With four likely favourites on the first day alone, Ruby Walsh holds the key to our Festival fortunes. But Cheltenham is a marathon, not a sprint. Here's the A-Z of his best rides.
Annie Power, Champion Hurdle, Tuesday
She’s been supplemented for the Champion Hurdle and is entitled to take her chance in what is an open-looking year after injury ruled out Faugheen.
She’s a super sub to get but she still has to put up a career-best performance to win this. She’s never won a 2m Grade One race – yet –because she’s never run in one.
But she is a dual Grade One winner over 2m 2f. I’m not sure if she’ll wear a hood this time like she did at Punchestown. She’s getting the 7lbs mares’ allowance which is a big plus and I don’t think the form of last season’s first three home in the Triumph Hurdle (Peace & Co, Top Notch and Hargam) will be good enough here.
Arbre De Vie, Coral Cup, Wednesday
Has been entered in the Coral Cup as he’s disappointed over fences this season but looks to be on a stiff enough mark to me now he’s back over hurdles.
Augusta Kate, Champion Bumper, Wednesday
On her homework you’d nearly bring her to Uttoxeter on the Saturday after Cheltenham but she come alive on the track. Not many mares tend to win this race so that stat is against here.
Bacardys, Champion Bumper, Wednesday
I’ve never sat on him, but he won a decent bumper at Leopardstown over Christmas. The winners of these races tend to perform well in the Champion Bumper – but I’m not sure how strong our bumper horses are this year compared to previous years. Avenir D’Une Vie is decent but Castello Sforza has been off the track for a while.
Belshill, Neptune Novice Hurdle or Albert Bartlett
Yanworth looks the one to beat in the Neptune Investment but Belshill. A Grade One winner who probably wants a test of stamina so the 2m 5f Neptune Investment Novices’ Management Hurdle or the 3m Albert Bartlett Hurdle is the way to go.
Black Hercules, RSA Chase or JLT Novices Hurdle
The 4m amateur race was the plan but it looks like he’ll now drop back in trip to the RSA Chase or even the 2m 4f JLT Chase. He likes to get on with it and jumps very well – bar the last day at Navan when he fell. He’s talented but this is Cheltenham and both are competitive races.
Djakadam, Gold Cup, Friday
I’ve a big decision to make between him and Vautour for the Gold Cup but I’ll leave that as late as possible. A good second in last year’s Gold Cup and won the John Durkan over 2m 4f on his debut this season.
He tipped up in the Cotswolds Chase in January and had to get stitches but has been fine since then in the build up to the race. That doesn’t bother me as he’s normally such a sound jumper.
If anything, he’ll be cleverer next time and given the pace Coneygree took us all last year he looks one of the guaranteed stayers in the race.
Douvan, Arkle Chase, Tuesday
Has been spectacular so far in his career and is working really well at home. I think he’s the best horse in the race and with normal luck in running I can’t see what else will beat him.
He’s straightforward to ride and has everything going for him.
Felix Yonger, Champion Chase, Wednesday
Looks to me to be a live outsider in the Champion Chase where I’ll be riding Un De Sceaux (below). Has been running on unfavourable ground all winter and the better the ground the better his chance.
Footpad, Triumph Hurdle, Friday
Won well at Gowran Park and then in the Grade One Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown. He jumps, stays and is a side-open Triumph Hurdle. There isn’t much between any of the juveniles this year.
Limini, Mares Novices Hurdle, Thursday
She’s done everything we’ve asked her to do so far. She’s a good jumper and handles any sort of ground. We like her a lot and I’m looking forward to riding her in the new novice race – the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novice Hurdle.
Long Dog, Neptune Investment Hurdle or Albert Bartlett
Despite winning six novice hurdles and two Grade Ones he seems to be the forgotten horse of the Festival. I’m not sure where he’ll end up but will run a good race wherever he goes which will be either the 2m 5f Neptune Investment Novices’ Management Hurdle or the 3m Albert Bartlett Hurdle. We’ll try to keep him and Yorkhill apart if possible.
Min, Supreme Novices Hurdle, Tuesday
There was a lot of talk about the French import before he ever ran and won well at Gowran Park and Punchestown. He’s really well at home at fits the profile of some of the horses we’ve won the race with in the past (Vautour & Douvan). The form of his races are working out well and he looks to be a deserving favourite – though you could argue about his price.
