Tag Archives: Cheltenham Gold Cup

Cheltenham Festival 2018 – What’s The Story?

Can it really be 12 months since the cream of national hunt racing’s horses, jockeys and trainers gathered at Prestbury Park for last year’s Cheltenham Festival?

This spring highlight of the British sporting calendar is with us again, and promises to be as action-filled and emotion-soaked as ever.

Thousands will make the short trip across the Irish Sea as racing’s Anglo-Celtic rivalry is renewed, but all will be good-natured, with fans coming together from all corners, pints of Guinness to be shared and new friends to be made.

The beauty of the festival, and indeed the sport, is the people involved and the sheer colour of the occasion. The four days never fails to throw up an incredible story, and it’s often one that goes under the radar.

Elephant Sport provides a lowdown on four of the potential stories that could make the headlines and are worth keeping more than just half an eye on.

4) Altior vs Douvan

A duel racing fans have been waiting for since the festival 12 months ago.

Altior, the winner of the 2017 Arkle and unbeaten over fences in seven starts is trained by Nicky Henderson and represents the English.

In comparison, Irish raider Douvan won the 2016 Arkle and is trained by Willie Mullins. He has lost just once in 10 starts over timber.

His sole defeat came in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the festival last year, where he suffered a pelvic injury and hasn’t been seen since.

Both have had question marks surrounding their fitness. Douvan was expected to make his highly-anticipated seasonal reappearance in the Tingle Creek at Sandown in November, only to be withdrawn just days before.

Altior also suffered a setback, and connections were forced to give him a wind op, which would have been far from ideal to his preparations. However, he has at least had a pipe-opener where he beat Politologue by a comfortable four lengths in what was an impressive victory in the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase.

As comfortable as Altior’s victory was, it’s questionable whether his first race in 10 months will have left its mark.

It’s also questionable whether the highly-anticipated clash will even take place after Willie Mullins and owner Rich Ricci suggested on Sunday  that Douvan could make a late change to tackle the Ryanair Chase – that is, of course, if he runs at all.

However, there is still a possibility no matter how slim, that the contest could happen and that Douvan and Altior may both finally take their chance in the Queen Mother’s Champion Chase on Wednesday.

If they do, then racing fans could be in for one of the most iconic Anglo-Celtic battles of the festival. Punters should be sure to take a late lunch at work, and to settle down in front of the TV come 3.30pm.

3) Black Corton – Bryony Frost

Black Corton and Bryony Frost have been one of the biggest success stories of the season.

Trained by Paul Nicholls it’s been a long season for Black Corton, who started his campaign at Fontwell in June. Part-owned by Jeremy Kyle, Cheltenham wouldn’t have been on the radar back in the summer.

However, after developing an astounding partnership with Bryony Frost, the pair have won seven times in eight races together as well as winning the public’s hearts in the process.

Their rapid rise has forced the hand of Nicholls to enter them into the RSA Chase, for which bookmakers currently make them third favourites.

2) Sam Spinner – Jedd O’Keeffe/Joe Colliver

Sam Spinner will provide trainer Jedd O’Keeffe with a live chance of landing the Stayers Hurdle.

Currently one of the market leaders, punters have been keen on Sam, particularly since the ‘Beast from the East’ blew in, leaving the forecast going at the festival on the soft side, which is ground which he has proved he handles.

O’Keefe was diagnosed with cancer of the throat in 2011. His ill-health along with the financial crisis meant they were close to closing the yard, but owners Paul and Caron Chapman – who own Sam Spinner –  had recently sold their business and filled half of the yard, overwhelming support which allowed business to resume.

Spinner was bought for a mere £12,600 and regular pilot Joe Colliver will keep the ride for the festival. Colliver, 26, served a three-month prison sentence after perverting the court of justice following a drink driving incident where he paid a friend to take the blame for a car crash.

Colliver described the decision as an ‘ill-judged one’ and has since been trying to rebuild his career as a jockey. A win on board Sam Spinner in the Stayers Hurdle would go a long way to doing just that.

1) Edwulf

Edwulf provided rookie trainer Joseph O’Brien with a grade 1 winner at the Dublin racing festival in the Irish Gold Cup.

But what makes the story so sensational is what took place 12 months before.

After collapsing at last year’s festival, having been pulled up in the National Hunt Chase, Edwulf was on the floor for well over 40 minutes, having a fit and at one stage appearing to be suffering from blindness.

The veterinary staff battled to save his life, but it looked like he might not make it through the night, never mind race again.

It’s also testament to the maturity shown by O’Brien at such an early stage of his training career. Aged just 24, the trainer admitted that they had to give Edwulf plenty of time and patience and he was duly rewarded with a 33/1 grade one winner.

Just a year on from his near-death experience, it’s incredible that Edwulf will even be lining up for the festival’s flagship event, the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Many have already labelled him as ‘the Lazarus horse’, and although he is one of the outsiders, he would be the most popular sight in the winner’s enclosure of the entire week should he perform another miracle to win.

Who would bet against him from writing one of the greatest Festival stories of all-time?

