Lets kick off with the four biggest races at the Cheltenham Festival 2017.
As we enter 2017 it seems appropriate to take a look at where I stand with this year’s Cheltenham Festival. In the first of my Mad March Musings I am going to have a look at the top four Championship races’
Queen Mother Champion Chase 2m Wednesday
1st Douvan 2nd Sizing John. Simples! Have a feeling they may not all be that easy.
Sunbet Stayers Hurdle 3m Thursday
On what we have seen so far in the first half of the season UknowwhatImeanharry is rightfully at the top of the market and the horse to beat. I’ve always had an issue with the stayers hurdle at the Hennessy meeting that he won on his first run as the race always seems poor form with loads of holes in it but it keeps holding up in March at Cheltenham. The Irish don’t target this race as if their horse stays 3m he should jump a bloody fence, just as very few horses from Ireland target the mid-distance chases, the RyanAir or the JLT. So their runners in those three races tend to be a cop out.
However it is time to introduce the first big IF into this year’s Festival. If either Faugheen, Annie Power, even Vroum Vroum Mag were to line up it’s a completely different looking market. So what chance? Annie Power, very unlikely as she was beaten by More of That in this race two years ago and looked not to stay plus the Mares and the Champion look easier options. Vroum Vroum Mag, quite possibly if the other two don’t. Mind you she could easily be a player in the Nunthorpe or the Eurovision Song Contest! More seriously I think she’ll run where needed and if all three are fit and well probably the Mares, possibly the RyanAir. As for Faugheen? He’s rated 176 and with the exception of Annie Power 166 + 7lb allowance nothing touches him over hurdles BUT we haven’t seen him in over a year. Owner Rich Ricci has said that Annie Power and Faugheen won’t take each other on so if both were fit and well every chance that AP goes to retain her Champion crown and Faugheen could turn up here.
Mullins has other options in the Wylie pair Nichols Canyon and Shaneshill plus the omnipresent Clondaw Warrior.
If Faugheen turns up in the Irish Champion Hurdle on January 29th then the market for this race could move forward.
Champion Hurdle 2m Tuesday
Again this all revolves around Willie Mullins and to some extent owner Rich Ricci. In the Mullins yard at Closutton are housed Annie Power (won 2016), Faugheen (won 2015), Arctic Fire (2nd 2015) and Nichols Canyon (3rd 2016) and that is some firepower! I refer you to the paragraph above in the Stayers section.
If everything that could run, did start, having turned up with a winning run under their belt then I would have to be all over Faugheen BUT this race really has the biggest IF. Again January 29th is a big date, as is the Mares race Annie Power won last year at Punchestown in mid-February.
There is a case for saying NONE of the Closutton big four turn up and then this race would fall into the “competitive” category and the prize could go to an improving 160 rated horse such as Petit Mouchoir, Brain Power, Sceau Royal, Superb Story etc.
Gold Cup 3m 2f Thursday
Let’s get one thing straight. This is the Holy Grail for all those big hitting owners who are paying six figures for a horse that has no sell-on value.
As I write it looks a straight fight between Team Tizzard and the Gigginstown Gang!! It seems that Tizzard holds an ace in Thistlecrack and a Jack in Native River and I can’t believe they won’t run that solid ten in Cue Card in the Gold Cup! He owes them nothing and surely deserves one last crack at the crown, nothing was going better when he came down three out last year. He’s already won the RyanAir.
Gigginstown have the current King in Don Cossack as well as a host of other possibilities, Outlander, Don Poli, Valseur Lido etc. etc. but I called them the Gigginstown Gang with reason. I don’t think the O’Leary’s would baulk at the use of spoilers to light up Thistlecrack et al.
Mullins could struggle in this division although I expect Djakadam to give it a go. However there is one horse who if he got their fit and firing could really upset the applecart and that is the 2015 winner, the “novice” Coneygree. He has only one way of running and that is eyeballs out, from the front and gallop and jump the opposition into the ground. His pace could really test the jumping skills of Thistlecrack and the likes of Cue Card, Don Cossack, Djakadam and Outlander all have F’s in their form line. I don’t say Coneygree will win but he takes “tactics” out of the equation, even if he only led to two out. Smad Place could possibly do the same if ridden as he was when routing the 2015 Hennessy field.
This race is to be enjoyed not punted on. It has all the makings of a Dick Francis novel.
simplesimonsays49…001 3rd Jan.