THE trials are over, the tents are up and the track is in perfect shape. Yes the jumping jamboree that is the Cheltenham Festival is upon us.
With the standard of the festival handicaps going up, the list of Grade One horses entered this year is a long one.
A few that stand out are Martello Tower in the Stayers’ Hurdle off a mark of 144, and in the Novices Handicap Chase Martello Tower’s owner Barry Connell has an interesting contender in Tully East, a horse that has twice been tried at the top level over both hurdles and fences.
Nicky Henderson’s Peace And Co, the 2015 Triumph winner and still only six years old, is another fascinating contender in the County Hurdle.
It has been a disappointing season for Jonjo O’Neill, but on the plus side he could have a team of well-treated handicappers to go to war with, including a real tempter in Taquin Du Seuil in the Coral Cup.
And then there’s Holywell. Twice a winner at the festival and second in the Ultima last year, he’s going for another crack at his second win in the race on the back of a series of uninspired efforts that have seen his mark drop to 148 after racing off 153 in 2016.
Gigginstown have put together an awesome Cheltenham team again, despite not employing the services of Willie Mullins any more, which makes the race for top jockey even more interesting.
Ruby Walsh has a couple of bankers, and Noel Fehily must have an outside chance after picking up some of Barry Geraghty’s mounts, but Gigginstown’s retained jockey Bryan Cooper looks great value at 12-1 and could bring home at least four winners from his potential book of rides.
With no Vautour, no Faugheen, no Annie Power and no Min, you might think owner Rich Ricci is crying in his champagne glass – but far from it.
The sudden emergence of Limini means he has a real chance of winning the three most prestigious races at the meeting.
She’ll need supplementing in the Champion Hurdle, whilst Douvan has looked imperious over fences and there’s simply nothing capable of getting near him in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, leaving Djakadam, who has been lined up for the Gold Cup.
I will also be chancing a few quid on Gordon Elliott’s Brelade in the Coral Cup or Martin Pipe, Augusta Kate (e/w) in the Mares’ Hurdle, American in the RSA, Long Call in the Fred Winter, Different Gravey (e/w) in the JLT, and if the rain does come, Bristol de Mai in the Gold Cup.
But my banker is Starchitect in the Grand Annual for David Pipe, rated 150 over hurdles but allotted 143 over fences and a winner last time out at Ayr.
CARRIGILL’S NAP (stake returned in a free bet if finishes outside top 4): Defi du Seuil Cheltenham Triumph Hurdle. Friday March 17. 1.30pm.
AUGUR’S BEST BET: Horsforth Wednesday March 15 runs Newcastle or Southwell, race tbc.