thatcher's premiership crumbled later that year so did the Challow's reputation as a strong Cheltenham trial.
Over the last 30 years the likes of Denman, Large Action, Champ, Diamond Harry, Reve De Sivola and Fingal Bay have triumphed in the Challow and gone on to fail the following March. The outlier was the very decent Wichita Lineman who did the Challow-Albert Bartlett double in 2006/07.
What does it mean for this year? It means treat 2019 Challow winner and 2020 Albert Bartlett favourite THYME HILL with caution!
Gold Cup | Friday 15:30 | ITV1
Key Trend: Only one horse has successfully defended their Gold Cup title since 1972
While the other three Championship races are replete with repeat winners, the Gold Cup stands alone as the race that offers no easy road back to the winners enclosure. This contest is a monument to deep physical endurance that can leave a deeply scarring experience for those that triumph.
Some of the all-time greats that transcend the sport failed to back up their win the following year (Desert Orchid, Kauto Star, Dawn Run, Denman) and in almost 50 years it's only the Henrietta Knight trained Best Mate who came back and conquered (twice in 2003 and 2004).
This year's contender is AL BOUM PHOTO who won the flagship race 12 months ago. Will the negatives of history crush his two-in-a-row bid?
Cheltenham Trends – Six horses to avoid
Champion Hurdle – Epatante
RSA Chase – Champ
Champion Chase – Chacun Pour Soi
Ryanair Chase – Min
Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle – Thyme Hill
Gold Cup – Al Boum Photo