Jump racing’s elite will congregate in Gloucestershire for four days of fantastic racing next month, as Prestbury Park welcomes hundreds of thousands of fans through its gate during the 2018 Cheltenham Festival. Twenty-eight prestigious prizes will be awarded as the best horses in the land look to establish their dominance in their respective disciplines and earn their places in the annals of sporting history.
Over the past six months, racecourses around Britain and Ireland have hosted important meetings, giving everyone plenty of clues heading into Festival season. There are still four weeks for horses to run their way into contention and injury problems to arise, but experts have already started tipping horses they expect to triumph at the Cheltenham Festival.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the most prestigious contest of the week and the name on everyone’s lips when discussing this historic chase is Might Bite. Nicky Henderson’s enigmatic charge rallied after some late wanderings to claim his first Cheltenham victory in the RSA Novices’ Chase last season.
Three wins have followed since, with his most recent triumph coming in the King George VI Chase. Might Bite was very cautious over his fences and didn’t enjoy the softer ground, but still had enough class to put the race to bed – an ominous sign for his Cheltenham Festival rivals.
Stablemate Buveur D’Air was rerouted from life over fences to have a crack at the Champion Hurdle last season. Nicky Henderson’s gamble paid off tenfold, as the JP McManus-owned gelding scorched to a tremendous victory. While many of his potential Champion Hurdle rivals have failed to fire, Buveur D’Air has won all three of his starts this season without breaking a sweat and looks set to join an illustrious list of winners who have been able to retain their Cheltenham crown.
Footpad has been the most impressive novice chaser in the sport this season. Willie Mullins’ charge romped to victory in a beginners’ contest before comfortably winning Grade Ones at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting and the Dublin Racing Festival earlier this month. Owners Simon Munir & Isaac Suoede have enjoyed their most successful season to date and Footpad will be their leading light at the Festival.
Gigginstown Stud have ruled the roost over in Ireland once again and connections will look on expectantly as Apple’s Jade tries to retain her Mares’ Hurdle crown. Since defeating two of Willie Mullins’ best mares at last year’s meeting, Gordon Elliott’s golden girl has gone from strength to strength. Her most recent triumph in a three mile Grade One at Leopardstown saw the Stayers’ Hurdle become a genuine option, but it’s highly likely Elliott will send Apple’s Jade back to the race she won last year and another routine victory is expected.
She could be joined in the winners’ circle by full sister Apple’s Shakira, who has won three times around Cheltenham already during this campaign. Nicky Henderson’s youngster has won all three of her starts with the minimum of fuss and, while the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle remains open to her, she seems destined to claim victory in the Triumph Hurdle.
Ten-year-old Un De Sceaux has looked as good as ever this season, cruising to a history-making hat-trick in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot. He powered to victory from the front of the field in last years’ Ryanair Chase and many experts are tipping Willie Mullins’ dual-Festival hero to repeat that fantastic feat.
While there are other Cheltenham contenders who have had their credentials highlighted over recent weeks, the undisputed hot-pot heading into this year’s Festival is the sensational Samcro. Gordon Elliott’s imposing youngster has run roughshod through the novice hurdling ranks, sauntering to victory in all three of his appearances without jockey Jack Kennedy even entertaining the urge to draw for his whip.
Last week, Elliott dropped Samcro back to two miles at the Dublin Racing Festival and the five-year-old passed that speed test with flying colours. Phrases like “the best horse I’ve ever seen” and “a future Gold Cup winner” have been thrown into the media during the first half of the season. Those soundbites may seem a little premature, but one thing everyone seems to agree on, is that Samcro will enter the winners’ enclosure at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival.