FOUR DAYS OF PURE RACING BLISS
SPRING has sprung, March has arrived and the Cotswolds is once again buzzing as it’s about to unveil the annual Cheltenham Festival, the finest four days of National Hunt racing anywhere in the world. Forget imposters Royal Ascot, Kentucky, Breeders Cup and Arc weekends – all pygmies that pull up short when pitted against this iconic extravaganza, a spectacular coming together in glorious friendly combat of the greatest jumping thoroughbreds of Britain and Ireland. With the spectre of Covid-19 receding and restrictions being lifted, the sold-out signs are already up, as punters in their thousands from all corners of the home nations and beyond prepare to partake in the annual pilgrimage to Prestbury Park and indulge their love affair with the sport of kings.
Twenty-eight races, seven on each of the four days, herald the intense rivalry between British trainers and their counterparts crossing the Irish Sea to duel for the Prestbury Cup, the prestigious prize awarded to the winning nation. Last year, the Brits were routed 23-5, and, if current betting shows are an accurate reflection, this renewal could well turn out to be more of the same.
Having a flutter adds immensely to the festival fun, and I have put together a bet involving the four championship races – the Arkle, Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother and the Gold Cup – along with the ever-popular Stayers Hurdle. The wager is called a Super Yankee or, curiously, it is also known as a Canadian and consists of various combinations totalling 26 bets. Come with me while we have a look at the action, and good fortune if you choose to invest.
(Tuesday 15th March – 15:10 CET)
OPPORTUNITY knocks for the novices of the jumps game to follow in the hallowed hoofprints of the immortal Arkle who this race commemorates, by far and beyond the greatest steed since Pegasus to fly a fence. While none of the current batch of youngsters is destined to attain such fame, this race offers realistic hope of victory to beleaguered British trainers who have routinely suffered ignominious thrashings by routinely falling under the flailing hooves of the Irish invaders. My selection EDWARDSTONE, trained by Alan King at Barbury Stables in Wiltshire, has been most impressive in winning his last four chases and I’m more than hopeful that “Eddy” can see off the visitors and produce a home victory – a rare event indeed!
(Tuesday 15th March – 16:30 CET)
BEING an unashamed honours graduate of the Fred Flintstone Caveman Academy, my views on female emancipation do not include giving lasses the leg-up on any selection carrying my hard-earned dosh, a stance that sees me perched on the horns of a double dilemma, as not alone will my selection be ridden in my favourite festival race by a jockette, but the beast itself is also a member of the fair sex. Fragrant HONEYSUCKE, yet to taste defeat in 14 races, will be ridden by lovely Rachael Blackmore and the pair, successful in this race last year, will be seeking to repeat the feat and retain the crown this time round. Not only was Rachael the first female to ride the Champion Hurdle winner but the Tipperary girl went on to secure the Top Rider prize over the four days, and a month later sensationally became the first woman to ride the winner of the Grand National. The pity was that due to Covd-19 restrictions this ground-breaking event was achieved in front of a virtually deserted grandstand. HONEYSUCKLE and Rachael are short-priced favourites to do the double and should they be successful the famed Cheltenham Festival roar will carry all the way to Casemates.
QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE
(Wednesday 16th March – 16:30 CET)
EAGERLY anticipated rematch between SHISHKIN, trained in England by Nicky Henderson and Energumene, the hope of Ireland, trained by maestro Willie Mullins, the pair having memorably clashed at Ascot six weeks previously when SHISHKIN narrowly prevailed in a race described by legendary punter Harry Findlay as “the greatest ever”. Well, I reckon Harry must have had a fair few quid on the winner to warrant such an accolade, but it was undoubtedly a fantastic spectacle and the prospect of the renewal quickens the pulse, a contest in which I expect SHISHKIN to confirm his superiority and keep the prize at home.
STAYERS LONG DISTANCE HURDLE
(Thursday 17th March – 16:30 CET)
THE STAYERS – possibly the most popular race of the entire meeting, mainly because the same faces turn up year after year and the public get to know and love them. The classy CHAMP, another star trained by Nicky Henderson, has been burdened with my selection and I can picture the green and gold hoops of owner JP McManus coming late and fast up the Cheltenham Hill to scoop the pot.
CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP
(Friday 18th March – 16:30 CET)
THE CHELTENHAM Gold Cup, the holy grail of steeplechasing, is the highlight of final day of the festival. It’s dangerous to be dogmatic about which steed will hit the winning line first, as my bank account bears cruel testimony, but I believe beyond reasonable doubt the Cheltenham Gold Cup will once again be making the crossing to the Emerald Isle, but the burning question is which of the Irish legion of runners will be the victor. A PLUS TARD is the one for me. Hopefully, it will round off the last leg of our Super Yankee beautifully. And then it’s off to the bar. Cheers!