Cheltenham Festival: The potential headliners at this year’s Festival

2018 Gold Cup winner Native River and jockey Richard Johnson are relief at Cheltenham this year to protect their crown
Cheltenham Festival
Venue:Cheltenham RacecourseDates:12-15 MarchFirst plod:13:30 GMT
Protection:Dwell commentary on BBC Radio 5 Dwell and BBC Radio 5 are living sports additional, plus text commentary, racecards and studies on the BBC Sport online net page and app.

With the 2019 Cheltenham Festival starting up on Tuesday 12 March, right here are one of the most studies and complications that are more probably to headline at jump racing’s showpiece event.

Altior: the huge name

Nicky Henderson-trained Altior is undefeated in five hurdle races and 12 steeplechases

Historical previous beckons for the reigning Queen Mother Champion Chaser Altior if, as is broadly anticipated, he efficiently defends his crown and extends a 3-year-plus winning rush to a document-equalling 18 races on the plod.

The shiny 9-year-light, trained for owner Patricia Pugh by Nicky Henderson and the mount of jockey Nico de Boinville, is undefeated in five hurdle-races and 12 steeplechases, a patch of the deepest hue of crimson going relief to October 2015.

Three of these successes were at successive Festivals: first, the Supreme Novices Hurdle of 2016, adopted by the Arkle Trophy and Champion Plod.

The present holder of the jumping document is the four-time prolonged-distance hurdling champion Sizable Buck’s, trained by Paul Nicholls for the financier Andy Stewart and family, whose colours weren’t lowered all the way in which through the 48 months from January 2009.

Henderson, knowledge of the charismatic chasing huge name Sprinter Sacre from digital oblivion to a 2nd Champion Plod exhaust in 2016, admits to sleepless nights this capability that of the high level of expectations surrounding Altior.

With out which formulation to rain on any parades, it will correct be stated that the horse’s trademark spectacular jumping turned into now not repeatedly as slick as frequent supreme time he raced, at Ascot in January.

Anyway, relief to expectations: with 60 Festival wins over the years, they’re high for the final Henderson workers whose effort is spearheaded by hat-rick-searching out for Buveur D’Air within the Champion Hurdle and heavily-backed teenager Angel’s Breath against Al Dancer within the Supreme Novices Hurdle.

Welfare changes: nerves shall be jangling

There is no doubting that these are nervous situations for officials at Cheltenham – additionally for racing’s regulator, the British Horseracing Authority, and for nationwide hunt racing as a complete.

The pendulum of welfare concerns, which as soon as every year pointed unerringly anxious on the Essential National, has swung dramatically within the direction of jump racing’s headquarters and its monumental four days of the year.

Correct as changes to the illustrious direction at Aintree seem to were remarkably winning, the statistics surrounding particularly equine fatalities at contemporary Festivals assemble extra alarming reading.

A checklist of measureshas been launched by the Authority and or now not it is well-known they level to efficient.

Because while the dangers are acknowledged nonetheless – with efficient safety measures in role – thought to be acceptable by insiders and followers (of which there are diverse: over 260,000 on track all the way in which through the 2018 Festival and hundreds of thousands extra following on radio, TV, on-line and in high street making a guess retail outlets), others further afield remain less happy.

Meanwhile, this would possibly per chance per chance presumably be attention-grabbing to see what comes of the Authority’s warning that it is monitoring jockeys’ exhaust of whips and that penalties can also elevate in future if too many are deemed responsible of a ‘exhaust at all costs’ mentality, thereby prompting the conclusion present punishments are insufficient.

Elliott and Tiger on a roll

Jockey Davy Russell rode Tiger Roll to victory at supreme year’s Essential National

When Gordon Elliott, as soon as a slightly low-profile jump jockey, started working against within the 2005-06 season, one in all his first successes turned into within the following year’s Aintree Essential National with Silver Birch.

Rather an entrance. And since Silver Birch he’s step by step climbed against the tip of the racing tree, extra now not too prolonged within the past with steadfast fortify from aviation multi-millionaire Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Home Stud racing arm, with which he tasted extra Aintree glory in 2018, this time with Tiger Roll.

At Cheltenham, County Meath-primarily based Elliott wrestled the Festival’s main coach title a long way off from Irish arch-rival Willie Mullins (who’d obtained the previous four) in 2017 and adopted up a season later when Eire netted 17 wins out of 28 races.

And he’s favourite to assemble it three in a row with a extremely efficient squad headed by monumental Champion Hurdle esteem Apple’s Jade and Tiger Roll himself attempting to search out a fourth Festival success.

Having taken the 2014 Triumph Hurdle and the National Hunt Plod of 2017, Tiger Roll defends the Unsuitable Nation Plod trophy obtained on solutions to Aintree – and judged by a up to date effort at Navan he can also way shut some pegging relief.

Talking of the tip coach and main jockey…

Gordon Elliott, Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls is the pecking utter among the trainers if the making a guess is to be believed, nonetheless there would possibly per chance be a probability that the percentages being equipped for Paul Nicholls (16-1 from some bookies) are the most attention-grabbing.

The 10-time champion coach, who’s been having fun with a rewarding season with main chasers address King George VI Plod winner Clan Des Obeaux – partly-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson – and Cyrname, has fancied runners left, correct and centre, along with ‘Clan’ within the Gold Cup.

Most of them shall be ridden by 20-year-light Harry Cobden, who’s way down the checklist of odds on offer for the week’s most winning rider at about 20-1. With the make of the Nicholls workers, that’s obvious to tempt some.

