Horse Talk with Simon Jackson:
Top horse-racing tips and the latest news.
CHELTENHAM takes centre stage from March 10 – 13 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 imaginable, all 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.
Fiddlerontheroof: (Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle)
Fiddlerontheroof impressed with the manner of his victory in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown in January to record his second win in four starts since joining Colin Tizzard.
The £200,000 purchase finished second to smart novices Thyme Hill and Edwardstone on his first two starts for the yard before winning a novice event at the Esher track in December.
The forecast soft ground at Cheltenham next week should pose no problems for the six-year-old who is taken to win the opening race of the Festival.
“Fiddlerontheroof has been in outstanding form this season and he has been kept fresh for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle ever since,” assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said.
“I don’t mind if the ground is testing for him. A bit of rain this week will suit him as he handles soft ground really well. He will definitely want a bit of cut, he is a big, strong boy who can handle the softer ground. He is just a lovely, big horse. His form has been good, his coat has come right and he is going to be our only horse in the Supreme.
“I think Fiddlerontheroof has a great chance, especially if the ground is on the slower side. He has run some very good races this season, finishing second to both Thyme Hill and Edwardstone before winning twice at Sandown. His bumper form in Ireland had been good before we got him. He will make a gorgeous chaser next season but is a pretty decent novice hurdler so far this season.
Defi du Seuil: (Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase)
Course specialist Defi du Seuil is fancied to secure his seventh win at Cheltenham and third success at the Festival by landing the feature race on the second day of the meeting.
Defi du Seuil has won 14 of his 20 starts including seven Grade 1s, highlighted by the 2017 JCB Triumph Hurdle and 2019 JLT Novices’ Chase.
Unbeaten in three starts over two miles this season, Philip Hobbs charge bids for a Grade 1 hat-trick after victories in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown and the Matchbook Clarence House Chase at Ascot where he proved too strong for dual winner Un De Sceaux.
Hobbs said last week: “All is going well up to this stage, but we still have a couple of weeks to go to keep them in one piece. Most of the work is done and it is just a matter of ticking over.
“Defi Du Seuil is very good and everything has gone well since he won at Ascot. Personally, I would prefer if Chacun Pour Soi and Altior did not get there, as it would be much easier! If they are all there and Defi could win, it would be great. Having gone unbeaten all season over two miles, the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase was the obvious race to go for.
Faugheen: (RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase or Marsh Novices’ Chase)
Evergreen 12-year-old and former champion hurdler Faugheen is unbeaten in three starts since being switched to chasing this season.
The 2015 Champion Hurdle winner has delighted connections with the manner he has taken to the larger obstacles, the last two starts resulting in Grade 1 victories in Ireland.
“Myself and Rich [Ricci, owner] have not spoken about where Faugheen runs,” trainer Willie Mullins said of his charge who is entered in the RSA Novices Chase (three miles – March 11) and March Novices’ Chase (two and a half miles – March 12).
“I was delighted Faugheen was able to come back and win two Grade 1s at Limerick and Leopardstown. He has been in great shape since and that is all I can say.
“I could not get over the reaction in the stands at Leopardstown from the time they turned in. It looked like he had a chance, then it looked like [second placed] Easy Game was going to get up and beat him. I have to say I could not get over the reaction of the people.
“I am rarely moved on a racecourse but that to me was some reception. Florida Pearl got a great one for his fourth Irish Gold Cup and Hurricane Fly always had a great reception, but I thought Faugheen got the best reception I have ever seen. The people down at Limerick the day he won said the same. He is obviously a horse people have great affection for.
“I was disappointed in myself that I did not go chasing with him last season. I suppose people thought the Stayers’ Hurdle was a nice target for him. He is just a horse I have always wanted to go chasing with before he retires.
“There is a lot of pressure bringing a horse of that age back, because if the worst happened and he got a bad injury, a lot of that was going to fall back on me. That was the risk I had to take, but I felt the horse was in great form, and he still is in great form.
Paisley Park: (Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle)
Paisley Park is impossible to oppose in his bid for back-to-back victories in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle after a tremendous start to his current campaign.
Unbeaten in all five starts last term, including an impressive victory in this race last year, Emma Lavelle’s charge returned with a victory in a Grade 2 at Newbury before landing his second successive victory in the galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January.
The manner of the victory pleased Lavelle.
“He doesn’t hit the flat spot the way he used to,” Lavelle mused immediately after the latest Cheltenham win.
“I think he was as professional today as he has been. I think he is getting better and I think I love him. It is brilliant,” she said to Racing TV.
“It is not just the pressure for the yard and Andrew [Gemmell, owner], but you feel you have the pressure of everybody rooting for him and you just want to deliver. He loves it and we are loving having him.
“He is not a slow horse himself and he is a stayer that has got pace. If I’m honest, watching it I enjoyed it a bit more than some of the other races I’ve watched with him.
“I thought that was as good a performance as I’ve seen from him – how he jumped and travelled.
“It was a proper test today, new horses up against him and he has come through the test well.”
Goshen: (JCB Triumph Hurdle)
Goshen impressed this column with the manner of his hurdling debut victory at Fontwell in November where he scored by 23 lengths despite being eased down at the finish.
The success followed three successive wins on the flat and the Gary Moore-trained four-year-old arrives at Cheltenham on a six-race unbeaten run after wide margin victories at Sandown and Ascot.
Moore believes his unbeaten hurdler should handle the demands of Cheltenham.
“I don’t see why he won’t be as effective around Cheltenham – it all comes the same to him,” said Moore.
“He’s won on the flat at Brighton and that’s up hill, down dale and he galloped downhill at Fontwell.”
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