Cheltenham 2017: Horse Talk’s best bets for The Festival


Jezki and Barry Geraghty winning The Stan James Champion Hurdle from My Tent Or Yours (right) Pic: Dan Abraham – (Courtesy of Great British Racing). 

Horse Talk with Simon Jackson: Top horse-racing tips and the latest news

CHELTENHAM takes centre stage from March 14-17 as the best national hunt horses in Europe go head to head to contest a glittering array of jump racing’s most coveted prizes.

The Cheltenham Festival combines four days of the best national hunt racing in the world, played out on the spectacular Gloucester racecourse.

At the time of writing the final fields have yet to be revealed. But while trainers put the finishing touches on their potential Cheltenham runners, here are some early tips.

Ballyandy: (Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle)

Ballyandy can take advantage of the absence of Movewiththetimes (injured) and Moon Racer (re-routed to Champion Hurdle) and win the opening race of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Ballyandy fought well in the closing stages at his last start to land the £155,000 Betfair Hurdle at Newbury from Movewiththetimes who was fancied by this column to win the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, before news broke on Sunday that he had pulled a muscle and would miss the festival.

Twiston-Davies, speaking at an organised stable visit two weeks before The Festival, said: “We have just about totally decided to go for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle with Ballyandy. He cantered to the last in the Betfair Hurdle and quickened away nicely.

“We have always thought an awful lot of him and I cannot understand why he didn’t do better in his first three races over hurdles, but he managed to handicap himself nicely.

“He is trying to go on to better things now. We checked everything including his wind – nothing was amiss.
“Maybe, with time, he has got better. He has got plenty of speed – he won [the Weatherbys Champion Bumper] at The Festival last year.”

Altior: (Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase)

Altior last year capped a tremendous campaign over hurdles by winning the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and has transferred his ability to chasing where he is unbeaten in all of his four runs over the larger obstacles.

The seven-year-old extended his unbeaten sequence to nine when landing a Grade 2 at Newbury last month to register his 10th win in 12 starts and is now a red-hot 1-4 favourite for the Arkle.

“I was very confident about Altior at this time last year. I think he has transferred his ability to chasing and not made many mistakes,” trainer Nicky Henderson said.

“The one nice thing is that he has learnt from his two mistakes in four runs – he has done everything right.

“One’s only thought is, goodness, what price would he be for the Champion Hurdle if we were still going down the hurdling road? The big question at the moment is will we dare switch him to take on Douvan in the Champion Chase. No, we won’t. We want to win the Arkle, that is the objective and that is where he will stay.”

My Tent Or Yours: (Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy)

Nicky Henderson has three of the 13 runners in the Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy where 16-1 shot and outsider of the trio My Tent Or Yours can prevail over his more fancied rivals that includes stablemates Buveur D’Air (10/3) and Brain Power (7/1).

My Tent Or Yours has a consistently good record at Cheltenham where he has raced four times and all at Grade 1 level, finishing runner-up each time and includes a brace of second places in the 2014 and 2016 Champion Hurdles.

“My Tent Or Yours is the forgotten horse in the Stan James Champion Hurdle,” Henderson said. “He finished second last year and, if you took Annie Power out, he would have been a very good winner. He was also second to Jezki (in 2014). It is an open year and I have been very pleased with My Tent Or Yours recently.”

Fox Norton: (Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase)

Fox Norton pleased connections when second to Arkle favourite Altior at Newbury in February and represents good each way value at 8-1 for the two mile stayers’ championship where the betting is dominated by Douvan.

The seven-year-old racked up a successive hat-trick of victories at Cheltenham before Newbury and is fancied to provide a stern test for 1-4 favourite Douvan.

“Fox Norton gave Altior five pounds, an impossible task, when second at Newbury after not jumping that well and had spent a month in his box beforehand after he jumped into himself and cut a leg when winning at Cheltenham in December,” trainer Colin Tizzard said of his charge who is also entered in the Ryanair Chase.

“He was stiff behind for a week after the Newbury race – he is a good horse in his own right and if we get a clear run in the next three weeks he will take some beating. Douvan is a very good horse but you should not be afraid of one.”

Douvan’s trainer Willie Mullins said: “Douvan is in good order. Everything has gone well. At this stage, we are just trying to get there in one piece.”

Camping Ground: (Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle)

Camping Ground proved to be far too good for his rivals when storming to a 29-length victory in the Grade 2 totepool National Spirit Hurdle over two miles and three furlongs at Fontwell in February on his first start for Gary Moore.

The former Robert Walford-trained gelding holds entries in the three miles Stayers’ Hurdle and the two miles and five furlong Coral Cup where he is a good bet at 14-1 if connections opt to run him the latter contest.

“He did it well. He has enjoyed himself,” winning jockey and trainer’s son Joshua Moore said after the Fontwell victory where he led for the bulk of the journey. “We know what he has been capable of before, as he showed at Cheltenham,” The Sun reported. “Things have been perfect for him today. He has had his own way and been able to wind it up at his own tempo.”

Cue Card (Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup)

Cue Card would be a popular winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup which last year he appeared to have a great chance of winning before falling three fences from the finish.

The 11-year-old winner of nine Grade 1 races and more than £1.3million in prize money comes to Cheltenham in great form and at odds of 3-1 is taken to prove too good for his well-fancied stablemate Native River (7-2) and the Paul Nicholls-trained each way selection Saphir Du Rheu (50-1).

“Cue Card has been a fantastic horse for us – he has won a Champion Bumper and Ryanair at The Festival and he was running a hell of a race last year before he fell,” Tizzard said at a stable visit last month.

“He won so strongly at Ascot [on February 18] and looks as well as he has ever been. It was amazing the reception he got at Ascot and he jumped as well as he has ever done. He sauntered home and it was fantastic to see.

“Cue Card has done everything bar winning a Gold Cup and we have everything to play for. We thought his chance (of winning a Gold Cup) might have gone, but he has an equally good chance this year as he had last year.

Native River has shown what a good horse he is this season, winning the Hennessy and Coral Welsh National, and then we saw something different at Newbury recently, which we didn’t know he had, when sprinting clear on the run-in – we don’t have to go on six or eight fences out now.

“We can save that spurt for two out and we know he will gallop up that Cheltenham hill. He has got everything and is in the form of his life.”

Paul Nicholls said: “Saphir Du Rheu fell in the Hennessy when I thought he had a big chance and that might have just woken him up. He had a fairly bad fall and everything galloped over him.

“Since that day, he has jumped very, very well. If he can jump and get his act together, he is a good horse. I am not saying he is going to win a Gold Cup.

“Andy (Stewart), his owner, had a decent chaser called My Will a few years ago, probably not as good as Saphir Du Rheu, and he ended up finishing fourth in the Gold Cup.

“You never know, Saphir Du Rheu could pick up some crumbs in the Gold Cup and get placed now. He deserves to be in the race’s line-up.”

Horse Talk with Simon Jackson. Showcasing horse racing in London and the south east.