Tips for the big four
Champion Hurdle (Tuesday) It isn’t the strongest renewal, but the Alan King-trained Yanworth has done nothing wrong in his three outings this season, including winning the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, and is a solid prospect Queen Mother Champion Chase (Wednesday) There’s no reason to look beyond Douvan, unbeaten since he joined Willie Mullins in 2014. He’ll be long odds-on, but justifiably World Hurdle (Thursday) Unowhatimeanharry (trained by Harry Fry) is nailed on for this stamina test, but Cole Harden (Warren Greatrex), winner in 2015, is a good bet for a place Gold Cup (Friday) The heart is with Cue Card, but the head with his progressive stablemate, the younger Native River
There are few certainties on the track, but plenty off it: Mr Henderson will definitely spill tears of emotion at some point; generous Irish megaowner J. P. Mcmanus will pull off a glorious gamble in one of the handicaps and claim not to have had a penny on it; Cotswolds trainer Jonjo O’neill’s 1986 Gold Cup victory on Dawn Run (and Peter O’sullevan’s voice, choking with emotion, saying ‘the mare’s beginning to get up…’) will be replayed on the big screen and everyone will have to search for their handkerchiefs.
History is an important part of why people are so devoted to the Festival and block it out in their diaries year after year. They remember where they were standing when Desert Orchid ground out that gruelling Gold Cup triumph in 1989. They remember that, the following year, Welsh farmer Sirrell Griffiths milked his cows before driving Norton’s Coin, one of only two horses he trained, to Cheltenham in a trailer, winning the Gold Cup at 100–1 and driving home to milk them again. They remember Henrietta Knight running into the arms of her husband, Terry Biddlecombe, when Best Mate won his third Gold Cup in 2004.
They remember the scintillating sharpness of Kauto Star, pitted against his stablemate, the relentless galloping machine Denman. They remember A. P. Mccoy’s white, set face suddenly cracking with a smile as he rode back into the winner’s enclosure at his final Festival after taking the Ryanair Chase on Uxizandre for his boss Mr Mcmanus. Some of them still remember Michael Dickinson’s extraordinary feat in training the first five horses home in the 1983 Gold Cup. And even fewer remember ‘Himself’ (Arkle).
Colin Tizzard is the ‘happy story’ of this National Hunt season. The likeable Somerset dairy farmer, who enjoys his hunting, has gradually evolved from a small-time permit holder who trained a few pointers around milking the cows to one of the most successful
trainers in the country.
Treasured memories: Henrietta Knight and Terry Biddlecombe
Above: Colin Tizzard with stable stars Thistlecrack and Cue Card. Below: