Over the coming weeks, I’ll be taking a closer look at some of the underlying trends that give us hope of finding a few winners at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.
My analysis will be less stats driven, (that’s Matt’s speciality) but rather more observational. I’ve been heading to the Cotswolds in March for many years now, and hopefully can put some of that experience to good use, in at least guiding punters in the right direction, if not necessarily singling out individual winners.
Today’s piece will focus on the incredible impact of King’s Theatre progeny on Jump racing’s greatest festival.
Classy, if not top-class on the Flat, he was retired to stud in 1997, standing at Ballylinch in County Kilkenny. He was the Champion National Hunt Sire on a couple of occasions, and forever among the leading half dozen. Sadly, he died in June 2011 at the age of 20, but his influence on jump racing goes on. In recent years, the number of Cheltenham Festival winners that he has produced is quite incredible.
An important factor in the King’s Theatre success story is undoubtedly the drying conditions during the spring festivals. Though the offspring are generally adaptable towards ground conditions, they do tend to prefer a sounder surface. Prestbury Park in March is often ideal.
Cue Card was once a perfect example of the typical King’s Theatre progeny, though in recent years he has developed into a racehorse capable of performing to the highest level in all ground conditions. Nevertheless, in his younger days, a sounder surface was thought ideal, and when he romped home in the Ryanair Chase of 2013, it was his speed that set him apart from runner-up First Lieutenant. He’ll be back for another crack in March, possibly looking to add another Ryanair success to his impressive CV.
Phillip Hobbs has trained several that have brought Cheltenham Festival success the way of the outstanding jumps sire. Back in 2010, Menorah caused something of an upset in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle when getting the better of Get Me Out Of Here and Dunguib. Captain Chris was another Hobbs inmate that landed a Grade 1 at the showpiece event, when taking the Arkle Chase in 2011. When he returned 12 months later, he could only manage fourth in the Ryanair behind yet another from the prolific sire, in the Nicky Henderson trained Riverside Theatre.
The New One has become something of a National Hunt hero, and he’ll be back at Cheltenham in March, though a target has yet to be confirmed. Yet another from the phenomenal King’s Theatre production line, he has been unsuccessful in his attempts at lifting the Champion Hurdle, yet we must not forget that he did claim a Cheltenham Festival victory when romping home in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle back in 2013, defeating Rule The World and Ponte Alexandre in the process.
AP McCoy gave a riding masterclass, when winning the William Hill Trophy aboard Wichita Lineman at The Festival in 2009. The horse was far from orthodox over a fence, but the Champion Jockey cajoled, bullied and up the famous hill, threw everything at Jonjo’s fella to get him home by a neck in a truly thrilling three-mile chase. Yet it’s easy to forget just how good a hurdler Wichita was, as that was his second Cheltenham Festival win, having captured the Albert Bartlett, (then the Brit Insurance} by a country-mile in 2007.
Another King’s Theatre hurdler that took the Albert Bartlett by storm, was the ill-fated Brindisi Breeze. Tragically killed when escaping from his paddock just months later, he had looked a future star having defeated the well-touted Boston Bob at The Festival in 2012.
Others from the prodigious bloodline to strike at Jump racing’s greatest meeting include; Fingal Bay, Balthazar King, Diamond King and the classy mare Glens Melody. And there’s numerous others that have come frustratingly close in recent years. Southfield Theatre got within a nose in the Pertemps Network Final. Voler La Vedette was unfortunate to run into the mighty Quevega in 2010, then lost out to the almighty Big Bucks two years later.
If those were luckless in not appearing on the Cheltenham Festival roll of honour, then spare a thought for the Willie Mullins trained Shaneshill. Currently a three-time runner-up on the main-stage, could he make it fourth time lucky in March. Chances are that he will be running in the World Hurdle. Like so many by King’s Theatre, he appears at his best when the ground dries out, and undoubtedly raises his game at the ‘home of jump racing’.
And there’s other fancied types that will be hoping to add to the prolific King’s Theatre Festival record.
It’s hard to imagine Shaneshill not going close once again, but what of stable companion Bellshill? Another owned by festival regular Graham Wylie, he has failed to spark on his previous two ventures to the track, but a step-up in trip may well help to put the record straight. He’s made a seamless transition to fences, and looks set to contest either the JLT or the RSA in March. The latter appears most likely, and his pair of victories thus far over the winter, suggest that he’s one of Ireland’s leading novice chasers.
I mentioned earlier in the piece that Diamond King was already a Cheltenham Festival winner. He took the Coral Cup last year, and has one victory from his three starts over fences. Highly tried in his last two, he looks just short of top-class, though was running a huge race in the Drinmore Novice Chase, before getting in close at the last and losing all momentum. He’s now on a handicap mark that could make him competitive in the Festival Plate over 2m5f. He’s currently best-priced 25/1 for the race. Better ground is vital for this fella, and he will be an interesting each-way proposition wherever he turns up.
In my review of Warwick on Monday, I commented on the performance of Peregrine Run, in conditions he would have hated. He’s undoubtedly a King’s Theatre progeny that requires a sounder surface. I’m of the opinion that this year’s Neptune lacks depth, and I maintain that Peter Fahey’s fella is a live each-way proposition. I’ll certainly be throwing a little ‘Keeling-Cash’ at him.
Born Survivor, William Henry and Royal Vacation will also be of interest, when a battalion of King’s Theatre offspring gather for the four-day extravaganza. Last year, of the 21 horses representing the stallion, a third finished top four in their respective races, though only Diamond King struck gold. In a few weeks, selecting the winners from the also-rans will once again become an all-consuming task.