The world of horse racing reaches fever pitch during the Cheltenham Festival – four days of terrific jumps action which this year is on from March 12 to 15 in the Cotswolds. This is our light hearted take on what to look out for at the 2019 meeting.
Can mares be Champion?
In the aftermath of International Women’s Day, the big race on the Tuesday at Cheltenham is the Champion Hurdle and some mares are well-fancied to win it.
Never mind gender equality, the ladies get a 7lb sex allowance from the geldings – and that puts dual winner Buveur D’Air at a distinct disadvantage as he seeks the hat-trick. How the other half live, eh?
Apple’s Jade is one of two Irish raiders benefitting from these Champion Hurdle race terms. She’s been awesome in the Emerald Isle this year, so can either she or unbeaten hurdler Laurina emulate the likes of Annie Power and Dawn Run? It’s a competitive Champion Hurdle puzzle all right.
Horses in the two-mile chase division are running scared from Altior. Isn’t that what they do when jumping fences at a breakneck gallop anyway?
Nicky Henderson’s best chance of a winner comes on Ladies’ Day, the Wednesday of Cheltenham, and his unbeaten nine-year-old is on course to defend his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown. Altior is the stuff that Festival free bets and offers are made of.
You’ll hear the phrase banker. No, you’ve not misheard. Altior looks exactly that and is prime material for a Ladies’ Day double with fellow three-time Cheltenham Festival winner Tiger Roll in the Cross Country Chase.
Paisley Park more than Prince’s home
Once upon a time, there was a blind man called Andrew Gemmell who owned a horse called Paisley Park. No jokes there. By far the most heartwarming story of this year’s Festival would be if his rapidly improving staying hurdler could win one of the big races on day three of the meeting.
The Stayers’ Hurdle is among many Cheltenham contests that have cut-up as potential hopefuls fall by the wayside. So, this is what it sounds like when doves cry. Paisley Park takes on equally popular veteran Faugheen – four years his senior – over three miles on “St Patrick’s Thursday”.
Look, nobody mention to Cheltenham staff that Paddy’s day isn’t until the 17th (the Sunday after), OK? They’re expecting to sell lots of Guinness – and we mean lots.
Will Mullins end Gold Cup hoodoo?
When you try your best, but you don’t succeed. When you get what you want, but not what you need. Willie Mullins may be one of the best jumps trainers in horse racing, but the Irishman has never lifted the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
He launches a four-pronged attack this year at ending his hoodoo in the blue riband event of steeplechasing. Kemboy, Invitation Only, Bellshill and Al Boum Photo are the quartet from Closutton going to the race. Will the luck of the Irish desert him again?
Mullins might just get that monkey off his back, you know. Fellow Irish raider and leading Gold Cup fancy Presenting Percy hasn’t jumped a fence in anger for 12 months, although he has won over hurdles and the nice people at Galway reconfigured their chase course so he could do a bit of schooling.