Cheltenham Festival 2015

AP Gets His Just Deserts

There were more highly touted horses and certainly more popular bets. But no single win will be as popular on a purely personal level than A.P. McCoy’s thoroughly impressive pillar to post victory on Uxizandre in the Ryanair Chase. There weren’t many talking up Alan King’s horse beforehand unless they were mumbling to themselves out of everyone’s earshot, including the bookmakers. Sent off at 16/1 McCoy sent his mount out confidently and bar a late push from Barry Geraghty on board the well backed Ma Filleule, Uxizandre held on comfortably for a five-length victory. There really isn’t much more to be said about the Antrim man before he retires, but we’ll all try for the next few months anyway. Uxizandre’s trainer Alan King put it simply and accurately, “We’ll not see AP’s like again, the winners, the dedication – I’m just delighted to have played a small part in it.” And, that’s just it. Whatever about the man or woman on the street, it’s the regard A.P. McCoy is held in by his peers that testifies to how much of a true great he is.

In yesterday’s feature, the World Hurdle, Cole Harden, in a feature of the earlier races on the card took to the front early and never relinquished his position. Gavin Sheehan stayed composed on the Wayne Greatrex outsider to take the honours from the very well backed Paul Nicholls duo of Saphir de Rheu and Zarkandar. Irish hopes never really materialised as Lieutenant Colonel and Jetson failed to come into it.

Early on, the last of the Mullins ‘guns’ was on show in the JLT Novices Chase and how he impressed. Vautour, who had question marks over him after an awful day in Kempton in December, put the field to the sword in the most spectacular manner possible. If this was a boxing match the ref would have stopped it once horse and pilot, Ruby Walsh landed safely over the last. Frankly there were times during the race where it looked like Vautour would clear a castle turret let alone a Cheltenham fence.

We’ve all been astounded by the quality on show from the Mullins’ team this week. Unless someone discovers a new planet; preferably near Carlow; in the next twelve months, where National Hunt racing is hugely popular then Willie Mullins has a problem. A fantastic problem but a problem, nonetheless. Where does he find space for all these ludicrously talented horses? Douvan, Un de Sceaux, Faugheen, Don Poli and Vautour today all showed incredibly well this week. And, given Annie Power’s dominance prior to coming unstuck on Tuesday you can be sure she’ll have something to say at the Festival in the coming years. Speaking of which, after Tuesday’s drama, perhaps some kind soul will set up an Annie Power hotline or counselling group to help people get over the ‘horror’ of losing an accumulator. Poor girl is after crushing so many dreams and she doesn’t even know it!

If you listened to us yesterday then unfortunately things didn’t go so well. Vautour provided our favourite performance of the festival in securing the JLT Nocies Chase but none of the rest of our selections even came close. Such is life. Onwards and upwards. In any event, if you’ve stuck with us since Tuesday then you’re still well up for the week, after a successful first two days. We’ll get you back on track today, hopefully.

Friday 13th March 2015 – Feature Race – Cheltenham Gold Cup

This is it folks. The one we’ve certainly been waiting for. As intriguing a Gold Cup as you could wish to hope for in our opinion, even without the superstar draw of the likes of Denman and Kauto Star. We could go on for longer than a piece of string but suffice to say it’s a nightmare of a race to call. Ten of the eighteen strong field have won Grade Ones and two previous winners feature in Bob’s Worth (2013) and last year’s victor, in controversial circumstances, Lord Windermere. Davy Russell’s mount seemed to infringe on On His Own’s path to the line but the stewards, even after confirming as much, still awarded the victory to the Jim Cullotty trained 20/1 shot. If you have ten minutes, watch the race and subsequent enquiry on YouTube. It’s incredible drama, about as good as we saw in any sporting event last year

Lord Windermere returns after a typically underwhelming year as a 16/1 shot to regain his crown. That sounds crazy but in three races in Ireland since the start of the season he’s done nothing to suggest a repeat of last year. Cullotty, three time winner of the Gold Cup aboard the legendary Best Mate, is a very astute trainer however and his charge is yet to be beaten in Cheltenham in two attempts. His yard, as at this time last year, is out of form but you can be assured his star has been aimed for a monster tilt at glory tomorrow, where we imagine he’ll do nine-tenths of his running from the rear of the field.

