Cheltenham Festival News
|Thursday 5th December 2013|
Cue Card and The New One Among The Early Season Movers As The Road To Cheltenham Reaches The Halfway Stage
With Christmas now just around the corner, it feels like an appropriate time to assess where we sit on the 'Road to the Cheltenham Festival'. It may only seem like the first fences of the 2013/2014 season have been jumped but the Festive period is always considered the mid-way stage of the season and most contenders for the National Hunt's major honours at the Festival in March have a run under their belts.
The arrival of the New Year is always a key point in the jumps calendar as attention turns towards the Cheltenham countdown with January the last month for the leading contenders to finalise their preparations with a severe lack of graded options in February.
A number of top class races have already taken place on both sides of the Irish Sea so far this season with a number of horses staking their early season Cheltenham claims with some impressive performances and here's a round up of the biggest market movers and eye-catchers thus far.
Cue Card was immediately installed as the favourite for the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day while the best price on offer about him winning the Gold Cup is now just 8/1. Among those behind Cue Card at Kempton were Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti, with both on the drift in the Gold Cup market as a consequence. Bobs Worth is of course the defending Gold cup hero but was outpaced by quicker horses, while Silviniaco Conti is now a double figured price for Cheltenham after his third place finish.
My Tent Or Yours also looks to be a realistic Champion Hurdle contender this season following his win in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle at the end of November. He quickened up well for AP McCoy in the colours of JP McManus that day and is subsequently the 9/2 second favourite behind The New One.
That leading trio for the Champion Hurdle must all still beat the defending champ though with Hurricane Fly still in the mix for Willie Mullins after he won yet a record breaking 17th Grade One last month. He won the Morgiana Hurdle in decent style and he could yet still be a massive price for a third Champion Hurdle crown with 13/2 on offer with Coral at the moment.
The novice Chasing division is looking as wide open as ever at this stage and no horse has yet stamped their authority on any of the three major races at the Festival for new chaser. That is reflected by the fact that Champagne Fever is, quite remarkably, the current favourite for the Arkle, the Jewson and the RSA Chase at Cheltenham after he won on his chasing debut at Punchestown last month. That win came over 2m4f but his long term target is far from set in stone with his past form coming over two miles and his future likely to lie over further, as he gets older.
One horse who did slightly disappoint on his first start of the season was At Fishers Cross who came in last of four in the Long Distance Hurdle during Newbury's Hennessy meeting. The Rebecca Curtis runner had been fighting for World Hurdle favouritism prior to his Newbury re-appearance but after a poor round of jumping, he was unable to land a blow on eventual winner, Celestial Halo. At Fishers Cross won the Albert Bartlett last season and should improve for the run but his jumping will need to be better to compete at World Hurdle level, for which he can now be backed at 6/1 for with most firms.
There are plenty more big races to look forward to in the build-up to the Festival with the likes of Sprinter Sacre and Big Buck’s just two of the horses still to return to the track. The four times World Hurdle winner, Big Buck’s, is expected to get his first run since last December in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January whilst fans must be patient over the return of Sprinter Sacre who was withdrawn from Saturday's Tingle Creek after scoping badly and another run will need to be found before he defends his Champion Chase crown.
Only half the picture is known at this stage and there are sure to be plenty of twists and turns during the second half of the 'Road to Cheltenham' with the full storyline only to be revealed come March.