Sunday 17 December 2017

On for encore?

Niall Cronin looks at last year's Cheltenham winners and asks whether they are up to a repeat showing at next month's Festival

ALL punters have a fondness for horses for courses, and Cheltenham, with it's unique undulations, is one track that often sees return winners.

This evening, we look at last year's Grade One winners from the Cheltenham Festival and if they are returning for more glory this year, what their chances are.

Supreme Novices Hurdle winner: Al Ferof

2012 Festival entries: Arkle Novice Chase, Jewson Novice Chase

Heads for Arkle after stepping out of novice company last time when third behind battle-hardened Somersby. Had Sprinter Sacre behind him in last year's Supreme Novices and connections will be hoping for more of the same but tough task as the latter looks to have improved dramatically.

Arkle Novice Chase winner: Captain Chris

2012 Festival entries: Ryanair Chase, Gold Cup

The last two Arkle winners to contest the Gold Cup the following season have a good record with one winning and the other being beat a short head. The Ryanair is an option for Captain Chris but the Gold Cup is favoured for the horse who has had an interrupted campaign. Having unseated, finished third (King George) and pulled up this season, it's far from ideal but connections remain bullish.

Champion Hurdle winner: Hurricane Fly

2012 Festival entry: Champion Hurdle

Hurricane Fly remains on course for a return to the Champion Hurdle after seriously impressing at Leopardstown. The opposition upped it a gear last weekend with both Zarkandar and Binocular impressing. But Hurricane Fly has been there and done it, and he will be hard to beat yet again if in the full of his health.

Neptune Investments Novices Hurdle winner: First Lieutenant

2012 Festival entries: RSA Chase, Jewson Novice Chase

Trained by Mouse Morris, who is a master at bringing dramatic improvement from his horses at the Cheltenham Festival, he won last year on the back of a disappointing prep run and this year's prep run saw him finish second behind the now injured but subsequent Grade One winner Last Instalment.

RSA Chase winner: Bostons Angel

2012 Festival entries: None

Champion Chase winner: Sizing Europe

2012 Festival entry: Champion Chase

Unbeaten on his last two starts, the most recent arguably being his best when coming home 15 lengths in front of Big Zeb. He looks bombproof in the eyes of many, and it is difficult to find negatives for his tilt at winning back-to-back renewals of this race.

Champion Bumper winner: Cheltenian

2012 Festival entries: None

Ryanair Chase winner: Albertas Run

2012 Festival entry: Ryanair Chase

Absent since winning at Aintree in October, which was only his second start since last year's Ryanair victory. Seems to be an avid lover of spring and an even bigger fan of Cheltenham winning at the 2008, 2010 and 2011 Festivals, as well as the Open meeting of 2007. Vulnerable to younger, more progressive candidates but write him off at your peril.

World Hurdle winner: Big Buck's

2012 Festival entry: World Hurdle

On the third day of the Festival, Big Buck's and Ruby Walsh will attempt to lift the roof off Prestbury Park, fulfil a number of accumulators, and record an incredible 16th consecutive win. On the basis of Sunday's Boyne Hurdle it is hard to see what will beat him. The truth is, nothing probably can.

Triumph Hurdle winner: Zarkandar

2012 Festival entry: Champion Hurdle

Victorious in last year's Triumph Hurdle when apparent second string. Has only ran twice since then, last Friday being his seasonal debut, but a very, very impressive one.

After winning the Betfair Hurdle last week he was found to be coughing, making his win more impressive, and has to be a massive threat to Hurricane Fly now.

Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle winner: Bobs Worth

2012 Festival entry: RSA Chase

He was a decent third behind Grands Crus and looked a leading RSA contender. However, he was somewhat disappointing last Saturday when failing to jump with enough fluency to beat Invictus.

Stayed at it well, though, and is a typical horse that could put track form to good use.

Gold Cup winner: Long Run

2012 Festival entry: Gold Cup

Gained that important win in the Betfair Denman Chase last Friday, but probably could and maybe should have been more impressive in doing so.

Burton Port was off a long time yet ran him all the way to the line, forcing him to pull out all the stops.

Kauto Star has beaten him twice this season and will pose a serious threat to his crown next month.

And finally ...

Three other Irish horses who were successful at last year's Festival return in search of more glory with Quevega being the most notable.

The eight-year-old mare will be having just her seventh run since winning the David Nicholson for the first time in 2009 and this year she will go for a fourth straight win in the race.

Similar to Big Buck's, it is almost impossible to put forward opposition to her. Sizing Australia won last year's Cross Country Chase on the opening day and has only had two runs this season, the last a decent one over fences and just two miles. Willie Mullins appears to have a strong Cross Country team this season, but Sizing Australia goes with every chance.


Noble Prince is the third Irish horse to go in search of more Cheltenham Festival glory and after winning last year's Jewson, he will this year take on the Ryanair Chase.

He appears to have his hands full after being overturned when odds on at Fairyhouse last time, but the better ground and the further trip will all be key and don't be surprised if he sneaks under the radar.

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