It is just over eight weeks until the National Hunt festival at Prestbury Park racecourse in Cheltenham and already all attention is focusing on the meeting. In recent days, the main topic in racing is the debate as to wether the festival should be upgraded from four days to five. Firstly, I would like to point out that I am firmly in favor of a five day meeting. An extra day of Cheltenham would be excellent for National Hunt racing as it is the pinnacle of our sport. However, apart from the incoming mares chase, there isn’t any races missing from Cheltenham. I’m against adding races just to have five days and watering down some of the top handicaps. Some people have suggested that adding more races will cater for smaller owners but this is the biggest meeting of the game and it should rightly be about those who are spending big to buy class and not racing just for fairytale stories. This is the sport of kings.
The addition of the mares novices Hurdle was ahead of time as a mares chase was more required. Now that it is there, a mares novices chase should be added. After that, there is nothing missing. I’m a huge fan of the mares programme and I want to see more mares racing. However, the seven pound concession outside of their sex only sphere is wrong. For example, if Apple’s Jade runs in the champion hurdle, she will be rated 157. That’s five pounds off of Sharjah, 162, who is the highest rated hurdler in Ireland. She will receive 7 pounds from Sharjah for being a mare and that puts her in 164.
As regards the festival, there looks to be some certainties beginning to materialize. Tiger Roll should have little trouble winning the cross country chase. Envoi Allen is streets ahead in the two and a half mile novice hurdle division and for me, Honeysuckle wins whatever she goes in. I hope it will be champion hurdle but in her absence, Sharjah is worth a bet. He was brought down early last year and seems to doss when in front at the end of his races. Therefore, he should be better than his 162 rating. I reckon about six pounds better which would make him hard to beat.
The evergreen Faugheen looks to have a great chance in the JLT Chase. He made a mug of everyone bar my own opinion of the second coming, Samcro. His jumping is neat and economical and the engine is still there. He has the best form of the principles. As does stablemate, Carefully Selected, in the staying division. I’ve heard rumors that he may run in the National Hunt chase but I’m hoping he turns up in the RSA. Minella Indo and Allaho were for me the two stand outs in the staying novice division last season and he wasn’t far off their form when third at punchestown.
It could be a clean sweep for Willie Mullins novice chasers. Melon is well overpriced for the Arkle. He’s finished second on three previous festival appearance, twice in the champion hurdle. I think he’ll go one better this time.
Abracadabras is the obvious one to take out in the curtain raising supreme novices Hurdle but again, Mullins has a fly in the ointment in second season novice, Tiger Tap Tap.
Cyrname seems to have left his mark on Altior and without Douvan, who is unlikely to run, the Champion Chase could go to A Plus Tard who was brilliant when beating another overhyped horse in Chacun por soi. His jumping is key and I think he’ll beat Defi du Seuil whose jumping is too big for this division.
Paisley Park is unlikely to have anything to worry about in the stagers hurdle but if he does then Harry Fry’s If the Cap Fits looks to be the biggest threat. His aintree for puts him in the mix of there are any flaws in the champion on the day.
Kemboy’s return was satisfactory and I still believe he’s the best horse in the gold cup with Delta Work a danger. People still think his RSA form is poor but I disagree. I think it was a strong contest that’s left it’s mark on santini and Topofthegame. Lostintranslation has a big chance too.
A few horses that I believe are under rated and I hope show up in handicaps are Jett, Keeper Hill, Speak Easy, Born Survivor and Petit Mouchoir.
The Ryanair Chase could be a cracking renewal and I fancy Min to beat Cyrname on a left handed track. Min was outstanding at Aintree in the Melling and I can’t see anything stopping him if he reproduces that.