picks out three big races at Cheltenham which are set to thrill punters.
MARES’ HURDLE (Tuesday)
The traditionalists are harrumphing and tutting and stomping their feet, while those that had Benie Des Dieux in a slew of penalty-kick accumes are a little more anxious, but the decision of Honeysuckle’s connections to take in the championship race for her gender makes for a riveting encounter.
It makes sense in that two and a half miles is ideal for the Henry de Bromhead-trained charge, and though she won the Irish Champion Hurdle over two, she wasn’t ultra-impressive, albeit that one suspects she might have been better value for the final margin and might not have found Cheltenham as sharp. She is unbeaten in eight career races and is a very exciting mare, her nine-length defeat of Bacardys in the Hatton’s Grace the highlight to date.
Benie Des Dieux is a former winner of this race, who fell at the last when streaking clear 12 months ago. That was her first run of the season and she has been brittle, which is why a very promising chasing career was put on hold. Three miles is probably her optimum trip and Willie Mullins was moved to describe her as the best mare he’d trained after her facile Galmoy Hurdle success.
It is one to whet the appetite on Super Tuesday but you cannot look beyond
CHAMPION CHASE (Wednesday)
Top billing here. Altior is the champion, a four-time Festival winner, a world record holder whose aura of invincibility waned slightly as a result of suffering his first loss since taking to obstacles four years previously at the hands of Cyrname over 2m 5f on soft ground at Ascot.
There were a couple of missed engagements subsequently but he showed all his speed back over two miles at Newbury last month registering triumph number 21 of 22 hurdle and chase races.
Chacun Pour Soi was a talking horse long before making his chasing debut only 12 months ago, having had to wait 1089 days for a run from the time he left France to join Willie Mullins. He followed up that 31-length triumph by smashing two Cheltenham winners, Defi Du Seuil and Duc Des Genievres at Punchestown. He lost on debut this season but was electric at the Dublin Racing Festival.
Defi Du Seuil won the JLT last year, having prevailed in the Triumph Hurdle the year before. He is quick but possesses sufficient stamina to win over a half-mile further. He has taken the scalp of Un De Sceaux twice this year, having accounted for Politologue on seasonal debut.
It is reasonable to suspect that he might still have been feeling the effects of his Cheltenham joust with Lostintranslation when unable to match Chacun Pour Soi for gears last May.
This is a tough one to call butis the one they have to beat.
GOLD CUP (Friday)
It doesn’t feel like it possesses a superstar, though if Al Boum Photo retains his title he will have earned the label. Santini is favourite now alongside the champion but it is hard to escape the suspicion that he lacks the necessary gear to prevail.
It is difficult to get a Gold Cup victor back to take his place in the race 12 months later. Winning a race of any nature following triumph in the Prestbury Park feature has proven a trial too. Al Boum Photo showed himself in fine fettle at Tramore on New Year’s Day, jumping excellently and displaying plenty of speed. We know the trip is no problem.
Stablemate Kemboy has been overlooked slightly and improved markedly from his first run to his second. It was notable that he wasn’t allowed jump off in front, the tactics that Ruby Walsh employed so successfully at Aintree and Punchestown last year, and David Mullins at Leopardstown prior to that.
Delta Work finished behind Santini in the RSA Chase last year but after a disappointing resumption at Down Royal, after which he was lame, has taken the two Grade 1 staying chases at Leopardstown subsequently. His jumping appears to have improved but his best form is on yielding to soft or better.
was favourite last year despite not having run in a chase in the senior division. This time, he is 0 for 3 but has shown enough to be of interest. He is a two-time winner at the Festival, though this is a different kettle of fish. He jumps well and stays. While not as quick as Al Boum Photo or Delta Work, he isn’t as slow as Santini and it will be a big surprise if he doesn’t relish the conditions and examination the likes of which Leopardstown doesn’t provide. He has won 10 times, but not once around the Foxrock venue. He is the value each-way bet.