What we can expect from the four days of the greatest festival in Horse Racing plus a chat with Charlie Deutsch and Richie McLernon about their feelings on riding Cheltenham Festival winners…
By Jordan Blundell (@jordan_blundell)
With the Cheltenham Festival just around the corner everybody is starting to get ‘Cheltenham Fever’, as the biggest racing festival in England soon gets underway with four brilliant days of racing.
With a number of horses unfortunately ruled out, like Allaho not being able to defend his RyanAir crown, it gives opportunity for others to achieve that dream of becoming a Cheltenham Festival winner.
The much anticipated Supreme Novice Hurdle starts the week, as the tape goes back and the Cheltenham crowd let out an almighty roar. Last year’s Champion Bumper winner Facile Vega is the bookmakers favourite despite a very poor run last time out, finishing last of those that completed in the Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown. Marine Nationale looks his biggest danger after an impressive win, beating Irish Point a head in a Grade 1 at Fairyhouse last time out. It will be interesting to see how Facile Vega responds to his below par effort.
The first feature race of the week is the Champion Hurdle where Nicky Henderson’s Constitution Hill is red hot favourite to land the 2m prize. Constitution Hill has been seen twice this season, both times beating stablemate Epatante comfortably. Willie Mullins pair State Man and Vauban will try and have a say in the race but ultimately it’s all eyes on Constitution Hill. The Willie Mullins pair have met twice this season with State Man getting the better of Vauban in both races. The much anticipated Arkle also takes place on day one with last year’s supreme runner up Jonbon hoping to go one better this time round and win the Arkle for Nicky Henderson. Willie Mullins El Fabiolo looks a real danger though after winning the Irish Arkle last time out. The Mares Hurdle is also scheduled to take place on day one where we look likely to see two time and reigning Champion Hurdler Honeysuckle, on what could be her last outing round Cheltenham, try and put a great end on a pretty spectacular career.
Day two sees the Champion Chase take centre-stage, with the 2-mile speedsters battling it out over 13 fences on the old course. After seeing Shishkin pull up last year and Energueme take the prize the Willie Mullins horse comes back here to defend his crown against the likes of Edwardstone and Editeur Du Gite. Editeur Du Gite beat both Edwardstone and Energueme last time out at Cheltenham in the rescheduled Clarence House Chase and the trio are again set to lock horns in the Champion Chase. Shishkin hasn’t been declared for the race this year however Henderson is hoping his horse can back up his win last time out with victory in the RyanAir Chase. The Cross Country Chase follows the main event, a race in which Delta Work looks to try to retain his crown after edging out Tiger Roll in last year’s renewal, a race which was to be the last in the dual Grand National winners career. The Champion Bumper brings an end to the days card, in what looks likely to be a typically open renewal. It’s For Me is the current bookmakers favourite however many can be given a chance in what looks an intriguing and tight renewal after Facile Vega’s comfortable victory last year.
With ‘Cheltenham Fever’ in full swing I spoke with jockey Richie McLernon about his experience on riding multiple winners at the Cheltenham Festival…
“I was lucky enough to ride 3 Cheltenham winners. Alfie Sherrin was the first, a brilliant day, all a bit of a blur really. The second winner I had was Holywell in the Pertemps and the feeling of that was amazing and the final one was Holywell again, in the Ultima, it was a sensational feeling and I was really confident going into the meeting”.
Richie McLernon on winning at back to back Cheltenham Festivals on Holywell…
“I was pretty confident going into the Pertemps the year he won and was very confident the second year in the Ultima despite it being his first season over fences.”
I also got to speak to Charlie Deutsch on riding his first Cheltenham Festival winner…
“Well it was a dream come true, I’d been there a lot and you always try and win one but you never think that you actually will and when I did it was a lifelong ambition fulfilled”
He also gave advice to any young jockeys hoping to also one day ride a winner at the Cheltenham Festival…
“Don’t expect anything, but always try and you never know what might happen. You may be lucky enough for a horse to come along and get you that first winner.”
The Stayers Hurdle looks wide open with Blazing Khal and Teahupoo topping the market but also the likes of Home By The Lee and now Flooring Porter looking like he could go for the hattrick and defend his crown. There is also talk of Nicky Henderson’s star mare Marie’s Rock potentially going for the stayers and stepping up in trip rather than taking the mares route, adding further intrigue to the race. The legend that is Paisley Park will look to line up for his fifth start in the race, the Emma Lavelle 11yo was last seen finishing third at Cheltenham however on Boxing Day at Kempton he showed great passion to beat Goshen and Champ, who chased him home in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle. Day three also sees the Turners Novice Chase take place, Gordon Elliott looks like he has a strong hand in the race with Mighty Potter looking the one to beat in the Grade 1 after an impressive start to the season. The RyanAir Chase, one of the great races of the week, also takes place on Thursday, with Shishkin hoping to take the crown, it is unfortunate, however, that Willie Mullins superstar Allaho isn’t able to come and defend his crown here and try and make it a hattrick of RyanAir Chases.
The main event of the week is the Boodles Gold Cup where Galopin Des Champs is the bookmaker’s favourite to land the prize. We all know, however, that the Gold Cup is a tough challenge over a stiff 3m 2 and a half furlongs, jumping 22 fences along the way. He’s been seen twice this season, first winning the John Durkan Memorial at Punchestown and then winning the Irish Gold Cup, beating Stattler by 8 lengths. Henry De Bromhead’s A Plus Tard will be coming back to defend his crown after a great battle with Minella Indo last year, however the 9yo hasn’t been in great form this season, pulling up at Haydock in the Betfair Chase on his only start. As well as looking to have a decent hand in the Gold Cup Willie Mullins also isn’t without hope in other races on day four, especially in the Triumph Hurdle with Lossiemouth, who was beaten last time out after being hampered but still finishing 2nd at the Dublin Racing Festival, Mullins will be hoping she will follow in the steps of Vauban and win the Triumph.
The sense of anticipation is really starting to build with the Festival being just under two weeks from now. Who will you be siding with, as we prepare for four days of the greatest week in the racing calendar?