Not Many Sleeps Before Cheltenham
There is unlikely to be any turf racing in Britain this week so it could be just All-Weather fare for the next few days. However, even tracks designed to race when it freezes elsewhere can’t do much about heavy snow in the stands and on the roads near the course. Cheltenham has not escaped the Beast from the East which means there’s a chance that the first day of the Festival a week on Tuesday will have soft going.
The principle jumps meeting on Saturday is at Newbury but racing is unlikely to go ahead. The Cheltenham horses have now had their prep-races so trainers can only hope their entries don’t pick up any injuries. The Imperial Cup at Sandown next Saturday is often won by a horse that then runs at the Festival the following week. A horse could be well in after running above expectations at Sandown. There is a bonus for a horse winning the Imperial Cup and at Cheltenham a few days later.
The Cheltenham Festival dominates National Hunt racing like no other single occasion dominates any other sport. There are 40 Grade 1 jumps races throughout the season and 13 of them take place over the four days of the meeting that matters most. The Festival has been known as the Olympics of jumps racing but we don’t have to wait four years from the end of one meeting to the beginning of the next. Native River could win the Gold Cup which is the most prestigious steeplechase in the world.
Native River is more about stamina than speed so not at his best on a fast surface. The horse makes few jumping errors and keeps going at the end of a race when other runners cry enough. If it’s not soft the front-running style should set up the race for a fast finisher who is more about speed than resolutely staying on at the end of the race. The softer the going the better the prospects for Native River to win the big chase.
Buveur D’Air will win the Champion Hurdle even if it was run in treacle. The horse is head and shoulders above the other leading contenders and looks just about impossible to beat. The other runners are racing for second place and there is some each-way value further down the betting. Bookmakers will not accept place only bets but some betting exchanges will accommodate this bet. My Tent Or Yours could be placed again but there could be some value in backing Wicklow Brave each-way.
The Champion Chase has Altior’s name written on it but Douvan could still spoil the party. That horse is only given a 50-50 chance of running but if taking part the race would be one of the highlights of the meeting. Douvan has been absent through injury and Altior has been running like one of the best horses in training.
It’s difficult to see beyond the favourite but Douvan could shake up the race and deserves to take part after injury. However, the horse bombed last year in the Champion Chase, won by Special Tiarra. The race has a history of producing back-to-back and multiple winners but the defending champion has too much to do.
The Ryanair Chase has never been won by the O’Leary brothers who own many jumps horses but keep coming up short. The race has now superseded the stayers’ hurdle as the third day highlight due to more prize money. Ggginstown, the O’Leary’s stable, could benefit from a shock when one of their outsiders obliges but the more likely scenario is another win in the race for Un De Sceaux. All roads now lead to Cheltenham!