All Systems Go
The big week has arrived and for my team here at The Bell House it means a pretty hectic timetable, one almost certainly involving trips to Stratford, Cheltenham, Huntingdon and Cheltenham on consecutive days.
It’s the kind of schedule we live for and a winner or two along the way would be just the ticket!
The Cheltenham Festival is set to kick off with two days on the Old course, where the heavy recent rain means they’ll almost certainly open up on Soft ground.
Those conditions certainly won’t inconvenience my day one runner, Ice Cool Champs, who lines up under Adam Wedge in the Ultima Handicap Chase (14.50, Tues).
A lovely big scopey horse, he won well for us first time out at Wetherby back in January, before going up in trip when tackling the Devon National at Exeter last time out.
His mid-division finish might not sound very spectacular, but he got a bang on the knee and did well under the circumstances to even complete the three and a half miles.
He had a few days off afterwards but has come back well and worked nicely towards the end of last week.
I know he’ll be massive odds, but he’s a talented animal and at nine years of age is in his prime, running in the colours of sporting and ambitious owners.
In off exactly ten stone he has a small each way chance in what is always a red-hot handicap, though as I always say, you’ve got to be in it to win it and there’s excellent prize money on offer for the places.
Elsewhere on day one, I’ll obviously be present at Cheltenham for the feature Champion Hurdle (15.30), a contest in which it caught my eye to see last year’s winning stable, that of qualified farrier Gavin Cromwell, back on the premises with the improver Darver Star.
Second in the Irish Champion Hurdle last time out behind Honeysuckle, I wonder if he might threaten another upset on this occasion. That’s where my fiver would be going at 12/1, though I have to confess to a degree of sentiment there as my father Richard was also a farrier before taking out a trainer’s license, one he held for 29 years, a spell which included two wins at the Cheltenham Festival.
Also on Tuesday, if Darver Star was to run well then surely Honeysuckle would be in with a major shout of chinning Benie Des Dieux in the Grade 1 Mares’ Hurdle (16.10).
I was a little surprised to see connections not go for the big one and try Honeysuckle in the Champion itself, but instead she features in a fascinating clash of two star females.
By three years Honeysuckle is the younger of the two, and I just love the way she goes about her job. Her rider, the irrepressible Rachael Blackmore, described her as “special” after her most recent win, high praise indeed.
On Wednesday I’ll be at Huntingdon, but from a distance I’m hoping to see Philip Hobbs land the Queen Mother Champion Chase (15.30) courtesy of his Cheltenham specialist, the JP McManus owned Defi Du Seuil.
The vibes around Altior’s hat-trick bid and his race to be fit after being reported lame aren’t promising, and at any rate perhaps this is the year the crown would have changed hands.
Defi Du Seuil has proven via his victories in the Shloer, Tingle Creek and Clarence House Chases that he’s an elite performer, one who already has a brace of Festival successes on his CV.
Chacun Pour Soi will make this interesting given he beat Defi Du Seuil at Punchestown in May, but Defi Du Seuil has improved since then and this is his stage. As a racing fan that’s who I’ll be cheering for anyway.
It’s back to Cheltenham for yours truly on Thursday, looking forward to running Happy Diva in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate (16.10). Solid, tough and consistent, she never lets us down and won’t mind what the ground is.
She’s been a fantastic flagbearer for the yard this season, not least her success in November’s BetVictor Gold Cup.
That afternoon it’ll be a shock if anything is good enough to deny Paisley Park a second victory in the Stayers’ Hurdle (15.30), though looking at the race I thought last year’s Ballymore winner City Island might be one to bag a bit of place money.
Much will have happened by the time Cheltenham Gold Cup day sweeps us all up on Friday, with the big race due off at 15.30.
How you go about trying to separate Al Boum Photo, Santini, Delta Work, Lostintranslation, Clan Des Obeaux and Kemboy is anyone’s guess, though I for one will be rooting for the runner from the small West of Ireland stable, Presenting Percy.
Pat Kelly’s star lit up Cheltenham two years running when taking the Pertemps of 2017 plus the RSA of 2018. To my eyes they were two of the great stories of recent seasons and though he probably has it all to do now, ‘Percy’ loves Cheltenham and might have another big one in him. I’d love to see it.
Above all though, fingers crossed all horses and riders come home safe and sound. It’s a magic week but nothing is more important than those out on the track returning unscathed.