After the champ, we have the favourite, Silviniaco Conti. Despite winning the King George at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day very handsomely, we have our reservations. Firstly, the two horses he led home that day, Dynaste and Al Ferof, both of whom unfortunately missed the festival, are not true three mile horses, a prerequisite for Gold Cup contenders. Further to this Paul Nicholls horse has had some trials and tribulations in the Cheltenham centrepiece, falling in 2013 and failing to capitalise last year in a race that was there for the taking. That’s not to say he hasn’t improved but at 4/1 there’s better value out there.

Holywell is a past winner at the festival and a really honest horse, Willie Mullins’ Djakadam hugely popular after his impressive recent victory in Gowran and Carlingford Lough, ‘emotional bet alert’, with A.P. McCoy will merit plenty of attention. Bobs Worth as well will be a popular selection on a day where it appears the Prestbury Park turf has softened up a little. Meanwhile, Many Clouds has garnered considerable respect in Britain for many of the same reasons as the first of our selections, Road to Riches.

The Noel Meade trained, Gigginstown owned, Road to Riches has, for quite some time, been on many peoples’ radars. An extremely progressive horse he has followed up a fine victory in the Galway Plate last August with equally impressive wins in Down Royal and more recently in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown in December. A horse like this does not bide his time for the festival or wait in the long grass. He’s developed nicely and proven that he goes on pretty much any type of ground. He comes of course with the caveat of being unproven up the treacherous hill, but we’ve seen a few lay that concern to rest already this week.

The other one we like is the Mark Bradstock trained Coneygree. He destroyed an admittedly weak field in Kempton at Christmas but it was his all the way victory in the Denman Chase, in February that really made us sit up and take notice. Though expected to go in the RSA before this superb performance, trainer and owner ensured he kept his entry in the blue riband event. Was he avoiding Don Poli? Perhaps. Does he have a chance this afternoon? Absolutely. In any event the two will no doubt get to settle the argument somewhere down the line. Like Road to Riches, Coneygree faces by far and away the toughest challenge of his chasing career to date. Nonetheless, today we trust in youth to get the job done.

Obviously it’s all about the Gold Cup today but we like Quick Jack, less value now than at the start of the week in the County Hurdle as an each way prospect. And, in the following race, the Albert Bartletts Novices we’ll be having a little twist on Martello Tower who we still like on the form lines.

The last race in the festival has been named, for one year only, after A.P. McCoy who suits up on board Ned Buntline. Unsurprisingly there’s been a big move for the great man’s mount in his last ever Festival ride. Ruby Walsh, as uncompromising and cold as his great rival has a great chance aboard Blood Cotil. Neither man will give an inch but we like Blood Cotil, a great each way prospect at 8/1 in a very unpredictable race, it must be said.

Remember that the ground has softened slightly if you’re betting today. More importantly, do not miss the great spectacle this mid -afternoon. Ensure you’ve an important appointment to attend. We know we do. The curtain has almost come down on another fantastic week’s racing. We hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have.

Friday Picks

2:05 – County Handicap Hurdle – Quick Jack e/w @ 13/2

2:40 – Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle – Martello Tower e/w @ 10/1

3:20 – Cheltenham Gold Cup

  1. Road to Riches
  2. Coneygree
  3. Holywell

5:15 – AP McCoy Handicap Chase – Blood Cotil e/w @ 8/1

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- Day3, Cheltenham Festival 2015

Home Fires Stoked

After the high drama of Tuesday, proceedings somewhat came back to normal on day two of the Cheltenham Festival. The feature race, The Queen Mother Champion Chase was won by the impressive Dodging Bullets, who stayed very well up the gut-bursting Cheltenham hill, to hold off festival veteran Somersby. Paul Nicholls scored both before and after the feature and the British took somewhat of a stranglehold on proceedings after Ireland and one particular south eastern yard enjoyed a phenomenal opening day.

