The build up has been brewing since October but jump racing’s Olympics is finally here as our equine superstars get to strut their stuff on Cheltenham’s hallowed turf and bid to add their name to National Hunt’s list of Champions.
This year’s four day spectacle, however, will not come in quite the same shape we have become accustomed due to ‘you know what’ and the 250,000 race goers who usually descend on Prestbury Park in their droves will be forced to watch the action unfold via the ITV and RTV cameras from the comfort of their sofa, although judged by the sole of my dancing shoes and waking up to a ‘fuzzy’ head four mornings on the trot last year, perhaps there is one saving grace to this torrid situation!
The fields sizes do seem slightly reduced this year which could have something to do with the fact owners are unable to attend, after all this is as much a social occasion as anything else, and many would sooner wait until Aintree when they are allowed to visit the track. It’s also been noticed that some trainers and owners have come to the conclusion that Cheltenham isn’t necessarily the be all and end all, and that there are still plenty of other races and courses to run their horses for similar levels of prize money. Others have suggested that the quality of several races, the Triumph Hurdle, Supreme and in some instances the Queen Mother Champion Chase, has been diluted since the Festival went to four days in 2005 and that a reversion to three days would ensure all races are full to the brim with quality AND quantity. It’s an interesting discussion, and one that seems to rumble on year after year, but based on the fact the meeting is to stage and new Mares’ Chase for the first time this year (albeit replacing a 2m4f Novice Handicap) along with the revenue it brings to the local and national economy, my money would be on a fifth day being added sooner rather than later, certainly not a reduction, but I never have been particularly successful at betting so who knows what the future holds!
Of the 28 races this year, and despite the smaller field sizes, picking winners ain’t gonna be easy and as much as I’d like to give you a life changing Lucky 15, the odds of me finding one winner, let alone four, would be pretty big so I’ll offer a few thoughts and let you do the rest...
CHELTENHAM – TUESDAY
APPRECIATE IT is short enough in the betting for the Supreme but in what looks a modest renewal it’s difficult to oppose the Irish raider who was placed in the Champion Bumper at the course last year and has made a bright start to his hurdling career. METIER has done nothing wrong, and stays well, but all his form is on heavy and tomorrow’s quicker ground could count against him.
EPATANTE looked mustard in the Fighting Fifth in November but blotted her copybook in the Christmas Hurdle last time, although Nicky Henderson reports last year’s heroine to be in great form now and I must admit when I saw her myself last week she looked a million dollars in her summer coat which has already come through. If she can bounce back from her latest effort she should be hard to peg back, but, and it’s a big BUT, HONEYSUCKLE is unbeaten and seems to be getting better and better so gets the nod for me in a race where GOSHEN will be bidding to make amends for a final hurdle tumble in last year’s Triumph. He looked back to his brilliant best at Wincanton in February but the fact he’s got to give 7lbs to the mares puts him on the back foot before they’ve even jumped off.
CABOT CLIFFS should go well in the Boodles Hurdle.
If CHACUN POUR SOI stands up in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, he wins. There’s absolutely no doubt about that and with the unfortunate defection of Altior, it’ll be a major shock if Willie Mullins’ star sprinter is unable to bag the two mile chasing crown. OUR POWER carries the colours of Potter Group and Walters Plant Hire in the Coral Cup and while he has to bounce back from a below par effort at Wincanton last time, he’s already got some rock solid form and a reproduction of his excellent performances at Haydock and Cheltenham earlier this season mean that Gavin Sheehan’s mount shouldn’t be discounted each way at about 40/1.
I really like BRAVEMANSGAME in the Ballymore.
Our eyes will be firmly focussed on MISTER FISHER who represents James and Jean Potter Ltd in the G1 Ryanair Chase. Fourth in the Marsh Chase last year, when faring best of the British, the Seven Barrows inmate looked in fine fettle when we popped down to see him do his last piece of work (with Altior) on Thursday and with a dry forecast for the remainder of the week, ground conditions should be absolutely ideal and Nico De Boinville looks set for a great spin aboard the son of Jeremy. His win in the Peterborough Chase in December is valuable course and distance form and de Boinville says he’s likely to bounce him out in front and allow him to get into a nice rhythm and enjoy himself. Let’s hope he makes every post a winning one! 🤞
PAISLEY PARK looks the one to side with in the Stayers’ Hurdle.
In a nutshell, the whole of the National Hunt season pretty much revolves around this day when racing’s Blue Riband takes place in the shape of the Gold Cup. This is the race every owner, trainer, jockey and member of yard staff want to win, it’s what every store horse is bought and bred for and if you can even have a runner in the great race, that’s an achievement in itself. AL BOUM PHOTO bids to do a Best Mate by winning three consecutive Gold Cups and in all honesty, there’s no logical reason why he shouldn’t emulate Henrietta Knight’s beloved stayer but as we all know it’s a horse race and anything can happen which makes the 3m2f contest even more interesting when you throw ROYAL PAGAILLE, CHAMP, A PLUS TARD, FRODON and 2018 hero NATIVE RIVER into the mix and it’s not quite the case of one way traffic you’d originally think. For what it’s worth, I’ve backed CHAMP. Time will tell whether the 12/1 I took before he made his seasonal debut in the Game Spirit Chase was a shrewd move, but I loved the way JP McManus’s runner jumped and finished his race so well over an inadequate two miles and with that run under his belt, I am keeping my fingers and toes crossed that he’s able to add to his RSA victory of twelve months ago. SANTINI sports a visor for the first time, and apparently the head gear certainly sharpened him up in a schooling session last week, but he’s had his chance and was beaten fair and square last year not to mention finishing bridesmaid in the previous year’s RSA so I can’t really see him going a place better on Friday. Royal Pagaille is undoubtedly the ‘dark horse’ and should not be underestimated for Venetia Williams who knows the time of day when it comes to winning Cheltenham races.
Nap of the meeting? I expect TRITONIC to triumph in the Triumph!
Have a great week and we hope you back plenty of winners!