Festival Fever

The mighty ‘Cheltenham Roar’ is almost upon us, and as excitement reaches fever-pitch I thought I’d highlight some of the horses that are going to make us rich over those four glorious days.

I’m not on my own in fancying Holywell in the Ultima Handicap Chase on day one. Jonjo’s 10-year-old has a terrific Festival record, and took this race in 2014. He was runner-up last year and is handicapped to go close again. He comes to life at Cheltenham in March, and his indifferent campaign should put no-one off.

Altior looks a certainty for the Arkle Chase, but in Henry De Bromhead’s Ordinary World, we have a decent each-way proposition. The seven-year-old chased home Min in his last run at Leopardstown, and needs a sound surface to be at his best. He’s bred to get further than the two-mile trip, and that should serve him well for that final lung-bursting finish. The trainer has a wonderful record with chasers over the minimum trip, and this fella could prove a surprise package.

The RSA Chase looks a weak renewal, with arguably Ireland’s best two in Coney Island and Our Duke both missing. In their absence, I’d be all-over Disko if he heads for this. Trained by Noel Meade, the diminutive grey is a bundle of dynamite, and had Our Duke behind him last time when winning the Flogas Chase at Leopardstown. He may well go for the JLT, but would face a sterner test from the Mullins hotshot Yorkhill. This looks the easier option, and though the trip may stretch him, he has the class to get away with it.

In recent Festival previews, Gordon Elliott highlighted the chances of his Cross Country entry Cause Of Causes. Ultimately the horse is being aimed at the Grand National, but it seems he’s been over to Cheltenham for a few practice sessions in recent months, and his Festival record is formidable. He looks likely to get his ideal conditions (good ground essential), and I’ll be lumping on.

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Those who follow my ramblings will know that I’m keen on Shaneshill for the Stayers’ Hurdle. He’s another with an exceptional Festival record, but also has the necessary credentials to run a huge race in this particular event. Quick enough to finish second in a Supreme, yet having the stamina to be runner-up in a RSA Chase last year, he’s sure to give Unowhatimeanharry a mighty fright.

The Coral Cup is a tough nut to crack, but I’m sure Peregrine Run will go close. Trained by Peter Fahey in Ireland, he’s already a winner at the track, and travelled like much the best horse last time at Warwick, before floundering in the mud. I’d be amazed if he doesn’t go close off a mark of 142, though I do fear Nicky Henderson’s Hargam. The former Triumph Hurdle third may well turn up in this, though he’s also entered in the County. He’s been given a huge chance by the handicapper, running here off an eye-popping mark of 140. He’s been lumping top-weight in handicaps for a while, and I’d be surprised if he didn’t go very close in whichever race he contests.

Gordon Elliott’s Diamond King is the worst kept secret of the Festival, and looks to have a huge chance in the Brown Advisory Handicap Chase. He won the Coral Cup 12 months ago, and has been competitive against the best Irish novices on unsuitably soft ground over the winter. A sounder surface will suit this King’s Theatre gelding, and though his handicap mark is higher than ideal, he’ll still go close.

The aforementioned Hargam may head for the County Hurdle, but if he does he’ll face his stable-companion Peace & Co. They were first and third in the 2015 Triumph Hurdle, and though the latter has been in the doldrums since, Nicky Henderson believes he now has the horse back on track. Issues with his breathing have apparently been resolved, and if anywhere near his previous best, he’ll run a mighty race.

I can’t wait for the Festival to start. Hopefully we’ll have a few winners during the week. All the best to those having a punt.

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