On the head of the market are standing dishes Barry Geraghty and Ruby Walsh, who turned into injured all the way in which through the 2018 Festival. Meanwhile Geraghty’s employer, the businessman JP McManus, is favourite to be main owner with Gigginstown 2nd-most attention-grabbing within the making a guess.

Cheltenham: in contact with its feminine aspect

So, we’re 365 days on from feminine jockeys recording a document Festival tally of four victories when first Lizzie Kelly (Coo Important particular person Sivola, Festival Plate), then Katie Walsh (Relegate, Champion Bumper), then Bridget Andrews (Mohaayed, County Hurdle) and in a roundabout way, despite dislocating her correct shoulder all the way in which through the plod, Harriet Tucker (Pacha Du Polder, Foxhunters Plod) were all winning.

Though Walsh has now retired from the supreme frontline sport the put ladies athletes compete each day against males on identical terms, Kelly, Andrews and Tucker all return intent on extra glory.

And they’re joined by Rachael Blackmore,who lies 2nd within the Irish jump jockeys table, and the irrepressible Bryony Frost.

But or now not it is rarely at all times correct jockeys: coach Emma Lavelle saddles in-make Paisley Park as favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle whereby the Jessie Harrington-trained Supasundae shall be a ambitious opponent; Kayley Woollacott’s Lalor is a number one hope for the Arkle Trophy; Aso (Ryanair Plod) leads Venetia Williams’ by no formulation to be left out Festival effort; and a number of shrewdies address the stare of the Sue Smith-trained Traditional Clouds against Coo Important particular person Sivola within the Festival Plate. And there shall be extra.

With Irish-trained mares Apple’s Jade and Laurina most essential contenders for the Champion Hurdle – and detailed analysis into the attendances at racing fixtures finding that 39% are feminine, when put next to the British sports moderate of 20% – most likely racing is extra in contact with its feminine aspect than it realises.

The thriller of Presenting Percy

Presenting Percy is one in all the favourites to exhaust the 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup

If reality be told, to be gorgeous, when talking about main Cheltenham Gold Cup esteem Presenting Percy, there is now not for sure so powerful thriller about the horse – owned by Philip Reynolds, son of the light Irish prime minister Albert Reynolds.

Victories in two Festival races, the 2017 Pertemps Handicap Hurdle and the RSA Plod of 2018, have made obvious of that.

It be his coach Pat Kelly who’s rather extra cryptic.

No longer handiest does he plod about his industry with an nearly Trappist-address silence, making diminutive contact and declining all interviews, nonetheless it in fact’s stated that handiest a number of know the articulate put of dwelling in County Galway of his miniature operation – and the eight-year-light Presenting Percy’s jockey Davy Russell is now not one in all them.

Assorted theories abound for the reticence of Kelly, who additionally obtained the Pertemps Hurdle in 2016 with Mall Dini, nonetheless as he would now not discuss or now not it’s anxious to attain up with a definitive acknowledge.

What’s evident, nonetheless, is that he has a factual relationship with the racecourse at Galway Metropolis, which is an steady-handed track because officials there switched around their fences to emulate left-handed Cheltenham so that Presenting Percy, who’s handiest plod as soon as this season and that turned into a exhaust over hurdles, would possibly per chance per chance well regain some match observe.

Masses of the thousands of holiday makers from Eire – they yarn for 30% of set up sales – are shouting the percentages about Presenting Percy’s possibilities. No longer, nonetheless, his coach.

It be a huge-delivery Gold Cup…

Presenting Percy and the already mentioned Clan Des Obeaux are correct two of a dozen or extra main fancies for the Gold Cup, a plod obtained in 2018 by Native River, trained by Colin Tizzard and ridden by champion jockey Richard Johnson within the colors of house owners Garth and Anne Broom (Brocade Racing).

Native River returns to protect his crown – along with Johnson who had stitches in a face wound after a fall at Taunton nonetheless expects to be match for day one the Festival.

With some bigger than decent subsequent make within the boo, Native River is joined by fellow Tizzard hopefuls Thistlecrack and Perfect Streak.

Famously, or he would possibly per chance per chance well verbalize infamously, prime Irish coach Willie Mullins has saddled horses to thrill in the Gold Cup runners-up state on six situations with out ever winning, nonetheless his horses Kemboy, Bellshill and Al Boum Photo all have their followers.

That’s eight mentioned earlier than we regain to the horse Native River defeated in 2018, Can even Chunk – or Bristol De Mai, Haydock’s Betfair Plod winner, when Native River, Thistlecrack, Clan Des Obeaux and Can even Chunk were all on the relief of. Unique sponsor Magners has a factual one with which to originate off.

My pointers for the ‘Sizable Four’ races:

Champion Hurdle: the seven pounds less weight to be carried by mares, along with the excellent Apple’s Jade, would possibly per chance per chance well be decisive, and I’m going for her.

Queen Mother Champion Plod: it must be historical previous for Altior.

Stayers’ Hurdle: Paisley Park has carried all earlier than him and is anticipated to proceed to enact so. I am additionally expecting a factual demonstrate from outsider Sam Spinner.

Gold Cup: Native River has very sturdy make in defeat of leisurely, and it would possibly per chance per chance be anxious to discontinuance a repeat of his 2018 success.

Cornelius Lysaght, racing correspondent, shall be segment of the Cheltenham Festival coverage on BBC radio and the BBC Sport online net page.

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