From Arkle v Mill House to Kauto Star v Denman to Native River v Might Bite, the Cheltenham Festival has produced some epic duels down the years. It’ll be no different this week and the three showdowns below certainly won’t be for the faint-hearted, says
Santini v Delta Work, RSA Chase, Wednesday 2.10
Nicky Henderson has won this race on three occasions and the way Santini plugged on late on to finish third in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton suggests he possesses the necessary stamina to give the Seven Barrows handler another success.
Last year’s Albert Bartlett third has always been held in high regard by connections and the stiff finish at Cheltenham should be far more to his liking than Kempton.
Assuming he gets the all-clear to run following his 11th-hour injury scare, he should be able to turn the tables on Kauto Star Novices’ Chase runner-up Topofthegame but he may find Irish raider Delta Work a tougher nut to crack. Gordon Elliott’s charge won the Pertemps at last year’s Festival and, unlike Santini, boasts a flawless record over fences having won all starts over the bigger obstacles.
Two of those successes came at Grade One level and the way he battled back from a final-fence blunder to thwart the classy Le Richebourg in the Drinmore at Fairyhouse at the start of December showed he has guts as well as class.
Santini will have to be the real deal to lower his colours.
Lostintranslation v Defi Du Seuil, JLT Novices’ Chase, Thursday 1.30
Seconds out, round three. Lostintranslation and Defi Du Seuil have clashed twice this season with the score standing at 1-1 ahead of this Cheltenham decider. They first clashed in the Dipper at Cheltenham where Defi Du Seuil looked sure to prevail when he cruised into the lead two fences from home.
However, it was then Lostintranslation’s stamina kicked in and he rallied to outstay the 2017 Triumph Hurdle winner by a length and a quarter, a success that prompted winning trainer Colin Tizzard to compare Lostintranslation favourably to stable superstars Native River and Thistlecrack.
However, a month later Defi Du Seuil got his revenge in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase, benefitting from a more patient Barry Geraghty ride to win by three quarters of a length.
That was a terrific effort and Defi Du Seuil is clearly now a very different horse from the one Lalor hammered on his chasing debut at Cheltenham last November.
They’re two smart horses and the expectation is they’ll fight out the finish of the JLT. To win Lostintranslation will have to make this a searching stamina test as Defi Du Seuil is unquestionably the speedier horse. A fascinating contest lies in wait.
Presenting Percy v Clan Des Obeaux, MagnersCheltenham Gold Cup,Friday 3.30
Last year’s Gold Cup produced an epic duel as Native River ultimately outstayed the gallant Might Bite to land the Festival showpiece.
A year on, a case could be made for several in a wide-open blue riband but it could ultimately come down to a straight fight between Presenting Percy and Clan Des Obeaux.
Presenting Percy has not run over fences since last year’s RSA Chase but the seemingly effortless way in which he sauntered to victory that day is hard to forget.
That was his second Festival success and he’s clearly a horse of immense talent but his preparation for his date with destiny — a single run over hurdles this season — is anything but conventional.
When push comes to shove at the business end of what promises to be the Festival’s most gruelling race, there has to be a concern he won’t be battle-hardened enough to repel all-comers.
Clan Des Obeaux wasn’t on many people’s Gold Cup radar at the start of the season but that didn’t stop Paul Nicholls from throwing his charge in at the deep end on his seasonal reappearance. He didn’t disgrace himself when fourth of five to Haydock specialist Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase but nor did he look the second coming.
However, he took his form to a whole new level when winning the King George at Christmas in the style of a horse rapidly on the upgrade. Though victory was unexpected, Clan Des Obeaux was an impressive winner of a true-run race that often proves the best Gold Cup indicator.
A subsequent victory of the rearranged Denman Chase at Ascot suggested the Kempton victory was no fluke and he looks a danger to all.