We are now less than seven weeks away from the 2012 Cheltenham Festival. With another weekend full of high class racing lined up, we are sure to learn some more about the horses hoping to achieve festival glory. I thought I’d have a look at five of horses that many of us will be hoping to hit the headlines.
The Nicky Henderson trained Sprinter Sacre put down one of the most impressive displays of the season when winning the Wayward Lad Novices Chase at Kempton. The chase was a straight battle with Peddlers Cross, who arguably had the better form of the two over hurdles. Sprinter Sacre went off second-favourite behind Peddlers Cross, the same position they both occupied in the Arkle ante post market. That was soon to change though, with the bookmakers installing Sacre as a strong favourite following the convincing victory. Many will be struggling to see past Sprinter Sacre now, however there are cases to be made that Peddlers Cross wasn’t at his best that day. Along with the presence of Al Ferof, this year’s Arkle looks sure to be one of the best races of the festival.
“The Fly” just had to be mentioned. Willie Mullins’ superstar has yet to be seen on the racetrack this season but remains a strong favourite for the Champion Hurdle, the race he won in great style at last year’s festival. He looks set to appear in this weekend’s Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown against some high quality opposition. If he wins in good style, as many will be expecting, he will likely be shortened for Cheltenham. There are plenty of interesting challengers for the Champion Hurdle, although that list was weakened when Spirit Son was ruled out of the contest. There could be some big runs from his rivals but it will be hard to oppose Hurricane Fly if he arrives at the festival fully prepared.
Last year’s Champion Chase winner is back to retain his crown in 2012. He won in style last year and trainer Henry De Bromhead will be hoping to make it two on the bounce. A classy win in the Tingle Creek showed him to still be in top order and he will be difficult to look past. Big Zeb, last year’s nearest challenger, will be hoping to gain revenge but will have to go some to reverse the order despite two good wins this season. Finian’s Rainbow will be hoping to enter calculations following a gallant effort when beaten by Somersby in the Victor Chandler Chase. It could be argued that the level of that form won’t be good enough this year, however, and it could be more glory for the top class Sizing Europe.
The winning machine that is Big Buck’s will be back to tackle all-comers in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle. Fans of the brilliant stayer will be hoping he can make it an unprecedented fourth victory in the event, and it’s very difficult to oppose him. He looks just as good as ever this year, and his nearest rival Oscar Whisky will have to produce a monster performance to beat Big Buck’s on his first try over the distance. We get the chance to see Big Buck’s this weekend where he bids to make it fifteen wins in-a-row when he lines up in the Cleeve Hurdle. If – or perhaps we should say when – he wins the Cleeve he will head to Cheltenham looking to make it an incredible sixteen consecutive wins.
I couldn’t leave Kauto Star out. He has looked a different horse this season when producing two brilliant wins over Long Run. The reaction to his win at Haydock was quite phenomenal, silencing the doubters and creating one of the most spine-tingling moments of the jump racing season. He backed that up with another huge race when winning the King George for the fifth time and we continue to be amazed by this fantastic horse. His form this year has added to the excitement for the Gold Cup and it looks like being a classic. Long Run will want to retain his crown, and race conditions will likely suit him better. But the way Kauto Star has performed this year it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if he was to win his third Gold Cup. If he managed to pull it off it would be sensational. I know I’ll be cheering him on!
Thanks to Simon Panting of Cheltenham-Fest for this guest post – JP.