ARE you ready? Sat comfortable? Be prepared, because the greatest show on turf has arrived.
For me, and many others like, this is the most exciting time of year, the enigmatic Paddy Power describe it as ‘Christmas for grown ups’, and that is probably the best way of understanding it. We have 27 races spread over four days, and I shall be concentrating on days two and three.
A horse who I have been following since his Cheltenham win at the 2009 Festival is the Willie Mullins trained MIKAEL D’HAUGENET. The seven year old was fantastic two years ago when winning the Neptune Novices Hurdle, going off 5/2 favourite, and beating future top class winners such as Diamond Harry, China Rock, The Nightingale, Karabak and Realt Dubh.
He followed that up with a win at the Punchestown Festival, beating another good field that day. He has been unlucky since switching to fences after nearly two years off. He fell at the last when seemingly cruising on his reappearance, before running flat when being turned out just two weeks later. He was then badly hampered by the faller Quel Esprit in The JP Moriarty Chase, when going seemingly well, and if he can keep lady luck on his side he has a great each way chance. Ruby Walsh has chosen to ride him over the Paul Nicholls trained Aiteen Thirtythree.
The banker of day three is the Irish Champion, and current Champion Chaser, the Colm Murphy trained BIG ZEB. He was awesome when winning this race last year, cruising round before taking it up before the last fence. His form on good ground is 22111 and his only losses came in twenty plus runner fields, losing to Captain Cee Bee in a bumper and Sizing Europe in a Novice Hurdle.
He has had a superb 18 months, being crowned Irish horse of the year, on the back of his Champion Chase win last year, with the then champion Master Minded held in fourth that day. He won four Grade 1 races in a row before being turned over by Golden Silver in January, and even then, his defeat wasn’t that much of a negative. The horse was jumping so well that Barry had difficulty restraining him. He has had a perfect preparation, has a great jockey and perfect ground and should be cherry ripe for the day. His current price of 3/1 looks huge.
The final selection is currently officially the best horse in training; the Paul Nicholls trained BIG BUCKS. He has won the last two renewals of the World Hurdle, and was devastating last year, winning pretty much on the bridle. The horse he beat, Time for Rupert, has come out, winning 2 from 2 impressively over hurdles, and is now favourite for the RSA Chase. Big Bucks is the best horse in the race, he has won his last ten races, 9 of which were in graded company, and although Grand Crus has improved beyond recall so far this season, Big Bucks is the benchmark and is taken win his third World Hurdle.
Wednesday, March 16 (Day 2 Cheltenham)
Big Zeb – Champion Chase – 5pt Win
Big Bucks – World Hurdle – 5pt Win
Mikael D’haugenet – 2.40 – 2pt EW