The Cheltenham Festival is not too far away and looking forward to the four Championship races that take place during the week, each one of them looks as though it will be won by a British trainer. The Irish contingent looks to be strong going into the festival as a whole, but when you focus on the four main races at the festival, British trainers appear to have the upper hand.
There may be a queue of Irish challengers who will all be in with a shout of placing in this race, but one horse standing head and shoulders above them right now is the British-trained Buveur D’Air. The Nicky Henderson hurdler won this race last year, and if anything, the 2018 renewal looks even easier for him to win, which is reflected by the fact that he is already a very short price to win the race.
While the Irish may be hoping they can spring a surprise in the feature race on day one, it looks to be a tall order, and anyone other than Nicky Henderson taking home this prize would be a huge shock. Had Faugheen shown more in his last two runs then he could potentially have made this interesting, but as it stands, the only options here looks to be Buveur D’Air.
The feature on Wednesday is the Champion Chase and it is here where we are likely to see a clash between Altior and Min. Both are extremely talented individuals, but on his return to action in February, Altior oozed class and looks impossible to oppose. He is another horse trained by Nicky Henderson, who looks sure to have a good week, and he is another odds-on favourite in a Championship race.
We saw Douvan suffer an injury and struggle home in last season’s Champion Chase, and favourite backers will be hoping they do not suffer the same fate with Altior. The second-season chaser looks made for a quick two-mile race, which is exactly what he will get here, and this could be the first of many wins in the race for him. It would be no surprise to see Altior not only win this one but go on to dominate the two-mile division for a few years, such is the talent he possesses.
From a betting point of view, the Stayers Hurdle is by far the most interesting of the Championship races this season. It is also the one race where Ireland may fancy their chances of taking a big prize, although there is a strong, young up and coming British-trained horse that looks a great bet to stop them. The betting looks wide open at this stage, and there has been plenty of action already with the likes of William Hill, where you can take advantage of the many free bet offers.
Vying for favouritism right now are the British-trained Sam Spinner and the Irish trained Supasundae. Both are extremely talented horses, but out of those two, Sam Spinner looks to be a horse with a huge future ahead of him. We have seen him three times this season so far, and in his last two runs, he has been hugely impressive. First, he blew away a competitive field in a Grade 3 handicap hurdle at Haydock, before taking the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in impressive fashion. The six-year-old still have bags of improvement left in him, and like Altior he is another horse who could potentially dominate his division for years to come, should he remain as a staying hurdler.
The Irish will be hoping Supasundae can dethrone the young British hope, but he is a very hard horse to work out, and there are doubts over his stamina. He has won just once this season, and that came over the much shorter trip of two miles, so questions have been asked about whether he will be able to get up the Cheltenham hill after a three-mile test, especially if the ground is soft.
The traditional feature race on Friday is the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and it is a race that is watched by the wider public, not just horse racing fans. We have seen some huge matchups in the past in this race, but last season and again this season we will be missing a few stars which is disappointing.
Yet again it is that man Nicky Henderson who holds the main British hope, with his horse Might Bite leading the market. There is no doubt Might Bite is talented enough to win a Gold Cup, but it will be interesting to see how he reacts to the crowd on the day after nearly throwing away a race at the final fence at last year’s festival. Another British challenger who has recently returned from injury is Native River, he will love the stamina test and will look to run his rivals into the ground. He placed last season but is a much fresher horse this time around, and this race may be his best opportunity of a Gold Cup win.
Irish hopes will mainly rest on the shoulders of Sizing John, a horse who won the race last season. That was a remarkable day for Irish trainer Jessica Harrington, with Sizing John being the highlight, although he has faced a troubled path on his way to the Gold Cup this season. He had problems over Christmas, and it will be interesting to see if he can return to his best on the day. A fully fit Sizing John would go very close in this field, but he can’t afford to be anything less than fully fit, because there are too many good rivals for him to take on.
Similar to the Champion Hurdle, the Irish also have plenty of horses in with each way chances in the Gold Cup, but winning the race for a second consecutive year may be a step too far this season.