This Tuesday brings along a second Christmas season for racing fans as the most highly anticipated festival of the calendar gets underway in Cheltenham.
For trainers and owners it is the weeks leading up to bumper five-day experience that is the most nerve-wracking as they size up the options for their horses, run the rule over what type of shape they are in and what the ground will be like across the English channel. For racing fans and those putting a flutter on the nags, it’s the crescendo in the build-up minutes before the first race goes to post.
From a Kildare point of view there are obviously big hopes once again for trainer Jessica Harrington who will be looking to defend her Gold Cup crown, while jockey Ruby Walsh will be hoping to bounce back well from injury to steer Willie Mullins’ charge towards potential Cheltenham domination.
Harrington brings four horses across to the famed English venue, will be without her prized asset in Sizing John who has been left in Ireland after medics revealed that he had a hairline fracture in his pelvis. The call came on Thursday afternoon, leaving Harrington with just Grand National victor Our Duke for the Gold Cup.
Noel Fehily was booked to ride Our Duke while Robbie Power would mount Sizing John, but the latter's failure to be fit for the race may change things a bit come Friday.
Our Duke looked impressive on his return from injury when winning the Red Mills’ Chase in Gowran Park last month, and at 10-1 he could be the one to back here, with Might Bite looking the most likely winner and Joseph O’Brien’s promising Edwulf also a threat.
“How do I view the opposition? I hate every single one of them! It is going to be very competitive,” she said at a recent press morning.
“The one who hasn’t blotted his copybook is Might Bite, the young improving horse. You’ve Edwulf there, there are a lot of horses going there with a chance. It depends who performs on the day.”
Harrington, however, is most confident in the prospects of Supasundae’s prospects in the 3M Stayers’ Hurdle, where he will battle against Yanworth once again after a fabulous run in Aintree last year. A victory over Faugheen in Leopardstown in early February showed his promise, and the presence of Apple’s Jade in next Thursday’s race is sure to make this a remarkably tough race to call. As it stands, all three horses can be backed at 4/5-1.
“The one I would be most confident about running a big race is Supasundae in the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle but I saw this morning that there’s a chance of it being a soft-ground festival, which would worry me a little,” stated Harrington.
Her other two horses set to feature in Cheltenham are the classy but unpredictable Don’t Touch It and the evergreen Rock The World who both feature in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase.
A win at Cheltenham is a strong possibility for Harrington, achieving two would be absolutely outstanding, but the evanescent Moone trainer has proved time and again in her career that she can break new boundaries.
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