Five-day Festival? Forget it
It is only January but Cheltenham is already dominating the sport we all love. Chiefly because there is a debate regarding the greatest show on turf.
When I was young Cheltenham took place over three days with the Gold Cup on the Thursday.
It was extended to four days in 2005 with races like the Ryanair Chase and the Fred Winter being added, as well as the JLT Novices Chase a few years later.
The Ryanair runners, pre 2005, would have had to contest either the Champion Chase or the Gold Cup. While the Fred Winter runners can now avoid the Triumph Hurdle.
The JLT was won last year by Defi Du Seuil and in another era he would surely have been competitive in the Arkle.
I am against any extra races at the meeting. I think it is ok as it is (and the addition of the Mares Chase is not necessary in my opinion).
Twenty eight races is plenty.
Many people, especially those from Ireland, are there for all four days. They spend a hell of a lot of money. Why are we trying to fleece them even more? And that is what I think this is about.
It has little to do with the horses but with getting more people through the turnstiles.
Twenty years ago having a winner at the Cheltenham Festival was something super special. It is still special but what races will be on the card in a few years time if another day is added?
Twitter has been joking about selling races being included. I worry the powers that be may give it serious consideration.
I am pessimistic about it because the fact that it is being discussed in public leads me to believe the logistics are already in place and the PR people just need to get us all on board.
But hope springs eternal and I do have a small hope that they will actually take note of those who love the sport and take into account our opinions.
Cheltenham main contenders
While on Cheltenham I think it is time for a little look at some of the big races and their main contenders.
I will start with the Gold Cup. Clan Des Obeaux wasn’t stopping when he won the King George so the longer trip shouldn’t be a problem. He has never won at Cheltenham but his Gold Cup run last year wasn’t too bad. And I think he may be a bit stronger this year.
The defending champion, Al Boum Photo, won on his seasonal reappearance and that would have blown the cobwebs away. Kemboy beat Al Boum Photo at Punchestown to be Ruby Walsh’s last ever winner.
Due to ownership concerns Kemboy didn’t have a run until the end of December where he finished fourth behind Delta Work, Monalee, and Road To Respect. All three had the benefit of a run.
I said last year that the RSA looked a good renewal and Delta Work looks to be close to the top of the tree. I love Monalee and I am a big fan of his trainer and jockey. I would love to be proved wrong but I cannot see him winning a Gold Cup.
Getting back to last year’s novices’, Lostintranslation may go straight to Cheltenham so we won’t be able to assess his form following his disappointing run on Boxing Day.
Santini has always had a big home reputation but his first run of the season resulted in a narrow victory over Now McGinty who was well fancied for the Welsh Grand National but, failed to frank the form.
If I had to pick now I would say Delta Work and, if he is back to full health, Lostintranslation.
Fuzzy at best
The Champion Hurdle picture is fuzzy at best. Epatante was a good winner at Kempton and she does get the mares allowance. Pentland Hills lost his unbeaten record over hurdles last time out. It was his first run of the season so does he deserve another chance?
Sharjah won the Grade One Matheson Hurdle with Klassical Dream again down the field. Petite Mouchoir was again second and he is a big price for a horse that was third in the Champion Hurdle three years ago.
There are still a few decisions to be made regarding runners in the race. Envoi Allen is in the betting although I think connections will keep him to one of the novice races.
I am still hoping Saldier recovers fully before March. I like him a lot.
The Stayers Hurdle is at the mercy of Paisley Park. If he shows up in the form of last season he should win.
Altior is still favourite for the Champion Chase but the fact he keeps missing engagements worries me. Defi Du Seuil looks the real deal and I think he is the one to beat.
Chacun Pour Soi was beaten by A Plus Tard which dented his lofty reputation (although the winner is very good).
There are still a few in the betting who could run in the Ryanair.
Buck the trend
A couple of things my trivia filled head has noticed.
Fiddlerontheroof won the Tolworth very nicely. But only two winners have gone on to win the Supreme.
Also Slate House should come with a warning as Feltham winners don’t win the RSA. Coneygree did do the Feltham Gold Cup double in 2014/15 though.
But I liked the way Slate House was ridden and he could buck the trend.
More for Cheltenham
Getting to Cheltenham http://wp.me/P8e3Dl-h4
Cheltenham: the early years http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-1EQ