Spills and thrills as heroes etch names in rac­ing folk­lore

Bray People - - SPORT -

AND THEY’RE off!

No, we’re not talk­ing about the prawn sand­wiches be­ing nib­bled on by some of the more hoighty­toighty Man United fans as Liver­pool well and truly soured their Marie Rose sauce on Sun­day or the reg­u­lar ut­ter­ances from com­men­ta­tors dur­ing Celtic ver­sus Rangers tus­sles this sea­son.

When the starter gives his sig­nal to let the finest novice hur­dlers in Ire­land and Bri­tain charge to­wards the first ob­sta­cle in the open­ing race at this year’s Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val, ex­cite­ment will reach fever pitch amongst battle-hard­ened pun­ters and ca­sual ob­servers alike.

Fans of the sport of kings will be glued to their screens for the four-day feast of top-class rac­ing that can set the pulses rac­ing to the rate of a speed­ing jug­ger­naut and make the hair rise up on the back of the neck like sol­diers stand­ing to at­ten­tion.

The Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val is sim­ply about qual­ity Na­tional Hunt rac­ing and pure un­bri­dled en­joy­ment, no Royal As­cot style stuffi­ness here, here’s a fes­ti­val that wel­comes all in equal mea­sures, from the work­ing class to the up­per ech­e­lons of so­ci­ety.

Ad­mit­tedly the change from a three-day fes­ti­val to a four-day marathon in 2005 and the ad­di­tion of ex­tra races has di­luted the qual­ity a touch, but one thing that hasn’t been wa­tered down is the at­mos­phere and there’s noth­ing in rac­ing to match the fa­mous Chel­tenham roar.

There is some­thing truly mag­i­cal about Prest­bury Park in spring-time. The an­nual gather­ing of own­ers, train­ers, jock­eys and pun­ters in the heart of the Cotswolds in the midst of March pro­duces mar­vel­lous tales of char­ac­ters, heroes, both equine and hu­man, and the rags to riches sto­ries of small fry own­ers who got lucky and hit the big time - sport and soap opera rolled into one won­der­ful ta­pes­try.

The Fes­ti­val throws up sto­ries that are talked about for gen­er­a­tions - ‘Arkle’ trounc­ing ‘Mill­house’, mem­o­rable Gold Cup wins from ‘Desert Or­chard’ and ‘Dawn Run’, not to men­tion ‘Best Mate’ win­ning three-in-a-row.

In re­cent years we’ve had the classy hur­dling hero ‘Istabraq’, the gal­lant ‘Brave Inca’, the stylish ‘Kauto Star’ and the gutsy ‘Den­man’, just to scratch the sur­face of thou­sands of won­der­ful mem­o­ries.

This year the ac­tion prom­ises to be as en­thralling as ever, with the Ir­ish han­dlers hop­ing to land a size­able haul and the Bri­tish train­ers de­ter­mined to keep most of the big prizes on home turf, and it will be a thrill a minute watch­ing the whole thing un­ravel.

We’ll have a look at the four fea­ture races as yours truly has nei­ther the space nor the in­cli­na­tion to delve into all 27 and the old pin jabbed into the news­pa­per method would have to be used for a num­ber of con­tests, par­tic­u­larly be­fore the fi­nal dec­la­ra­tions are re­leased.

The open­ing day fea­ture, the Cham­pion Hur­dle, looks like it could be the race of the meet­ing - an ex­tremely open look­ing event with no short­age of qual­ity.

‘In­side Right’ has been a huge fan of Wil­lie Mullins’ classy in­mate ‘Hur­ri­cane Fly’ for quite some time and sees no rea­son to change tack at this late stage.

The seven-year-old is un­doubt­edly Ire­land’s top hur­dler and has con­vinc­ingly ac­counted for ‘Sol­whit’ in his last four starts.

There may be ques­tion marks over how that form com­pares to his ri­vals across the Ir­ish Sea but to these eyes the way he quick­ens up on the run-in bodes well for the fa­mous Chel­tenham hill.