Unfortunately Willie Mullins’ Champagne Fever was precluded from participating after an unfortunate incident, possibly a bite from a stablemate, forced the grey out. Special Tiara took to the front early as expected, seeking to stretch the field and see if the champs of the last two year’s Sire de Grugy and Sprinter Sacre had any of the old juice left in the tank. Sam Twiston Davies ensured the winner was always in touch but when he looked to make his move on the way to the last it looked as though Somersby, so often the festival bridesmaid, so to speak, would catch his seven year old rival. Instead, Dodging Bullets, dug deep and held on for a relatively unfussy victory, leading home his game old rival and the gutsy Special Tiara. The bookies will have licked their lips at the number of emotional, ‘maybe he has one last big one in him’, bets placed on our old hero Sprinter Sacre. Truth is, 2013’s superstar never looked all that comfortable and Barry Geraghty, the man who knows him better than anyone, thought it wise to pull him up before facing into the steep rise to the finish post. Sprinter Sacre has brought the house down in Cheltenham before and he assuredly owes nothing to anyone. The reigning champion Sire de Grugy seemed to have heavy legs, an eventuality predicted by many, in racing so soon before the event. Dodging Bullets has shown sustained improvement throughout the season and this victory is a fitting outcome for an underrated horse, one from whom we expect plenty more to come.

Davy Russell extended the incredible start for Ireland aboard Dermot Weld’s Windsor Park in the opener. Weld, of course is a renowned flat trainer, but he’s not too shabby at the jumps game. As winning jockey Russell noted of the Curragh man, “Dermot told me that jumping was his hobby. What a hobby.” Brian Cooper followed up on board Don Poli in the RSA Chase to send the bookmakers running for cover once more, still no doubt reeling from Tuesday’s shellacking.

It wasn’t the best of days for Nina Carberry, who was shaping nicely on Quantative Easing in the Cross Country Chase when taken out, Super Mario Kart style, by French favourite Toutancarmont, crashing through the rails and obviously ending her interest in the race. Unfortunately a photographer, Patrick McCann suffered a broken ankle but thankfully nothing worse.

Anyone who returned and paid heed to our advice yesterday had winners in Don Poli,  Dodging Bullets and Bumper winner Moon Racer who managed to weave his way through all sorts of difficulty, to come home to a huge Cheltenham roar, under Tom Scudamore.

Thursday 12th March 2015 – Feature Race – World Hurdle

The weakest day’s racing in our humble opinion or perhaps better put the least prestigious of the four feature races, the 3 mile stayers, World Hurdle. Don’t get us wrong there have been some legendary stamina hurdlers; most obviously Big Bucks and Inglis Drever in recent years but the chase events over a similar distance will always steal the limelight. Identifying the winner of year’s renewal will prove extremely tricky particularly with last year’s winner, More of That, missing the Festival due to injury. The favourite Zarkandar is available at 11/2 and that reflects the relative uncertainty of the market. Un Temps Pour Tout is one we heard good things about but were left unmoved by his seasonal reappearance, finishing two and 3/4 lengths, though it felt further, behind Saphir de Rheu. Saphir de Rheu is jostling for market supremacy with the aforementioned Zarkandar and will be prominent although a theme could very shortly follow, whereby we give virtually every horse a chance. A victory for Lieutenant Colonel trained by Sandra Hughes, daughter of the incredibly fondly remembered Dessie would be particularly welcome in the Irish racing community. He beat Jetson by three-quarters of a length at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival and the two won’t be far apart. Still history shows that the British have a decent grip on this race and we like Un Temps Pout Tout to come on for his Christmas run but only if the ground remains a little on the soft side.  Whisper, last year’s Coral Cup winner poses the greatest home threat though and Lieutenant Colonel will need a monumental effort to secure what would be an emotionally charged victory. Horses and horse racing have no room for sentiment. Tomorrow, for a day, that may change.

The highlight for us tomorrow is actually the Ryanair Chase, run over two miles and five furlongs, and sees Gordon Elliott’s, Don Cossack head the market. There are so many quality horses on display here; course and distance winner John’s Spirit, Nicky Henderson’s Ma Filleule who’ll suit the rolling hills of Cheltenham and Balder Success, a classy horse who just can’t seem to stay the distance at this racecourse. Our preference, however, is for Shark Hanlon’s Hidden Cyclone, second in this race last year. A horse whose form seemed to wobble a bit after last year’s appearance here, he was very impressive in winning the Tied Cottage Chase in Punchestown last month. The Shark is a larger than life character and we’re happy to say we’d be delighted if he took home this prestigious grade one tomorrow. We could ponder this one for quite some time but for us it’s Hidden Cyclone leading home Don Cossack and Ma Filleule.

Elsewhere we like Vautour (2/1) in the opening JLT Novices Chase but be warned six different people might pick six different winners in this one. Valseur Lido, Ptit Zgig and Apache Stronghold will be prominent but we like last year’s Supreme Novices winner to prove his disastrous December trip to Kempton was but a blip.

