Cheltenham Festival Preview

Cheltenham, Prestbury Park photo credit: Andrew Blair White

Ireland look to have a very strong hand going into this year’s Cheltenham Festival as Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliot and Joseph O’Brien among others look to fire their best bullets at the iconic weeklong festival at Prestbury Park.

Ireland, who have secured more winners than the British in the last two years of the festival, will be looking to repeat the feat. Gordon Elliot, who won the top trainer award last year, has another good lineup of runners including the likes of Delta Work and BattleoverDoyen in some of the big Novice Races.

Joseph O’Brien’s best hope of a first Festival winner is Sir Erec, who should take a whole load of beating in the Triumph Hurdle. O’Brien said about his stable star: “He’s very straightforward and has a great attitude, so being a colt is no hindrance to him. He’s one you’d have to be excited about.”

The Champion Hurdle is shaping up to be one of the best races of the festival as two-time winner of the race, Buveur D’Air comes across two very strong Irish mares in Apple’s Jade and Laurina. Depending on the person you talk to, everyone has a different opinion about which one of the three will come home in front.

The Champion Chase is not quite as competitive as Altior, trained by Nicky Henderson in England, the best Jumps horse in training looks to defend his crown. He won’t be coming up against anyone who he hasn’t beaten before in his seventeen race unbeaten record over obstacles. Henderson said: “Altior is a machine and just gets on with it and has tremendous pace. We are getting to the situation where anything bar a really good performance won’t do.”

The feature on the third day, the Stayers Hurdle sees Penhill, trained by Willie Mullins, look to keep his crown. However, again he will arrive at Cheltenham with a mammoth absence to overcome. He has also had plenty of setbacks over the years. The Emma Lavelle trained Paisley Park, seems to hold all the aces with the other English horses but has yet to compete against an Irish horse this year. The most emotional and touching winner of the week would be Faugheen, if the veteran could get back to some of his old form and win this race.

That leaves the Gold Cup, the race that for so long has eluded champion trainer, Willie Mullins’ grasp despite coming second in the race five times. This year he launches a four strong team at the race with potentially the improving Al Boum Photo his best chance of supplying him a winner.

The favourite for the race is Presenting Percy, trained by Pat Kelly in County Galway who only has a handful of horses in his care. It would be a great story for the Presenting Percy to win for the underdog trainer. However, Kelly is not particularly open to talking to the press so there is an aura of the unknown with Presenting Percy. Pat Kelly is more of the opinion of letting his horses do the talking for him.

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