What we will learn today at Cheltenham: All Colin Tizzard’s eggs in one basket

Burning Ambition and Rob James jump the last before en route to victory at Limerick at Christmas. Picture: Healy Racing

Colm Greaves predicts what Cheltenham will throw up today

Big day for the small guy?

Unlike his cousin Robbie, Pierce Power was never going to make it as jockey. Standing well over 6ft tall he made his career in eventing and following an excursion for a business degree made his way back into the equine world through a series of internships with several world-class trainers.

Now back in his native Wexford he is running a successful point-to-point yard and this afternoon could move to the next level when he saddles the favourite Burning Ambition in the Hunter Chase.

The horse comes into the race unexposed, but inexperienced too having only contested two races under rules. In one of his earlier spins in a point-to-point he finished in front of Kilbrickin Storm who has won a grade two hurdle already this season and is quietly fancied by his trainer Colin Tizzard to go well in the Albert Bartlett this afternoon.

Burning Ambition then won on his rules debut at Limerick and followed up with an educational second to Gilgamboa at Punchestown in February. Gilgamboa, who is not qualified to run today, was winning Grade One races not too long ago and this looks like exceptional form. Power is thrilled to be here and says: “I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be going to Cheltenham with a live contender.”

Still only seven, he will be ridden by another son of Wexford, JJ Codd, and his greatest hope yet could well go on to much greater things from today.

One man’s difficulty is another’s opportunity

Unlike his cousin Pierce, Robbie ‘Puppy’ Power did establish a career as a jockey from the outset and this afternoon could represent another landmark in his recent steep upward trajectory when he partners the likely favourite, Our Duke, for Jessica Harrington in the Gold Cup.

Our Duke racing on the far side.
Our Duke racing on the far side.

He gets the leg up by a circuitous route. Initially, he had intended to partner Sizing John until the reigning champion suffered an unfortunate hairline fracture a couple of weeks ago. Power professed himself to be ‘heartbroken’ when told the news but if he were a selfish and inconsiderate man (he’s not) he might be having second thoughts and that broken heart could be mending. Sizing John disproved he could stay the Gold Cup distance with his win last year, but that was on good ground — vastly different to what faces the 18 runners this afternoon.

Today’s race will be won by an out and out stayer who is not inconvenienced by heavy ground. Our Duke won the Irish National last spring over three miles and six furlongs and showed no signs of stopping at the finish.

Then, of course, there is the matter of form. In his prep race at Gowran Park last month he gave Presenting Percy 7lbs and a one length beating over a distance way short of his optimum and this, significantly, was on heavy going. At the time this did little more than confirm his well being without obviously advancing his Gold Cup prospects. All this changed on Wednesday when Percy blew them away in the RSA chase. Noel Fehily lost the ride on Our Duke and has since been booked to ride American for Harry Fry. There could be a good story in this by tonight.

All the eggs in one basket

Speaking of dour stayers that thrive on soft or heavy going, Native River is vying with Our Duke and Might Bite for Gold Cup favouritism. Third in the race last year to Sizing John, he has been very carefully nurtured by Colin Tizzard this season with only one mission in mind. Today’s one. He’s only run once since last year’s race and that was a nice winning spin in a small runner but decent class race at Newbury last month.

Colin Tizzard
Colin Tizzard

Tizzard explained his strategy yesterday at the course: “We wondered last season if by going for the Hennessy, then going on to the Welsh National and then the Denman Chase that maybe we had taken the edge off him, so he wasn’t approaching the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the best of form. He ran well to finish third.”

In total, he had run almost thirteen miles in four races before he arrived at the start last year.

This year he has run less than a quarter of that distance. Tizzard has been fortunate with his ‘eggs in one basket’ strategy.

He has confined one of the top staying chasers in the country to barracks for almost a year, forgoing many lucrative opportunities, in the hope of one glorious day in the sun. If the weather had behaved as it normally does at this time of year, then Native River would be twice the price.

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