Edeymi is the pick for the Pertemps Final Handicap. Just a quick refresher, a handicap race in horse racing is a race in which horses carry different weights, allocated by the handicapper. A better horse will carry a heavier weight, to give him or her a disadvantage when racing against slower horses. Incidentally, The Aintree Grand National, the world’s most famous race is a handicap. Tony Martin gives the handicappers sleepless nights and then some nightmares and he looks to have got this one just right. There’s a big market move for Edeymi but be warned, handicaps are rarely as easy to decipher as they appear.

Thursday’s Picks

 1:30 – JLT Novices Chase – Vautour @ 2/1

 2:05 – Pertemps Final – Edeymi e/w @ 8/1

2:40 – Ryanair Chase – Hidden Cyclone e/w @ 8/1

 3:20 – World Hurdle

  1. Lieutenant Colonel 
  1. Whisper
  1. Un Temps Pour Tout
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Cheltenham Festival 2015

Glorious Start for Mullins

Day one in the books and what a day it was! Willie Mullins came to the Cotswolds with what many believed to be his strongest team ever. Bookmakers feared Mullins four big guns Douvan, Un de Sceaux, Faugheen and the heiress apparent to Quevaga’s thrown, Annie Power. By the time the Mares Hurdle came round Mullins’ favourites had all done the business meaning an Annie Power victory would take down the betting industry to the tune of a reputed €50 million. We know the story by now, probably what bookmakers regard a fairytale ending. Ruby Walsh’s mount, the roasting hot favourite, blundered at the last and came down, horse and rider thankfully safe, as it was a nasty looking spill. With the dreams of thousands of punters left in tatters, Polly Peachum and Glens Melody were left to battle out a thrilling if anti-climatic race to the line, the latter winning by a short head. Such is the nature of the game that bookmakers the length and breadth of Ireland and the U.K. will have breath a sigh of relief when the mare came down. By all accounts, when Annie and Ruby came unstuck, an initial terrified silence was followed by a collective groan, with the life, and probably already banked winnings of thousands of disgruntled punters sucked out into the Gloucestershire evening. So, Ruby’s four timer was denied but jockey and horse are in fine fettle and that, at the end of the day, when the money is won and lost, is what really matters.

We shan’t dwell too long on the results of the opening day as we more look forward to what’s coming this afternoon. Douvan and then Un de Sceaux, the latter ‘a pure freak’ in his trainers words, opened the account for the Mullins Walsh tandem in the Supreme Novices Hurdle and Arkle Trophy respectively. Barry Geraghty had the temerity to interrupt the Closutton victory parade with a fantastic ride on Neil Mullholland’s charge, The Druid’s Nephew to take the Handicap Chase. Normal service was soon resumed though. Ruby and the much-touted machine, Faugheen, were absolutely majestic in winning the Champion Hurdle, leading home stable mates Arctic Fire and the aging but irrepressible Hurricane Fly to give the Co Carlow based trainer what must have been one of the greatest days in his illustrious training career. Glen’s Melody will have added a somewhat surprising cherry on top for the champion trainer and a popular victory for Paul Townend.

For those of you who listened, and we’d be surprised if you did, Josses Hill and the aforementioned Polly Peachum were good each way selections though life could have been so much prettier if not for the latter coming up just short. Anyway we’ve come out of the day unscathed, Cause of Causes helping plenty of lost causes, and with a little in the war chest for today. Let’s have a look at day two of the 2015 Cheltenham Festival.

Wednesday 11th March 2015 – Feature Race: Queen Mother Champion Chase

Today’s proceedings get under way with the Neptune Novices Hurdle, a race won last year by the star of today’s show, Faugheen.  You’ll never believe this, but the favourites come from the yard of…….. Willie Mullins. Outlander and Nichols Canyon head the markets, closely followed by Dermot Weld’s Windsor Park. Outlander last defeated Martello Tower, who we like for Friday’s Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle so the former’s performance this afternoon will be a useful yardstick. Nichols Canyon put away Windsor Park at Punchestown in February, but the three and a half lengths aren’t insurmountable. Nonetheless, we’ve keen been on Nichols Canyon for a while now and trust in him to get the day off to the perfect start. Nichols Canyon should go off at 4/1 so back him each way to protect your neck.

