Cheltenham Festival: Three races to savor
The Cheltenham Festival, which skips the race meeting, starts on Tuesday with more than 250,000 spectators – many of them Irish on the annual pilgrimage – expected over the four days.
The historic rivalry between British and Irish trainers at the Festival is such that the organizers decided in 2014 that it deserved a prize – the Prestbury Cup.
The Irish won it for the sixth time last year, winning 18-10.
Ireland have swept the three most historic races in the last two editions and here AFP Sport provide tips on how they could open this year:
The wonderful Irish mare Honeysuckle’s two-year reign is over and she has been forwarded to the Mare’s Hurdle largely thanks to the brilliance and younger legs of the favorite Foundation.
If successful, it would give jumpers racing trainer Nicky Henderson his ninth victory in the race.
He may not be the most impressive of horses but he does not do things by halves, winning all five hurdle races he has contested by at least 12 lengths.
“This is not a beauty pageant so it doesn’t matter,” Henderson told Racing TV.
“If it was I’m afraid they’ll finish in front of him, but he’s becoming a good horse and he’s starting to get the idea that he’s a bit different.
Irish challenger States Man looks the most likely threat to his coronation. The Willie Mullins-trained raider has won six on the trot and last time out beat Honeysuckle by more than four lengths.
The Queen Mother’s Champion Chase
Energumene returns to defend his crown. Willie Mullins may have trained 88 Festival winners – Nicky Henderson is second on 72 – but Energumene will always have a special place in his heart.
Energumene finally filled the gap for the Irish training legend by securing his first Champion Chase by an impressive 8 1/2 lengths.
However, a disappointing trip to Cheltenham in January with two bad jumping mistakes saw him finish third in the Champion Chase behind Editeur de Gite and Edwardstone.
Mullins and stable jockey Paul Townend believe they can turn the tables.
“Paul was very interested in him after the race and told March he wouldn’t trade him for the two finishers ahead of him,” Mullins lamented.
Edwardstone is thought to be his main rival but the surprise, if there is one, could come from three-time Champion Chase trainer Henry de Bromhead.
His Captain Guinness is progressing well and given the popularity of Ireland’s most famous drink at the Festival, he could be an ideal winner.
Cheltenham Gold Cup
Henry de Bromhead is trying to become the first trainer since Paul Nicholls (2007-09) to win the steeple’s blue riband three years in a row.
The Irish player is two-handed with last year’s winner A Plus Tard and his 2021 champion Minella Indo. The latter, if successful, will become the first horse from Kauto Star in 2007 and 2009 to regain his crown.
Plus Tard, who will again be ridden by Rachael Blackmore, is the joint favorite with punters despite running poorly in his only race this season. Minella Indo won his only start.
“A Plus Tard has had a difficult season,” de Bromhead told AFP.
“He didn’t run well last November but he seems to be in good shape.
“Minella Indo had a fantastic run at Tramore (when he won) and it’s his best preparation for Cheltenham, including the year he won the Gold Cup.”
Minella Indo ended Al Boum Photo’s two-year hold on the race but the latter’s trainer Willie Mullins could avenge that with his Irish Gold Cup winner Galopin des Champs.
An interesting competitor is another Irish runner, last year’s Grand National winner Noble Yeats.
Only two horses have won a Gold Cup and a National: Golden Miller did the double in 1934 and L’Escargot won the Gold Cup in 1970/71 before winning the National in 1975 – Noble Yeats ‘ the first to do the double. another way around.