Sunday 17 December 2017

Cheltenham 2015: Prestbury Park is jumps heaven

Nothing else comes close to pinnacle of racing excellence


There's hardly a blade of green grass anywhere in the world where a winner of a jumps race means more to an individual than Prestbury Park in Cheltenham.

You have the Munster Hurling Final but then there's the All-Ireland Final, the World Championships followed by the Olympics, the Champions League compared to the World Cup Final.

Horse racing is no different as we've an abundance of top class racing leading up to the Cheltenham Festival.

But it's what happens over the next four days that really counts. For trainers, jockeys, owners and punters alike, there is no place where horses negotiate jumps over distances ranging from two-miles to four-miles that gets the blood going like at Cheltenham.

Backing a winner at Cheltenham is a bit like getting a Lucky 15 up on an ordinary day. There's a buzz attached to Cheltenham that can't be matched anywhere else.

For those lucky to be over here, the famous roar as the tape goes up for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle will get the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. For those watching at home, you will not see sporting drama like it unfold anywhere else over the course of 12 months.

Personally, I have been lucky enough to be coming here since 2007 but there are men and women much older and wiser than me that would agree that the anticipation ahead of the 2015 Cheltenham Festival is for some reason surpassing years gone by.

It's that 'Christmas Eve' feeling every year on the Monday of Cheltenham, but if you want to use that comparison, Father Christmas (known as Willie Mullins this week) is going to be extremely generous.

This year genuinely is different. It's different because you don't even have to be on this planet three decades to have been around for when the Irish came home empty-handed. Not a winner from the week.

That was 1989 when from 18 races, not one was trained here.

In 2015, there is a genuine belief that records could be broken and the 14 winners from the 27 races in 2013 will be eclipsed.

In the Champion Hurdle it's The New One v Ireland, Un De Sceaux only has to jump around to win the Arkle, Douvan is going to pay for the week of Irish punters, and Annie Power only has to show up to win the Mares Hurdle and that's just the first day.

Of course, it's never quite as simple as that, but nobody would be surprised if that's the main story of the opening day.

Willie Mullins is obviously going to be instrumental in getting Irish-trained winners into the double figures.

But it must be remembered it won't just be his first strings that do that, and with Gordon Elliott, and Noel Meade, to name just two, sending over their strongest teams, let's hope it really will be a week to remember.

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