Next up is the R.S.A. Chase, a race we would have found far tougher to call, if a big favourite of this column, Coneygree hadn’t decided to take his chance in the big one on Friday, the Gold Cup. We think the latter would really have put it up to the Michael O’Leary owned Don Poli but in his absence we don’t think there’s anything that holds a flame to Bryan Cooper’s mount. Indeed many have Don Poli as their festival banker. Incidentally, and we’re not saying for a second that Ruby Walsh is done but we think Cooper is the man to eventually take the mantle as Ireland’s leading national hunt jockey.

On to the feature of the day, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the test to find the finest national hunt sprinter, two miler, over a fast arriving twelve fences. The race was given its present name in 1980 – the year of the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday – to recognise her fantastic contribution to national hunt racing. We’re sure that like us, the late, great lady would be intrigued by this afternoon’s centrepiece and probably as puzzled by the conundrum of picking a winner.

It may sound strange but this year’s renewal, despite including the last two winners, is in the eyes of far more astute judges than us, wide open. We have to start with a real darling of Cheltenham, the winner of this race in 2013, Sprinter Sacre. Under Barry Geraghty, the ‘Sprinter gave an adoring audience a masterclass of power, poise, jumping excellence and, of course breathtaking speed to put in the most dominant performance this column has ever seen. He went off an unbackable favourite, at 1/4, and proved his once in a generation quality, with a nineteen length victory. As you may have guessed something happened, the something coming in the form of a potentially career ending heart scare. Sadly this meant the horse that we believe would have lit up racing in the manner of Best Mate, Kauto Star and Istabraq was left on the sideline until last Autumn. Scratch what we said yesterday about a potential victory for Hurricane Fly. If Sprinter Sacre wins today, the entire of Cheltenham may just lift off. He has run just once in sixteen months though, a valiant second to our selection, Paul Nicholls, Dodging Bullets. Under Noel Fehily, he beat Sprinter Sacre on his last day out at Ascot but the overwhelming feeling was that the latter’s stamina failed him after a lengthy absence. We think Dodging Bullets is an underrated horse who probably hasn’t garnered the respect he deserves coming into today. Sire de Grugy won last year, very convincingly it must be said but suffered a considerable injury setback. While impressive in his last two victories he may have emptied his tank a little in victory at a sticky, heavy Chepstow, just weeks ago.

Sprinter Sacre’s ceiling is infinitely higher than our selection but there’s no way he reaches those heights again though he may not need to. Incidentally, if ‘Sprinter is out of the reckoning coming up the hill Barry Geraghty won’t push him too hard. Sire de Grugy is the reigning champ who won’t drop his crown without a fight, but how much does he have in him? Further, there is Willie Mullin’s Champagne Fever*, who but for a short head defeat in last year’s Arkle, would be three for three at the festival. Course form is vital and perhaps this is why Dodging Bullets, the only one of the four at the top of the market without a March victory in Cheltenham is avoided in most quarters. Only victory today will swing opinion and we’re willing to stick our neck out for Paul Nicholls’ less fancied horse.

The last race we’ll mention is the Festival Champion Bumper, a hugely popular bet with the punters, despite the perennial difficulty in picking the winner. Bumpers are flat races, so no fences, run under national hunt rules. All horses involved are young, inexperienced and quite often unpredictable. The one that we and many others have liked for a while is Moon Racer, trained by David Pipe. Willie Mullins saddles up just the seven horses for this race, so anything could happen. We really liked one of these, Up for Review, when seeing him romp to victory at Leopardstown at Christmas, but he disappointed massively in defeat three weeks ago at Naas. 33/1 is tempting though. Willie Mullins son, Patrick, rides favourite Bordini and the younger Mullins rarely gets them wrong. Nonetheless, let’s stick with the courage of our convictions. Moon Racer to send us all home happy this evening.

