Yes it’s here.. That time of year where all the freezing cold and wet winter mornings come to fruition for stables all across the land. The hard work is done and all they can do is sit back and watch.. just like you !!
This years Cheltenham has seen contenders come and go all season, with big names such as Faugheen and Annie Power missing from day one you could be forgiven for thinking the meeting has lost something this year.. Not a bit of it, everyone is buzzing.
The card opens with the usual competitive Supreme Novices hurdle and no surprise Willie Mullins has the favourite, ridden by the leading rider at the meeting Ruby Walsh. Ruby has won three out of the last four Supreme’s and four out of the last six, so his record in the contest speaks for itself.
This year’s potential star is Melon, a fair horse on the flat for Nicolas Clement he made his debut over hurdles at Leopardstown and simply destroyed his field. A small peck over the last he quickened clear and it seems it is going to take a fair one to stop him. So what’s in there to beat him.
Can Nicky Henderson spoil the party again ? Successful last year with Altior (who is nailed on in The Arkle later on the card) he runs River Wylde. A grade two winner at Kempton last time after taking two Ludlow novices at short prices, he has the experience the favourite is lacking and is a solid option. Also there is the battle hardened Ballyandy. Thrown into the hustle and bustle of the Betfair Hurdle last time he returned to form having been a little disappointing in smaller field novices he beat a well regarded Paul Nicholls horse by the name of Movewiththetimes. Last seasons bumper winner he thrives at these festivals and is a player again here.
A cracking opener and as they say anyone can win it and there are cases to be made for many of the runners, even the 50/1 shot Glaring. He was bang in contention two out in a hot novice on Boxing Day before a mistake put pay to his chance. He was allowed to come home in his own time after that really and barring further mishaps he can make his presence felt. He was a Group Two runner up on the flat so won’t lack class and he could sneak into the frame at a massive price.
The Arkle is not a race to get involved in punting wise Altior is head and shoulders above these and is surely going to prove a worthy adversary to Douvan in years to come.. I can’t wait to see that but for now let’s enjoy him coast home here.
The handicaps on the card look red hot but Singlefarmpayment has the course form and profile of a horse that could go very close. He is fancied and despite hitting the deck last time he was beginning to creep into the race and this has surely been the plan all along.
But the one race that stands head and shoulders above the others is the Stan James.com Champion Hurdle. Yes, Limini, Vroom Vroom Mag and Apples Jade could all have lined up here instead of doing battle in the mares hurdle on the card, but it still has the air of a cracker in the making.
A classy chestnut by the name of Yanworth heads the market over the equally classy Buveur D’Air but do they have the requisite experience to take this? Top novices with festival experience they were both placed in their respective contests last season but come here off of the back of successes in their warm up races. Yanworth successful at Wincanton in the Kingwell Hurdle where he was made to work quite hard to follow up his Grade One Christmas Hurdle win at Kempton and Buveur D’Air who dismantled a gallant Rayvin Black at Sandown winning as he liked hard held.
They are worthy market leaders but there is always the line that top handicap form translates favourably to the Champion Hurdle. Horses like Rooster Booster and Make a Stand have proved it can be done and Brain Power looks like he has the nous to make his presence felt.
Down the field in the Greatwood Hurdle early in the season he won well at Sandown before taking a huge stride forward at Ascot in a monstrously competitive affair. He simply sprinted away from Consul De Thaix and the rest were nowhere to be found in the fog.
The old faithful come back for another crack with regulars My Tent or Yours and The New One giving it another go, but if there is any improvement in those up the top of the market including Petit Mouchoir and Footpad they will have their work cut out for them.
A great start to what promises to be a right proper Craic!!