Cheltenham 2018: Sam looks to be a money-spinning wager

The intensive research is complete, the data has been sifted, the numbers crunched, and the hunches backed.

Yes, the 2018 Cheltenham Festival is finally upon us, and despite a host of shorts-odds favourites, there’s still plenty of value to be had at national hunt racing’s showpiece event.

Elephant Sport has drawn up a shortlist of five of the best bets of the week at Prestbury Park.

5) Oxford Blu – Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle – 20/1

Formerly trained by Sir Mark Prescott, Oxford Blu has twice won on the flat, including over 2 miles and 2 furlongs.

He has since made the switch of stables and joined rookie trainer Olly Murphy, who despite his inexperience has been making a name for himself as a shrewd handler who has a good record with ex-flat horses.

Blu has won and has been placed second in just four starts for Murphy so far, and the Fred Winter may well have been the target for some time.

Although he lacks the class of others, he is battle hardened with plenty of experience and has form on both soft and heavy.

It looks likely that champion jockey Richard Johnson may well take the ride and off a mark of 10st 3lbs he looks to be very well handicapped.

With conditions likely to be testing, Olly Murphy’s charge should be staying on strongly when others have cried enough so Oxford Blu looks to have a very solid each way chance.

4) Dortmund Park – Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle – 14/1

Dortmund Park has a lightly raced profile who looks a likely improver off what looks to be a lenient mark of 11st 5lbs.

Trained by Gordon Elliott and owned by the powerful Gigginstown House Stud the five-year-old has had just the four starts with a 50%-win strike rate. Elliot knows what it takes to win the race having won this contest last year with Champagne Classic and Dortmund Park looks a similar type.

Having travelled powerfully in a Grade 1 Novice Hurdle at the Dublin festival, he couldn’t quite finish off his race as powerfully as the winner and finished back in fourth.

However, he drops back two furlongs in distance meaning he should see out the trip strongly and looks to be a live player in the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle.

3) Sam Spinner – Stayers Hurdle – 9/2

Trained by Jedd O’Keeffe with Joe Colliver onboard, Sam Spinner would prove to be an incredible story should he enter the winner’s enclosure.

Currently the joint-favourite alongside Supasundae he still represents value, particularly with the forecast soft-heavy going which he has proven form on – conditions which will cause question marks surrounding the other market principles.

He arguably has the best form in the book and has had nine career starts winning seven times – never failing to finish outside of the top two.

If he hailed from a bigger yard Spinner would undoubtedly go off a much shorter price, and although Joe Colliver is an inexperienced jockey, the 26-year-old has won on the horse four times, so that shouldn’t be so much of a concern.

Although Sam would be a great story, he would also prove to be a big money-spinner should he land the Stayers Hurdle, as he’s many peoples idea of the bet of the week.

2) Un De Sceaux – Ryanair Chase – 11/8

It’s remarkable that people continue to doubt Un De Sceaux despite everything he has achieved to date. Willie Mullins’ 10-year-old has had 20 starts winning an incredible 15 times.

Time and time again we hear that when selecting Cheltenham winners, festival form is one of the key indicators too look at – of which Un De Sceaux has in abundance.

He’s only ever been beaten at Prestbury Park once – where he came second to the brilliant Sprinter Sacre in the Champion Chase – and he’s won an Arkle, as well as last year’s Ryanair – a crown he is attempting to defend.

Just weeks ago he could be backed at around 7/2, a price which would have made him the best bet of the festival.

However, following the ‘beast from the east’ along with the forecast rain providing his ideal soft going conditions, bookmakers have slashed his odds to around the 11/8 mark, and it looks likely that he could yet go off odds-on come race day.

Despite the slim pickings on offer, Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair Chase looks to be the banker of the festival.

1) Our Duke – Gold Cup – 7/1

We couldn’t provide a five to follow without coming up with a selection for the festival’s most prestigious event, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which this year looks on paper to be a wide-open renewal.

Might Bite has had an ideal preparation, and the winner of the King George looks to have a good chance, but history shows he has a tendency to veer across the track up the run-in, which is a major concern.

Native River has had a light campaign targeted at a second crack at the Gold Cup, but stats show it’s very difficult to win the race after failing to win it previously.

Even though the ground should have dried up a bit by Friday, it will probably still be on the slow side, conditions which Native River tends to thrive in.

However, the way in which Our Duke travelled in the Irish Gold Cup at the Dublin festival was eye-catching, until a bad jumping error put a halt to his momentum. Despite the blunder, the winner of the 2017 Irish Grand National ran-on strongly to finish fourth.

Jessica Harrington’s charge made another jumping error when getting the better of Presenting Percy while conceding 7lbs.

But jockey Robbie Power went on record to say Our Duke’s jumping was not a problem and the error was down to a lack of concentration rather than ability, something the extra pace of the Gold Cup will aid.

Another positive is the trainer-jockey partnership of Harrington and Power who took the prize with Sizing John 12 months ago.

In what looks a wide-open contest, should his jumping hold up, at 7/1 Our Duke could blow the field away to land this year’s Gold Cup and provide Harrington and Power with back to back victories in the Festival’s flagship.