Wednesday’s Picks

1:30 – Neptune Novices Hurdle – Nichols Canyon e/w @ 4/1

2:05 – R.S.A. Chase – Don Poli – 7/4

3:20 – Queen Mother Champion Chase

  1. Dodging Bullets e/w @ 11/2
  2. Sire de Grugy
  3. Champagne Fever

5:15 – Champion Bumper – Moon Racer e/w @7/1

*Champagne Fever has been announced a non-runner in this race

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Cheltenham Festival 2015

Time for Some March Madness

And so, the very pinnacle of the National Hunt season is upon us. From the raising of the white flag at 1:30 on Tuesday to the highlight of not just the week but the year, Friday’s Gold Cup, the general public, for perhaps one of the few times of the year shall be engrossed by horse racing. This column always gets excited in the weeks before the festival, places a series of foolproof bets and watches as the wheels inevitably come off. Still like a hopeless romantic we return each year safe in the knowledge that we’ve learned from our mistakes and the hours spent studying completely differing opinions will come to fruition. We’ll provide our highly uneducated thoughts, a preview of sorts, on a daily basis in advance of the following day’s racing, with an emphasis on the feature race of each day. This is not, we repeat not an in-depth analysis of the betting markets, more a background to the big races, with a few value bets recommended.

With so many previews appearing this week, Straight Up Sport has decided to provide a slightly less scientific approach in proposing some gambling tips this week.

Firstly, as last year was a success we’re going to apply the short term memory rule and erase the years of abject failure to the scrap yard of history. We won last year therefore we’re definitely on a hot streak.

For the very casual gambler who likes a couple of euro each way you can a do a lot worse than adhering to the ‘if in doubt back Ruby Walsh’ Rule. Similar rules apply to AP McCoy and Barry Geraghty. Emotion or more specifically sentimentality will get the better of many punters this week so only choose the AP route if you think he’s going to win the race. While the world and its mother know the Antrim man is bowing out shortly, the chances are, though I could well be proven wrong, that the horses don’t.

Another trick we suggest is that once you’ve made your bet presume the money is lost. Thereafter, if the horse comes home in first it’ll feel like you’ve won not just the bet but also the few quid which you already thought you’d pissed away into the wind. Remember, most importantly, never to chase your losses. You could end up in a worse hole than the one Alice fell through.

There are literally hundreds, maybe thousands of Cheltenham previews each year. The men and women providing these punting tips are clearly well versed in the game  but remember not all of them can be right. In fact, invariably, the majority will be completely wrong.

If you read a number of previews and one or two horses keep appearing, particularly ones at a bigger price, then chances are you should be getting involved there. If however you enjoy the slightly more unconventional method of picking a horse because you like the sound of the name then by all means go for it. This reminds us of the 2013 festival when Our Conor, who tragically died in last year’s Champion Hurdle, romped home in the Triumph Hurdle at a fairly tasty price of 5/1. While contentedly collecting our modest winnings, we overheard a lady saying to the bookmaker “Oh, I only backed him (Our Conor) because we have Conor at home”. To which the bookmaker, whose pockets had just become considerably lighter, replied, extremely deadpan, “Seems like half the town has a Conor at home”.

Tuesday 10th March – Feature Race: Champion Hurdle

If you happen to have a relative called Un de Sceaux or Faugheen at home then this could be your lucky week.

The former lines up in the Arkle Trophy tomorrow, a race for novice chasers, over the minimum of two miles odd. Chasers for the uninitiated, race over fences as opposed to the smaller hurdles. These are the prospective Usain Bolts of chasing and the winner tomorrow will likely go on to contest the Queen Mother Champion Chase at next year’s festival.

We think Un de Sceaux is very hard to oppose but at an extremely short price, 4/7 generally, we won’t be going near him. He should open Willie Mullins account for the festival, but we like Josses Hill, admittedly disappointing this season to repeat his performance in last year’s Supremes Novices Hurdle and run into the places at a big price. Mullins incidentally sends perhaps his strongest ever team to the Cotswolds. Faugheen, Un De Sceaux and Vautour are among only a handful of National Hunt racing’s equivalent of the all-conquering Barcelona side of 2011.

We move to the Champion Hurdle, the highlight of Tuesday’s racing, and for some the whole festival. This is hurdling’s grand prize, the most anticipated race of the week after the Gold Cup. This is a race that has produced plenty of Irish winners, most notably the legendary Istabraq, who won three on the bounce for Charlie Swan and Aidan O’ Brien, from 1998-2000. Last year, the Jessica Harrington trained Jezki, given a fantastic ride by Barry Geraghty, enjoyed a narrow victory over My Tent or Yours. The latter incidentally is out of this year’s renewal due to injury. Tomorrow sees Willie Mullins’ Faugheen, winner of last year’s Neptune Novices Hurdle, lining up as the hot favourite. You may have noticed that there’s a theme forming here. Against the better judgment of far wiser people, we’re recommending last year’s third placed, The New One to be first past the post tomorrow. Hampered badly last year when Our Conor tragically and fatally fell, six from home, Sam Twiston Davies mount came home like the TGV and finished just three lengths back of the eventual winner. We agree that Jezki, the reigning champion doesn’t get enough respect and that Faugheen justifiably merits favouritism. However, The New One has experience in the race and you sense the Twiston Davies team will be desperate to succeed following last year’s unfortunate sequence of events.

