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Mark Perry


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Most-Tipped Horses Heading into the Cheltenham Festival

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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.

Robbie Power Feeling ‘Supa’ Ahead of Return to Cheltenham Festival

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Robbie Power, known affectionately as “Puppy” to his friends and fans, has long been seen as one of the finest horsemen in National Hunt racing. He shot to fame in 2007 when he rode Silver Birch to Grand National glory, but it’s taken the 31-year-old more time than many expected to establish himself in the upper echelon of jumps jockeys.

Many people will point to last year’s Gold Cup as Robbie’s breakthrough moment, when he rode Sizing John in the 2017 Gold Cup. Turning for home, Willie Mullins’ Djakadam loomed up to challenge Native River, but as he stumbled at the second last, Robbie seized the moment. Sizing John surged to a fantastic victory and Robbie, along with jubilant trainer Jessica Harrington, lifted the Gold Cup trophy in front of the Prestbury Park faithful.

It’s been a long, difficult journey to the top for the man from County Meath. Under the guidance of father Con Power — who was part of the famous Irish show jumping squad that dominated the Aga Khan Nations Cup at the Dublin Horse Show during the late 1970s — Robbie competed successfully in show jumping as a teenager and earned a team silver medal in the 2000 Young Rider European Championships.

His sister, Elizabeth “Esib” Power, pursued eventing instead and is one of Ireland’s top riders, while Robbie switched his attention to National Hunt racing. Although he has successful dipped his toe back into show jumping on several occasions – with his 2013 triumph in the Hickstead Speed Derby one of the highlights of his career — Robbie’s stock within the National Hunt racing world has never been higher, and he’s poised to taste further success over the coming weeks.

The 2018 Cheltenham Festival dominates the National Hunt racing horizon, with eyes on both sides of the Irish Sea fixed firmly on the middle week of March. Jessica Harrington’s stable has not sustained the stunning vein of form enjoyed towards the backend of last season. Yet, any runner she fields at Cheltenham will be a danger, and Robbie will be charged with riding her biggest and brightest talents.

After securing a third-straight Gold Cup at Punchestown on his final start of last season, Sizing John looked as good as ever when storming to victory on his reappearance in the John Durkan Memorial Chase. Sadly, last year’s heroics seemed to catch up with him during the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown. Following that flop, Harrington decided to give her charge a well-deserved break, and they will head straight to Cheltenham to try to defend their Gold Cup crown.

Robbie was celebrating again at the end of last season after riding Our Duke to a wonderful triumph in the Irish Grand National. He may have quite the decision to make as to which of Harrington’s stars he will ride in the Gold Cup, with Our Duke on course to join Sizing John in Cheltenham’s showpiece event. The 8-year-old may have been defeated on both of his starts this season, but he showed encouraging improvement following a back operation to finish fourth in the Irish Gold Cup earlier this month and is likely to progress further between now and the Festival.

With a tilt at the Stayers’ Hurdle in mind, Jessica decided to give Supasundae a spin in the Irish Champion Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival. Robbie guided last year’s Coral Cup winner into battle with several Champion Hurdle contenders, including Willie Mullins’ legendary hurdler Faugheen. Yet, Supasundae prevailed, seeing off a strong field of two-mile specialists to land a maiden Grade One crown. The Stayers’ Hurdle remains his primary goal at Cheltenham, and he will return to the Festival oozing with confidence.

Alletrix claimed an excellent victory in a Mares’ Handicap at Leopardstown last week, and she could be an outsider to look out for in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. Power has also struck up a successful bond with Gordon Elliott’s Jury Duty, and they could renew their partnership in the National Hunt Chase.

Whichever silks he wears and whatever horse he rides, Robbie Power will be a name to be feared when he approaches the post in any race at the Cheltenham Festival. His success in the Gold Cup last year was considered a surprise by some, but if Robbie were to repeat that sensational feat, no eyebrows would be raised in the Cheltenham Festival winners’ enclosure this year.