Forget your Dubai World Cup, the Breeders Cup, Royal Ascot, or dare I say it as someone born in Australia, the Melbourne Cup, nothing and I mean nothing is as good as the grand final of jumps racing held every year at Prestbury Park Cheltenham. The Cheltenham Festival.
I have been lucky enough to go to this meeting at least 12 times in my life and I have also had the good fortune to have runners there, thanks to the outstanding purchasing and training abilities of the Pipe family. For someone who has been able to perform on sporting fields around the world and been blessed with a degree of good fortune to experience the nicer things in life I rate my experiences and times at Cheltenham as the most enjoyable and most cherished memories of my life. To stand in the parade ring as an owner is to feel more alive than you believed possible and if you love horses as I do then you must make this your goal. Even if you don’t achieve it, know this is as good as it gets and you are one of a privileged few. It really is that good.
If you haven’t been before then buy yourself some tickets now, find a Hotel/B&B somewhere nearby ( it really doesn’t matter where all the people are fabulous), stay over and treat yourself to one of life’s great pleasures.
What do you get for your money? Firstly you get to see up close and personal the supreme athletes that these horses are, competing in their discipline’s grand final for the season. The right to be called the best. Let’s not underestimate these horses and believe for one second they are competing because they couldn’t make it on the flat. You will see two mile hurdlers, jumping 8 flights with flat speed capable of winning 10 furlong groups races, 3 mile plus chasers that can gallop at 30+ mph for over 6 minutes and produce up to 18 jumps during that time over 12 feet in distance and 6 feet in height. Make no mistake this is equine brilliance. And let’s not forget the unbelievable skill and bravery of the small guys on their backs. Men who ask tired horses for one more jump knowing that if they and the horse get it wrong serious injury awaits them and sometimes worse. Their ability to judge pace, length of stride and to find the sweet spot in the race is of such high standard that ours is just to marvel. Ye we have our McCoys and Walshes who dominate, as you would expect on the best horses but last year it was the unknown Bryan Cooper who dominated amongst others.
I’m not going to make this piece the definitive case for backing this horse over another in the middle of January. It’s just that it’s time to start thinking, planning and working your theories through if somehow entertainment during that week can be further enhanced by winning a few quid and believe me it can- this week and a profit = Heaven
So lets take the 4 majors across the 4 days and see where we are with just 2 months to go.
Day 1 – The Stan James Champion Hurdle.
What a picture this is developing in to and what a race to kick off proceedings. Is Hurricane Fly at 10 years of age back to his best and capable of putting all the young pretenders back in their box? You can have a very attractive 100/30 about that if you believe it. Just before Christmas the 3/1 about The New One claiming the crown would have looked huge but that last flight mistake (jockey error in my opinion) saw My Tent or Yours saunter past and if you believe that form to be good then you simply have to have some of the 4/1 about AP & JP picking up the trophy. What about Jezki at 6/1 and Our Conor, last year’s convincing Triumph Hurdle winner at 9/1. Surely the winner comes from one of these 5 – or does it? They are all capable of winning and of rightly being crowned a good champion in a good year.
Day 2 The Betvictor Queen Mother Champion Chase –
A One horse race I hear you say – is it? Surely Sprinter Sacre wins, or does he? The machine broke at Kempton, first time ever. If Nicky Henderson can change the fan belt and fix the problem then you won’t see a better price than 4/5, all week. Sire De Grugy his conqueror at Kempton is 4/1. The admirable and ever improving Benefficient is 10/1 and looks booked for a place, although I think he wants further and lurking at a bigger price of 16/1 is Avrika Ligeonniere, who has a lot of ability and shouldn’t be this price on one failure. How about one of the new kids on the block, Dodging Bullets at 20/1 or a the previous Champion, who as yet hasn’t sparkled for Henry DeBromhead, Sizing Europe at 20/1 and perhaps even the very big priced, Cheltenham loving, Kid Cassidy at 25/1. Is the winner in that lot? I think so. More than any other, time in this one will reveal all. It’s a more competitive race without the Sprinter but at his best there is not better horse in training and that’s what this week is all about. All Hail the King (Queen – sometimes as well)
Day 3 The Ladbrokes World Hurdle
Another race that revolves around health and entries. Sadly last years winner Solwhit wont take part after being declared unfit by his trainer, so where does that leave us?Will Big Bucks be back and continue his amazing unbeaten run in this race, at 5/2 if you knew he was lining up fit and well, you would be filling your boots. What about the incredible unbeaten run of Annie Power, she hasn’t been off the bridle to win so far, has been given the all-important Cheltenham experience and looks a winner in whatever race she contests, save the Quevega Testimonial, otherwise known as the OLBG Mares Only. It might fall to the rapidly improving and eye catching More of That (6/1) who looked so strong in his last win or perhaps Boston Bob (12/1) will turn up in this race rather than a chase, with his head right and prove unstoppable for Ireland and what about the forgotten horse for Rebecca Curtis, At Fishers Cross, at a tantalising 14/1, surely the Champ can get that in to a place as a minimum. If it comes up soft don’t rule out the very brave Reve De Sivola at a huge 25/1. Have we covered the winner here? I don’t know. But make no mistake, whoever wins this staying title will be a deserved winner capable of taking all before them.
Day 4 The Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup
What a race, what a year and what a prospect we have. Last year’s winner Bobs Worth looked so impressive in Ireland when the turbos kicked in and he is rightly at the head of the market at 9/4. Chinks in his armour – I see none. My one question is – was Silviniaco Conti travelling equally as well when he uncharacteristically fell 2 out last year, or was the tank emptying? Either way he will be popular after the way he swept past Cue Card in the King George and 7/2 seems about right for him. As to Cue Card, well if the Tizzards don’t know what they saw at Kempton on Boxing day then neither do we. I think he was fairly and squarely beaten but was he beaten for a turn off foot or beaten for class? If you think the former then you must take the 8/1. First Lieutenant has had a great preparation and looks a realistic contender with a great deal of ability and 12/1 is tempting and will be taken by the Irish if they have their tails up. This could be the best anti-post price in terms of how small it could go. Dynaste has flattered to deceive and I just don’t think he stays this trip so 33/1 looks about right and I wouldn’t be surprised if David Pipe finds another race for him that he can win at the festival over slightly shorter. You note that the name Long Run doesn’t appear anywhere. Sadly I think he has had one too many battles. I will always believe that he has been ridden poorly in his life and that because of this he has one too many scars both mentally and physically so at 40/1 I’m not tempted but it wouldn’t be the biggest shock if he served it up to them – he is all heart. Whoever comes out on top this is a race to savour and just once a year we truly do see the best of the best and that’s what this Gold Cup is.
So what does all this mean 60 days before the event. What it really means is that these are only 4 races of 27 championship events and there is so much more to consider, so much more to anticipate and so much more to work on. However the fun really starts now so if I have done nothing else hopefully it’s got you thinking and hopefully you have found a day or two’s holidays to get yourself to the greatest racing spectacle since the days of the Coliseum.