Not too many of us can claim to be in the prime of our lives – I used to look in the mirror and see a young John Wayne, now I see an old John McCririck.
But whilst getting older and not being as good as we once were is bad for humans, for horses it can mean a sliding handicap mark and the chance to relive past glories.
Here are five who are potentially on a fair perch at Cheltenham.
The Young Master
The Young Master isn’t no longer so young, but when it comes to the best-handicapped horses at the Festival, he certainly fits the bill. He’s now 13 lb below his last winning mark – something Tyson Fury can only dream about – and though he is yet to fire in four starts this season, his shrewd handler will have him spot on for the Festival. He could land a knockout blow in the Ultima Handicap Chase on the opening day, having finished third and sixth in the last two renewals.
Connections of the Harry Fry-trained Whataknight could be singing the similarly-titled The Four Seasons hit well into the early hours of Friday morning if the nine-year-old is successful in the Pertemps Final on Thursday. He is without a win over hurdles since May 2016, but, as a result of two below-par runs on his last couple of starts, he is now back down to his last winning mark.
The in-form Chesterfield (horse not football club) heads to the Festival on a very fair mark based on the pick of his form from last season. A winner of the Scottish Champion Hurdle off 3 lb higher, he was outclassed in the Christmas Hurdle behind Buveur d’Air at Kempton last time, but that was like asking Wayne Rooney to beat Theo Walcott in a foot-race. He is proven in competitive, big-field handicaps (horse not footballer) and could cause a shock.
All Set To Go
Apparently, ‘all set to go’ was the title of a song by the dubiously named Hard Ons, a punk group in the 1980s, though I wouldn’t advise putting the group into your search engine. To say All Set To Go has a tough job on to be competitive in the County Hurdle following a 16-month absence is an understatement, but the handicapper has at least given him a chance. He was last seen winning by four lengths at Doncaster in December 2016 on his final start for Paul Nicholls off the same mark.
The Grand Annual, which has been named after Nicky Henderson’s dad Johnny since 2005, is clearly a race close to Henderson’s heart, and he has won it twice in that time. Theinval finished third in this race last year from the same mark, and can have his latest run here on soft ground overlooked as he’s a much better performer on a sound surface. That conjures up a worrying image of Nicky Henderson doing an anti-rain dance…