He should appreciate better ground than he has been winning on and is a brave jumper at his hurdles.
I’d have a lot of respect for Nicky Henderson’s Altior and if we get past him we won’t be far away.
Myska, Mares’ Novice Hurdle, Thursday
Won well at Thurles and Taunton but disappointed at Punchestown but was found to be coughing after the race. If she comes back to her best she’ll be on the premises wherever she runs.
Nichols Canyon, Champion Hurdle, Tuesday
Had a great campaign last year where we wished we’d made more use of him in the 2m 5f Neptune Investment Novices’ Management Hurdle when he finished third to Windsor Park.
Beat Faugheen earlier in the year and chinned Identity Thief in the Grade One Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas. Looks a live contender in an open-looking Champion Hurdle.
Open Eagle, Albert Bartlett Hurdle, Thursday
Found Thomas Hobson too good at Warwick but then went back there and won well. He was a stayer on the Flat and has improved his jumping with every run. Looks in really good order at home and I think he’ll run in the Albert Bartlett. The question is whether he’ll be able to get past Barters Hill.
Made a good impression on his reappearance from injury but has been a little disappointing in his last two starts when second to Roi Des Francs and Outlander. Has a few entries and stamina isn’t a worry.
Was second to Black Hercules at Navan before beating Mydor at Navan and then nicked a race at Naas over an inadequate two miles. He’ll appreciate better ground and will probably run in the four mile amateur race.
Sempre Medici, Champion Hurdle, Tuesday
He’s been on an upward curve all season since beaten less than a length by Old Guard at Cheltenham on his seasonal debut. He beat Identity Thief in a Grade 2 Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse last year and even though Henry De Bromhead’s runner has improved since then – he’s a much bigger price than both and looks a lively outsider in the Champion Hurdle. Had a nice prep when winning at Gowran Park.
He was very disappointing at Doncaster and I think he will step up in trip to the JLT or RSA Chase rather than go for the Arkle. He’s good form, but just keeps bumping into a Douvan, No More Heroes or Killutagh Vic.
Went a really good gallop and out-battled Open Eagle at Warwick. His jumping has improved and he was a very decent Flat horse. Looks likely to go for the Neptune Novices Hurdle or the Albert Bartlett. He’s won on all types of ground so is very versatile.
Up for Review
Looking at his form you might think he’s better with an ease in the ground and definitely wants a trip. The softer the ground the better his chance.
Un de Sceaux, Champion Chase, Wednesday
He’s been schooling very well and looks the best ride I’ll have in a Championship race.
He was very good in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot after falling in the Paddy Power race at Leopardstown over Christmas. He’s a deserving favourite and if he can continue the improvement he’s shown all season will be hard to beat. There’s three former champions in the race with Sprinter Sacre, Sire De Grugy and Dodging Bullets and all their form is closely match.
Un de Sceaux looks to be the new kid on the block and it’s no secret that he’ll bolt off in front. If they want to take me on for the lead, that’s up to them, but it could play into the hands of one of the outsiders who could pick up the pieces after not getting involved in the skirmishes. Hopefully, that will be Felix Yonger that chases us home.
Vautour, Ryanair Chase, Thursday
He was spectacular when winning the JLT Chase at Cheltenham last year but didn’t blow anyone away with his winning debut at Ascot. Was a lot better in the King George VI Chase when just nabbed by Cue Card at Kempton. We’ve switch him to the Ryanair Chase as that’s he’s best chance of winning a race at Cheltenham Festival.
And that’s what matters. Going left-handed will definitely suit him better.
Vroum Vroum Mag, Mares Hurdle, Tuesday
She’s a very talented and will head for the Mares Hurdle after Annie Power was supplemented for the Champion Hurdle. Every question we’ve asked ‘Mags’ she’s answered and I have full confidence in her after here impressive win at Ascot.
He won the Tolworth Hurdle on very heavy ground at Sandown but as he’s a son of Presenting he should improve again on better ground. Could run in either the Supreme Novices Hurdle or the Neptune Novices Hurdle the following day depending on the ground,