It would be remiss of us to preview this race without mention of the absolute superstar that is Hurricane Fly. The ‘Fly, also trained by Mullins, has had an incredible career, winning tomorrow’s race twice (2011 and 2013) and incredibly is unbeaten in his ten runs at Leopardstown. This counts for little this week though in what is likely to be his Cheltenham swansong. Should Paul Townend somehow steer the 11-year-old to success tomorrow afternoon Cheltenham will shake to its very foundations. However Ruby Walsh, top dog in Willie Mullins yard, chooses Faugheen over his old friend tomorrow. The ‘Fly won’t take offence though. Business is business. And should he finish in the places, more likely if there’s some give in the ground, that will be an achievement in itself. We’d be delighted if we were eating our words come this time tomorrow but frankly we feel this would be one fairytale finish too many. Still, given his ludicrous success; he’s a twenty-two-time Grade 1 winner; we doubt there are many who’d complain if they prepared a golden stable for Hurricane Fly in the Hall of Fame.

To the best of the rest on Tuesday. We are advised by a well-informed friend of Straight Up Sport that Harry Fry’s Jollyallan, ‘a proper animal’ to quote our associate may well overcome Willie Mullins’ well fancied favourite, Douvan in the Festival opener, the Supreme Novices Hurdle. AP McCoy should be on board so what better way for him to commence his final Cheltenham Festival.

The legendary Quevaga, the undisputed, widely adored queen of Cheltenham for the last six seasons won’t be with us this year having retired after last year’s festival. She became the only horse to win at six successive Cheltenham festivals. Her absence hasn’t exactly thrown open the field in the Mares Hurdle though, as stablemate Annie Power, narrowly beaten by More of That in last year’s World Hurdle, aims to take up the mantle of the best mare in town. She’s a class apart from anything else in the field, but she’s been out since the autumn, without a tune up before tomorrow’s race. Willie Mullins would never run an unfit horse but still it will be interesting to see how she reacts to her lengthy, enforced break. We like Barry Geraghty’s likely mount, Polly Peachum, as an each way bet. Now we are completely contradicting ourselves here as the 10/1 shot pulled up on her last outing at Kempton but it has been reported by connections that there was no lasting injury or effect from that particular day. Trainer Nicky Henderson, a master at getting his horses in tip top shape for Cheltenham, said last week that she’s fresh and ready to go.

Tuesdays Picks (We will forecast our top three for the feature race each day)

 

1:30 -Supreme Novices Hurdle – Jollyallan e/w at 8/1

2:05 – Arkle Trophy – Josses Hill e/w at 10/1

3:20 – Champion Hurdle

1. The New One

2. Faugheen

3. Jezki

4:00 – Mares Hurdle – Polly Peachum e/w at 10/1

Before the Festival starts here are our four picks for the week, one from each day, which we’ll combine in a €1 e/w accumulator, on the off chance that the stars align and everything falls into place. There’s only one favourite in this selection so ‘caveat emptor’. In fact, the likelihood of all four winning works out a little bit north of 3600/1 so we’ll leave you good reader to use your own judgment here.

Tuesday – Supreme Novices Hurdle – Jollyallan (8/1)

Wednesday – Neptune Novices Hurdle – Nichols Canyon (4/1)

Thursday – Ryanair Chase – Hidden Cyclone (8/1)

Friday – Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle – Martello Tower (10/1)

And, even if you don’t gamble so much as a red cent this week we implore you to take in the Festival, particularly the blue riband event, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the pinnacle of the national hunt season. Those who witnessed last year’s renewal were treated to one of the most dramatic finishes in the illustrious event’s storied history, a live stewards inquiry eventually seeing Lord Windermere named winner in rather controversial circumstances. Be sure to watch this year as the most breathtakingly fearless and talented men, women and, of course, horses in the business vie for glory on the greatest stage of them all.

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