An A to Z of Cheltenham

Our lead racing columnist Ruby Walsh on everything Cheltenham from Annie Power to Zubayr.
An A to Z of Cheltenham

A is for Annie Power:

She may not be Faugheen or Hurricane Fly, but this Champion Hurdle looks very winnable and she’s fit, well and ready to do herself justice. I think she has enough pace to cope with the drop back to two miles, and will be very disappointed if she is not thereabouts.

B is for Bumper:

And Battleford and Bacardys, both of which will represent us in this race. We haven’t had a stand-out performer in this race for a few years, and that’s probably the case again this year, but these two certainly have each-way claims at big prices. B is also or Bellshill, who must be respected whichever race Willie runs him in. Unfortunately, B will also be for ‘brought down’, something of an inevitability in competitive big-field races this week.

C is for Childrens List:

Although not one of the stars of the stable, he is one of the few Willie Mullins horses that looks reasonably well treated off his current handicap mark. He will appreciate the quicker ground, and should give a good account of himself.

D is for Douvan:

Tomorrow’s banker, in the Arkle Chase. Winner of last season’s Supreme Novices Hurdle and unbeaten over fences to date. And let’s not forget the three Ds in the Gold Cup: Don Poli, Djakadam and Don Cossack. Djakadam was second in a strongly run renewal in 2015 and has to have a really good chance of going one place better. Stamina is no problem to him, or to Don Poli, who has produced his best at this track in the last two seasons.

E is for Electric:

And that is exactly what the atmosphere will be like before the first race, not just tomorrow, but each of the four days. It’s also the feeling you get when you ride a winner here.

F is for Faugheen:

What a pity. He produced his best performance to date in the Irish Champion Hurdle but injury has denied him an opportunity to follow up last year’s success in the Champion Hurdle. Let’s hope F does not stand for faller. We had enough of that last year – least said, soonest mended.

G is for Gold Cup:

Oh, which one to ride? Decisions, decisions, decisions! It’s the Holy Grail and I’d love to win it for Willie Mullins. I’ve been fortunate enough to win it twice, and would love to complete the hat-trick. G is also for Gillian, my wife, whose head will be wrecked listening to me all week!

H is for Henderson:

Nicky seldom leaves Cheltenham without a winner. He has two live chances in the first race, and will be aiming to pull off one of the greatest training performances of all time by getting My Tent Or Yours to win the Champion Hurdle off a two-year absence. H is also for Hype, so much of it! I cannot wait until it finishes and reality takes over. Roll on 1:30pm tomorrow.

I is for Irish:

A huge contingent of expectant punters travelling over. There are so many Irish jockeys, trainers and horses nowadays, when you think of these riches it’s hard to believe we had just one winner at this meeting in 1988.

J is JLT:

A race which we won with Vautour last year, and Willie has strong claims with Outlander and Black Hercules this time. Choosing this race ahead of the four-miler and the RSA Chase for the latter has surprised many people, but we believe he will settle better over the shorter trip. By letting him take his chance in the Albert Bartlett last year we may have been running him in the wrong race. He’s a good jumper, travels well, and should give a very good account.

K is for Katie:

My sister, who has already ridden two winners at the Festival. I’d love to see her add to that tally. She will probably have rides in the Kim Muir and the National Hunt Chase, and hopefully some others, too.

L is for Limini:

My best ride on Thursday and one of my best rides of the entire week. She has class, showed stamina when winning over two and a quarter miles, her jumping is improving with experience, and she is a very good mare. I’m more than hopeful she’ll take the first running of the mares’ novice hurdle.

M is for Min:

The talking horse, for so many people. He has been on people’s lips since last May, and tomorrow is the time for all the talk to stop and the galloping to start. I hope he’s as good as has been said, but all I can say is that he has impressed me in his two runs for us, and he has a very good chance in a hot renewal of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

N is for Nichols Canyon:

He had a very hard race at Christmas, and ran a little below his best in the Irish Champion Hurdle, but is back in good form, working well. He’s tough, will run his race and will be hard to keep out of the frame. N is also for no-hopers – there’ll be a few of those this week, too.

O is for Octet:

Douvan, Vroum Vroum Mag, More Of That, Squouateur, Limini, Thistlecrack, Un De Sceaux and On The Fringe: It could be a life-changing eight-timer if it came up – you have to dream!

P is for Pendleton:

Olympic cyclist Victoria, who is taking on the Foxhunters Chase. It’s something I admire, and I wish her the very best of luck. She’s as fit as a flea, as brave as a lion, and it’s a free world, so fair play to her. Let’s hope it works out for the best.

Q is for Queen Elizabeth Stand:

It’s a massive new structure, very impressive, and will only add to the atmosphere of the four great days. Mind you, I think it should have been called the Quevega Stand, after our queen of Cheltenham.

R is for RSA Chase:

One of the clashes of the week: More Of That v. No More Heroes, the best of the British versus the best of the Irish. It’s a cracking race, and encapsulates much of what this meeting is about.

Sis for Squouateur:

Everyone looks at handicaps differently, but he’s a horse which I think is very well handicapped. Gordon Elliott has given him multiple entries, but the Martin Pipe Conditional Riders’ Race - a race Gordon has gone close in twice and would dearly love to win - looks his most likely target. If he goes there, he’ll be a major player. S is also for our own Shaneshill, a horse with a good record at this meeting, having finished runner-up in the Bumper and the Supreme in this two visits. He’s a lively outsider in the RSA Chase.

is for Thistlecrack:

A lot of people’s banker for the week. On form he is the standout horse in the World Hurdle. I’d have no fears about the ground for him, as he won at Aintree last year. He will take beating. T is also for Triumph Hurdle. Willie runs four, and I don’t think there’s anything between them, but Ivanovich Gorbatov leads the Irish challenge - provided the ground is good.

U is for Un De Sceaux:

He is the best ride I have in a championship race. He was very good at Ascot, and I thought very good in the Arkle at this meeting last year. He’s in great form, and just needs luck on his side. If this fella goes in, The Castle in Glanmire is where we all should be.

V is for Vautour:

Will he stay, won’t he stay? Only time will tell. I think he can, but also believe it’s a very good Gold Cup and whatever wins will have thoroughly earned and deserve it. V is also for Vroum Vroum Mag. If you’re having an awful run by the fifth race tomorrow, I think she’ll come to the rescue. I don’t care what way the ground comes up, she’s a very good mare and will take beating.

W is for Winners:

There will be only 28 of them this week, so there has to be far more losers. But, in racing this is the best place to win – it’s a feeling which cannot be replicated, and I just hope to God I can get that feeling this week.

X is for X-rated:

That fall on Annie Power at the last in the mares’ hurdle of 2015. There was no physical pain, but the mental scars run deep. Hopefully she can make amends this year. X is also for X-Country, and Uncle Junior’s bid at 15 years of age. Realistically, Josies Orders looks the one to beat.

Y is for Yanworth v Yorkhill:

What a clash that looks like being in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle on Wednesday. I think Barry Geraghty will win the big clash in the RSA, but 40 minutes earlier I hope he will have lost out in the clash of the Ys. They are two exciting novices, and it’ll be a proper race.

Z is for Zubayr:

A half-brother to former Triumph Hurdle winner Zarkandar. Like his sibling, he won the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton. Like Zarkandar, he arrives at Cheltenham following just one run. And I have a feeling his trainer, Paul Nicholls, thinks he might get the same result as he did with Zarkandar.

For me, though, I just hope I don’t end up on the Z-list by Friday night.

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Saturday, November 28, 2020

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