Shortly after 1.30pm next Tuesday afternoon, “The Roar” will signal the start of four days of compelling sport. 60,000 voices greeting the start of the Cheltenham Festival as the runners are sent on their way for the meeting’s opening contest, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Four days of compelling sport and drama at the foot of Cleeve Hill. A natural amphitheatre of Cotswold beauty.
Many dreams will be dashed, and tossed away in shattered pieces like confetti in the wind. But for some, there will be the pivotal moment. A career defining horse race. A tale that will never sully in the telling. Sport is often brutal. For the chosen few, sport will be utterly magical in a few days time.
The Supreme Novices’ can define the week for many a punter. Back the winner of the first race of the meeting, and you will be playing with the bookies money. Go too large on the beaten favourite, and you are in recovery mode far too soon. AL DANCER is a solid favourite, and looks a very serious horse. I fully expect to see him win, and get many punters off on the right foot. An each way bet on GRAND SANCY in the same race should not go too far astray.
The Racing Post Arkle can go to football legend turned racehorse trainer Mick Channon’s GLEN FORSA. A progressive young horse, he is most definitely going the right way. The feature race on Tuesday is the Champion Hurdle. For many weeks, this looked as if it would be a cakewalk for BUVEUR D’AIR, the winner of the race for the past two years. But the two Irish mares APPLES JADE and LAURINA have emerged as potent threats, and this will be a brilliant race. Preference, marginally, is for BUVEUR D’AIR to retain his crown.
The highlight of Wednesday’s card is the Champion Chase. ALTIOR has won 16 races on the spin, and will go off a very short favourite to extend that remarkable sequence. He will almost certainly win, but SCEAU ROYAL at around 16/1 could easily sneak into the places and reward each way support. And I expect OK CORRAL to go very close in the same afternoon’s RSA Chase.
Thursday’s big race is the Stayers Hurdle. There have been a few high profile defections from this race in recent days, and PAISLEY PARK is a strong favourite. Owned by Andrew Gemmell, a huge racing enthusiast who has been blind from birth, a victory for this talented horse would be a headline writer’s dream. I am sure PAISLEY PARK will “run big”, but at more attractive odds I will be hoping that FAUGHEEN (known as “The Machine”) can bounce back to form.