In the UK, the almost feverish build-up to the Cheltenham Festival (10th -13th March) tends to coincide with the end of the Christmas holidays. As the Christmas trees are chucked out and the decorations put away for another year, punters’ minds tend to turn to the ante-post markets in the search for
clues to the national hunt racing spectacular.
Of course, given the longevity of horses in jumps racing, Cheltenham always has a glut of familiar faces on show, many of whom have become fan favourites down the years. For instance, there will be several 12 and 13yo horses who have a history with the Festival stretching back to 2015, and even 2014; it’s a veritable lifetime in horse racing terms.
As such, Cheltenham throws up plenty of opportunities for one last hurrah for old favourites, as well as the chance for horses to get their careers back on track after going wayward. Below, we are going to look at three popular names from Willie Mullins’ operation who might just have what it takes to get back to the top at Prestbury Park in March:
If there is ever a case for “what might have been” in modern jumps racing, surely Douvan fits that bill. Untouchable in his early career, Douvan has been wrecked by injury during what would have been his peak years. A fully-fit Douvan could have delivered an incredible rivalry against Altior over the last couple of years, and there really is a lot of lamentation that Willie Mullins never got to see the best out of one of the most talented horses he has ever trained.
However, Douvan returned after an almost two-year absence in the autumn, winning the Grade 2 Clonmel Oil Chase. As a consequence, his odds were slashed for the Champion Chase. He’s now at 16/1 with William Hill, but as low as 9/1 with others. Of course, that sets up an intriguing showdown with Altior (3/1 various). Douvan’s fragility, though, is a big issue, and he might not appear at all. If you want to back him as a shot to nothing, reviewing free bets for Cheltenham was never easier – click here and get the full guide before parting with any money.
Another hero from Willie Mullins’ yard, but no less talented than the aforementioned Douvan. Faugheen has had a brilliant career over hurdles, earning him the nickname “The Machine”, but Mullins has finally decided to send him chasing. That’s yielded two wins from two, including a superb victory in a Grade 1 at Limerick over Christmas. Despite being in the final days of his career, many believe Faugheen can weave his spell over the Cheltenham crowds one last time.
The consensus seems to be that Faugheen will go in the Grade 1 Marsh Novices’ Chase on 12th March, although Mullins has various options for the 12yo. He is just 5/1 for the Marsh Novices’ Chase with Coral, although hunting around betting sites you can find 7/1 with a few firms and 8/1 with Unibet. A victory would surely provide the perfect endnote to the career of one of Ireland’s most beloved horses, and send plenty of punters home happy too.
Don Poli is a good example of how a wonderful career can be easily forgotten about in horse racing. Indeed, while there is often a lot of fuss made about horses with multiple Festival wins on their resume, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Don Poli will be aiming for his third victory at Prestbury Park in March. There is a caveat though: His two previous victories came in the 2014 Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle and the RSA Chase 2015.
At the moment, Don Poli has been given a standout price of 20/1 for the Foxhunters’ Chase, although he is hovering around 12/1 on the exchanges. Some punters are likely to snap that up, and it would be remarkable to see a horse claim victory at the Cheltenham Festival five years after the previous one. It would, however, remind everyone that Don Poli was a brilliant horse in his heyday.