Ob­vi­ously there are huge dan­gers, par­tic­u­larly in the shape of cham­pion ‘Binoc­u­lar’, last year’s Supreme Novices’ win­ner ‘Meno­rah’ and the un­beaten ‘Ped­dlers Cross’, but the Ir­ish raider gets the nod from these quar­ters.

Wed­nes­day’s show­piece is the Queen Mother Cham­pion Chase and the win­ners of the past two years go head to head in this one.

The Paul Ni­cholls-trained ‘Mas­ter Minded’ has lost the air of in­vin­ci­bil­ity he once had but looks like he’s some­where near to be­ing back to his best af­ter win­ning his three starts this sea­son.

His be­low-par dis­play in the race last year would raise some doubts but he’s prob­a­bly still the one to beat.

If he is vul­ner­a­ble, the horse most likely to take ad­van­tage is the reign­ing cham­pion, Colm Mur­phy’s ‘Big Zeb’, while ‘ Somersby’ is an­other live con­tender hav­ing nar­rowly gone down to ‘ Mas­ter Minded’ in the Vic­tor Chan­dler Chase.

He’s not one to put your life sav­ings on, but ‘’Mas­ter Minded is the pick in the hope that he’ll find the spark that saw him light up the track in 2008 and 2009.

Thurs­day is the weak­est day of the fes­ti­val but the course will be il­lu­mi­nated by ‘Big Bucks’ in his at­tempt to win a third World Hur­dle in a row.

The Paul Ni­cholls-trained, Ruby Walsh-rid­den star has dom­i­nated the stay­ers’ hur­dling divi­sion over the past cou­ple of years and is the most likely win­ner of the con­test, but at pro­hib­i­tive odds of around even money it might be worth look­ing else­where for a bit of each way value.

The book­ies see it as a two-horse race, with ‘Grand Crus’, who couldn’t have been more im­pres­sive in two starts at three miles and has tremen­dous speed for a staying horse, rated as gen­er­ally a 9/4 chance.

The plus side of this is that there’s plenty of meaty prices to be found out­side of this pair and it just might be worth tak­ing a chance with ‘Five­forthree’ from the Wil­lie Mullins yard.

He won the two-mile five-fur­long Grade 1 novice hur­dle at the 2008 Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val, but his ca­reer-best ef­fort came on his sole start to date at three miles when he ran out an im­pres­sive win­ner of a Grade One event at Punchestown in 2009.

He won a two-mile hur­dle in Punchestown on his re­turn from a long ab­sence re­cently and if he shows no ill ef­fects from that run he’s worth a punt at 16/1.

Fri­day’s piece-de-re­sis­tance, the Gold Cup, pits old war­riors ‘Kauto Star’, ‘Den­man’ and ‘Im­pe­rial Com­man­der’ against young pre­tenders to the throne like ‘Long Run’ and ‘Kem­pes’ and, al­though it doesn’t look like the best re­newal with some of the lead­ing lights start­ing to wane, it’s a fas­ci­nat­ing con­test nonethe­less.

The bril­liant ‘Kauto Star’ was well and truly left in ‘Long Run’s wake in the King Ge­orge VI Chase at Kemp­ton, but whether it’s just a hunch or be­ing a sen­ti­men­tal old fool, yours truly is will­ing to give him one last chance.

Most pun­dits will say time has caught up with him and it would be im­pos­si­ble for him to re­cap­ture his form, but ‘In­side Right’ can’t re­sist a bet at odds of around 6/1, con­sid­er­ing he was a short-priced favourite just 12 months ago, when he took a tum­ble in the race.

There will be plenty of young bucks snap­ping at his heels but maybe, just maybe, the grand old champ can put them in their place just one last time.

What­ever way it goes, there’s sure to be thrills and spills as new mag­i­cal mem­o­ries are etched in folk­lore. Good luck and happy punt­ing.

Many will be hop­ing that ‘Kauto Star’ can re­cap­ture his old form in the Chel­tenham Gold Cup.

‘Hur­ri­cane Fly’ is go­ing for Cham­pion Hur­dle glory.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.