Cheltenham Festival Preview
By James Lonsdale
Cheltenham is now under a week away and excitement levels are at fever pitch. Having only backed the ill fated Darlan and Sir Des Champs in the ante post market for this years festival, they seems little point in wading into races with the prices highly unlikely to fluctuate too much before the day. However below are my five main fancies for this years festival and the horses I will be hoping can make it a memorable week.
Stan James Champion Hurdle:
Having backed Darlan ante post it was even more distressing watching that final flight fall at Doncaster. The horse I now fancy is Darlan’s stablemate Grandouet, Nicky Henderson’s six year old has, as many have pointed out had an interrupted preparation for the race, but I believe this has been factored into his price of 13/2. His run behind Zarkander beaten by just two lengths conceding four pounds in December’s International Hurdle was a superb performance considering it was the horses first run since the corresponding race in 2011. Grandouet’s jockey Barry Geraghty was going very well approaching the last and the lack of a recent run told in the end.
Hurricane Fly, Zarkander, Rock on Ruby and Binocular all runners in 2012 again compete and it would be folly to ignore their ability and achievements, but Grandouet is the unknown in the race, the horse had enough speed to beat Arkle 2nd fav Overturn in the 2011 Interntional hurdle and at 13/2 he offers superb value.
Neptune Novice Hurdle:
Quite simply Pont Alexandre looks a machine. His performance at Leopardstown in the Solutions Hurdle was superb, and worryingly for the opposition Willie Mullins believes his five year old will improve on better ground. David Casey a shrewd judge when it comes to assessing each horse which comes through the Mullins yard believes the horse to be absolutely top notch. The opposition are as to be expected high quality, but instead of over complicating I will be having a substantial bet on Pont Alexandre.
Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir:
A 20 runner plus amateur handicap is not everybody’s idea of a betting race, however having secured the services of top amateur Derek O’Connor, my confidence in the Donald McCain trained Super Duty is high. To win a festival Handicap a touch of class is often required and McCain’s horse has that in abundance. This lightly raced seven year old has form round Cheltenham having won the Sholer Novice chase in December. Super Duty was then narrowly beaten by the progressive Goulanes at Wetherby in the grade 2 Townton in February. Super Duty could be severely under estimated with a mark of 139 and will be carrying the money in the Kim Muir.
Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle:
One race in which I will be betting on before next week is the County Hurdle. Should as is expected My Tent Or Yours win the Supreme Novices’ then my fancy for the County, Cotton Mill will see its price shorten. The six year old ran a great race to finished second behind My Tent Or Yours in the Betfair Hurdle when last seen and John Ferguson’s horse looks a high class individual. He was in the process of running a mighty race when running out in last seasons Neptune and then failed to stay 3 miles in Sefton hurdle at Aintree. A fast run 2m 1f around Cheltenham should be perfect for the horse. It was also interesting to Ferguson talking up the possible ability of Cotton Mill with the trainer stating, “it’s possibly his last chance to run in a handicap if he continues improving the way I hope he will.”
Betfred Gold Cup:
Sir Des Champs is my idea of the winner in the Cheltenahm Festival show piece. After the backing the horse shortly after last years Jewson win, I have been slightly disappointed by his performances this season, however his jumping was far better in the Irish Hennesey and with better ground and a course which he seemingly enjoys my faith in Willie Mullins inmate is growing daily. Unbeaten until this season John Durkin, Sir Des Champs was well beaten by a race fit Flemenstar round a inadequate trip, the horse has stamina in abundance which is always crucial round Cheltenham’s 3m 2f trip. Silviniaco Conti and Bobs Worth are in my opinion the only dangers and both are high class chasers, but I can imagine Sir Des Champs staying on up the hill to take the crown.