Cheltenham Countdown

So here we are, seven weeks to the Festival – the holy grail for jump racing enthusiasts. Have we a clearer picture of which horses will turn up in their respective races?

Hurricane Fly (the 2011 Champion Hurdle winner) still has a cloud hanging over him, is currently the 2/1 favorite for the big one. The price is based on last year’s form as he has nothing to show this year as of yet. Willie Mullins gave a positive bulletin at the turn of the 2012 and his favorite for the Irish Champion on Sunday. Watch this space!

English challenges emerging are Grandouet, Zarkander and 2010 winner, Binocular. All have claims in their own right, and the play may be an each-way call on one of those at this stage. Champion Chaser Sizing Europe is a solid choice. Third on his reappearance (behind Quito de la Roque) at Down Royal, he showed his class at Sandown in the Tingle Creek. Usually better in the spring, with decent ground. It’s hard to get away from Henry De Bromhead’s challenger even at the age of 10. Big Zeb(11) his old rival and Finian’s Rainbow are his chief dangers. It’ll take a good one to beat him. Big Bucks will go for an unprecedented 4th World Hurdle and judging by his 2 outings this year (Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and the Long Walk at Ascot), he maintains his form. At 4/7, doesn’t represent value, so each way claims may lie with Mikael D’Haguenet, a class act a couple of years ago (won the Neptune Hurdle) and has showed a renewed zest in his form in the Emerald Isle this year.

The Gold Cup as usual takes centre stage. Kauto Star will bid to make it 3 out of 3 this year over Long Run, and I for one will not be going against him. He is a legend of an animal that has set the bar for the last 7 years over jumps. There will be not a dry eye in the house if he regains his 3rd Crown. Personally, it will be tougher on Cheltenham’s stiffer track and Long Run’s style of running will be more suited. Other fancies at this stage would be Colour Squadron in the Supreme. Yes, he showed greenness at Sandown in the Tolworth, but at 16/1 each way, with the race run to suit (can drop in without making the running), I can see him definitely in the first 3. Just 7 weeks – I cannot wait!

Article submitted by Rob Holmes.

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