Cheltenham Festival countdown continues…

IF last weekend’s three-day Open Meeting failed to whet your appetite for the Cheltenham Festival in March, then nothing will. My advice is: if you haven’t booked for the Festival then book NOW. There really is no better week’s racing in the world…. So what did we learn from the Open Meeting?

On the racecourse front it is clear that the rebuilding work at Cheltenham is going well with the new grandstand due to open in time for the Festival in 2016. But the actual racing was top notch over the three days. I believe the following horses who made a big impression over the weekend could return to the ultimate National Hunt amphitheatre for the Cheltenham Festival next March.

KINGS PALACE: David Pipe’s horses have a habit of looking like potential world beaters as novices and then not quite kicking on. Think Grands Crus. But Kings Palace, who looked a beast over hurdles before fluffing his lines in the Albert Bartlett, was magnificent on his chasing debut, beating the very useful Sausalito Sunrise. We might see him again in the Feltham on Boxing Day although I would not be surprised if Pipe plotted a careful path to the RSA Chase at the Festival with maybe two or even just one more run. Sausalito Sunrise may look like an obvious candidate for the 4m National Hunt Chase but he might prove better than that, and either the RSA or one of the handicaps could be tempting targets

UXIZANDRE: I haven’t seen a better round of jumping at Cheltenham since Master Minded at his peak. Barry Geraghty was always in control and Uxizandre revelled in the soft ground. He looks a prime candidate for the Champion Chase or the Ryanair, although I would not be surprised if the Cheltenham Gold Cup is on his agenda one day as he stays 3m. Maybe in 2016?

BIG EASY: The Cesarewitch winner, described by connections as a “big boat of a horse”, only found the devilishly well handicapped Katkeau too good in the 3m handicap hurdle on Saturday and I would not be surprised if the Philip Hobbs team plotted a tilt at the Pertemps Final at the Festival.

GARDE LA VICTOIRE: An amazing performance from a very talented horse. He won on ground he hated and was forced to make the running. Richard Johnson, who is riding as well as ever, brilliantly charted a wide path and rode a masterful tactical race. If the ground is good next March, then he may be worth an each-way shout in the Champion Hurdle.

DUNRAVEN STORM: An exuberant jumper and a horse who looks destined for a crack at the Arkle Trophy. I doubt there will be many novices who jump as well as this fellow.

JOHNS SPIRIT: A heartbreaking second to Caid Du Berlais to deny him back-to-back Paddy Power Gold Cups, Johns Spirit at least stamped himself as a potential Grade One horse, and the Ryanair Chase on good ground would be tailor-made for this improving type.

GOLDEN DOYEN: Showed a great attitude and reserves of stamina to beat the highly touted Hargam and looks at the head of the juvenile pack from what we have seen so far. It will be interesting to see if the runner-up progresses from what was a promising debut.

CHAMPAGNE WEST: I love this horse and he won a howitzer of a novice chase in fine style. The JLT or the RSA are obvious targets and he has the world at his feet.

BALTAHZAR KING: Currently, my favourite horse. Is there a tougher horse in training? No. Is there a more popular one? No. He gives everything and loves Cheltenham. I will miss him in March as Philip Hobbs says he will miss the Festival and go straight for the Grand National, in which he was second last season. If he gets to Aintree in good form and the ground is good, he will be one very tough nut to crack.

So the Cheltenham Festival is less than FOUR months away. If you’re planning a day at the Festival or even a few days then one great option is to go the extra mile and consider a bit of VIP treatment. Team Tactics provide some great Cheltenham Festival hospitality. Specialists in corporate hospitality and event management, their packages include one where you can arrive at the race course by steam train. Their website is well worth a look.

Watch this space for all the build-up to the Cheltenham Festival.

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