The Festival 2019: Altior heads championship race acceptors

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Superstar chaser Altior headlines the acceptors for the six non-novice G1 championship races at The Festival™ presented by Magners following the scratching deadline on 12th February.

Timeform’s top-rated Jump horse Altior (Nicky Henderson, 191p with Timeform) is going for back-to-back victories in the £400,000 G1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (18 acceptors) over two miles on Ladies Day, Wednesday 13th March.

The nine-year-old, unbeaten in 17 races over obstacles, is seeking a fourth successive victory at The Festival, with his illustrious CV also featuring the 2016 G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and 2017 G1 Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase at The Festival unlike Ladbrokes at the Grand National 2019.

Altior defeated Min (180)by seven lengths in great style in the 2018 G1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase and that rival could re-oppose after a faultless display in the G1 Dublin Chase at Leopardstown on 2nd February. Min’s trainer Willie Mullins has also left in Footpad (183), an impressive winner of the 2018 G1 Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase.

Native River (Colin Tizzard, 183) and Might Bite (Nicky Henderson, 179) are among the 36 acceptors for the feature race of the four days at Cheltenham in March, the £625,000 G1 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup over three and a quarter miles at 3.30pm on Friday 15th March. The pair served up a pulsating battle in the championship staying chase last year, with Native River repelling Might Bite by four and a half lengths.

Both horses contested the G1 32Red King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, in which progressive seven-year-old Clan Des Obeaux (181) came of age for multiple Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning trainer Paul Nicholls. Native River and Might Bite finished third and seventh respectively.

The powerful Irish challenge, numbering 20 at the moment, for the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup is spearheaded by Presenting Percy (Pat Kelly IRE, 180p), who was the runaway winner of the G1 RSA Novices’ Chase at The Festival in 2018. He won on his seasonal debut in the G2 Galmoy Hurdle last month and is set to return to Gowran Park for the G2 Red Mills Chase this Saturday 16th February.

Bellshill (177) threw his hat into the ring with a short-head victory over Road To Respect (Noel Meade IRE, 177) in the G1 Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on 3rd February. Bellshill’s trainer Willie Mullins is chasing a first victory Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup, having trained the runner-up on six occasions, and is also set to run improving G1 Savills Chase victor Kemboy (178p). Dual G1 Betfair Chase winner Bristol De Mai(Nigel Twiston-Davies, 178) and Thistlecrack (Colin Tizzard, 180), second in the King George VI Chase, are also in the mix.

Dual reigning champion Buveur D’Air (Nicky Henderson, 178) is among 24 going forward for the £450,000 G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle. The eight-year-old would become the sixth three-time winner of the two-mile hurdling championship and the first since Istabraq in 2000 if successful on opening Champion Day, Tuesday 12th March of The Festival™ presented by Magners.

Prolific mare Apple’s Jade (Gordon Elliott, 185) is the leading Irish-trained hope following her 16-length demolition job from the front in the G1 Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown earlier this month, her first race at two miles since the spring of 2016.

Willie Mullins’ five contenders include highly-regarded mare Laurina (168p), who is unbeaten in five starts since joining Ireland’s champion Jump trainer, plus last year’s runner-up Melon (177) and Sharjah (166+), the winner of G1 contests at Punchestown and Leopardstown this season.

Hot favourite Paisley Park (Emma Lavelle, 175p) headlines 44 acceptors for the £325,000 G1 Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle over three miles on St Patrick’s Thursday 14th March. He has carried all before him this season in the staying hurdle division, including gaining impressive victories in the G1 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot and in the G2 Cleeve Hurdle last time out under a penalty at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day, 26th January.

Last year’s decisive G1 Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle victor Penhill (Willie Mullins IRE, 175) came into that race having not run all season and is expected to do the same this time around.

Northern star Waiting Patiently (Ruth Jefferson, 179p) leads 34 contenders going for the £350,000 G1 Ryanair Chase, also on St Patrick’s Thursday, over an extended two and a half miles. Having been brought down on his only start this season in the G1 King George VI Chase, Waiting Patiently will bid for back-to-back successes in the G1 Betfair Ascot Chase this coming Saturday 16th February.

Other notable acceptors for the Ryanair Chase include 2017 winner Un De Sceaux(Willie Mullins IRE, 180) and last year’s G1 RSA Novices’ Chase second Monalee(Henry de Bromhead IRE, 172).

The 2018 winner Benie Des Dieux (Willie Mullins, 167p), who has yet to race this season, heads the 30 mares going forward, following no scratchings, for the G1 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle over two and a half miles and worth £120,000 on Champion Day.

Benie Des Dieux’s trainer has won nine of the 11 runnings of the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, thanks mostly to Quevega who triumphed on six occasions between 2009 and 2014.

Apple’s Jade (183) is also engaged in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, though connections have reported that she will instead head to the G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle.


12th March 2019 – Day One: Champion Day click here

13th March 2019 – Day Two: Ladies Day click here

14th March 2019 – Day Three: St Patricks Thursday click here

15th March 2019 – Day Four: Gold Cup Day  – click here

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