It only feels like a few weeks ago that Barry Geraghty delivered one of the most memorable Gold Cup rides aboard Bobs Worth to claim horseracing’s greatest prize. But here we are once again, only a few days away from the highlight of the National Hunt season, Cheltenham Festival. For four magical days, the eyes of the sporting world will fall on the home of racing, Prestbury Park, as the finest racehorses, trainers and jockeys go toe to toe in one of the finest events of the sporting calendar.
As the festival approaches, thoughts are focused on picking winners. In pubs, bars, offices and homes up and down the country, everybody has their “tip of the week” or their “banker of the festival”. Personally, I’ve had more bad festivals than good, but hasn’t everybody? Here’s hoping that this year is a successful one and that the tips I’m about to give you will give you as much joy as they (hopefully) give me.
1 – Hurricane Fly 11/4 – Champion Hurdle (Tuesday 3.20)
Looking at the card for this, it should be the race of the festival. It is also, probably, the hardest race in which to pick a winner. 19 time Grade 1 winner and reigning champion, Hurricane Fly, heads the market alongside The New One. However this race is wide open. Last year’s convincing Triumph Hurdle winner, Our Conor looks handy and has been primed for this race. My Tent or Yours is another contender and should come on for the ride under A.P McCoy, although a recent injury scare puts me off. However, I can’t look past Hurricane Fly for this one. Questions have been asked about his age (10) but trainer Willie Mullins believes he’s better than ever. Having already overcome Jezki and Our Conor twice this season, he’s a horse that never knows when he’s beaten and with Ruby Walsh on board, he has to be my pick for the Champion Hurdle.
2- Royal Irish Hussar 16/1 – Triumph Hurdle (Friday 1.30)
The Triumph Hurdle is one of my favourite races of the festival and is one of only two races which feature four year old horses only. Having had a look at the card, Le Rocher is one that stands out for me. He’s got form at Cheltenham having won there on Trials Day. In that race he showed that he’s a stayer and that he travels superbly. At 11/2 I can certainly see him being there or thereabouts at the finish. Nonetheless, my tip for this race is Royal Irish Hussar each-way. Having won his first three races over hurdles, including a victory at Prestbury Park, at the start of this season, he shot to favourite for this race. Last time at Doncaster, he failed to impress and finished third, however that run can be excused. Having already beaten other horses in this field and at a price of 16/1, Royal Irish Hussar certainly has terrific each-way value.
3- Splash Of Ginge 20/1 – Supreme Novices Hurdle (Tuesday 1.30)
The Supreme Novices Hurdle is one of the most eagerly anticipated races of the festival, purely because it’s the race that gets the festival underway. Previous winners include Menorah, Al Ferof and Champagne Fever who goes in the Arkle this time around. The market is headed by the Paul Nicholls trained, Irving, and Willie Mullins’ Vautour. Both horses represent good chances for two of the best trainers around. Horses with long odds are well known for running well in this race and I believe that Splash of Ginge offers fantastic each-way value. Looking at last season’s form, My Tent or Yours headed the market for this race having won the Betfair Hurdle. Similarly, Splash of Ginge won the same race this year, albeit in a time three seconds quicker than My Tent or Yours, the previous year. At 20/1 this Twiston-Davies trained horse surely has a chance of being placed.
4 – Benefficient 4/1 – Ryanair Chase (Thursday 2.40)
With less than a week before this race, there is still a lot of uncertainty over which horses will take to the field in the Ryanair Chase. My tip for this one, Benefficient, also has an entry for the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday. However, all being well, the 2m 5f trip of the Ryanair is favoured over the 2m trip of the Champion Chase. Therefore Benefficient should go for this race and if he does, he wins it. As you may have realised, I’m a huge fan of horses that have shown form at Cheltenham previously, Benefficient is no different having won the Jewson at this meeting last year. Drying ground will also see the chances of this horse increase and with the going expected to be closer to good than soft, it is hard to write off its chances.
5 – Bobs Worth 7/4 – Gold Cup (Friday 3.20)
It would be wrong to give you my tips for the festival without tipping someone for the Gold Cup. I’m ashamed to say, there is nothing original about tipping last years Gold Cup Winner, Bobs Worth. He’s five from five at Cheltenham, three of those coming at the festival. Admittedly even the greatest chasers haven’t won back-to-back Gold Cups (Denman, Kauto Star) but with a relatively weak field, I can’t look past Bobs Worth. He’s a small horse but has a massive heart and as soon as he sees the hill to the finish line, he charges right up it. You can guarantee that Nicky Henderson will have him primed for the race and it will take a good horse to beat him. Silviniaco Conti and Last Instalment will provide the biggest threat.