Cheltenham 2014: Horses to watch and the Irish challenge

Cheltenham Racecourse. Photo Credit: howden joe (Flickr)
Cheltenham Racecourse. Photo Credit: howden joe (Flickr)
Cheltenham Racecourse. Photo Credit: howden joe (Flickr)

There is less than a week to go to the Cheltenham Festival, the best four days of national hunt racing in the year. From Hurricane Fly to Last Instalment to Annie Power the week could be a good one for the Irish trainers. Last year we had fourteen winners at Prestbury Park; something which hadn’t been done before. Can we make history again this year? Annie Power is running in the World Hurdle and no five year old has won it before. Will Hurricane Fly retain his title?

Champion Hurdle

On Tuesday racing begins and the feature race of the day is the Stan James Champion Hurdle. It features the best two mile hurdlers. Hurricane Fly and Our Conor are possibilities for the Irish contingent. Un de Sceaux, if he runs, is also ready to impress following seven unbeaten runs. The Willie Mullins trained Hurricane Fly is defending his title and will face younger rivals in the form of The New One, My Tent Or Yours and Ptit Zig. The Nicky Henderson trained My Tent Or Yours, who got the all clear after an injury scare during the week, will be the one to watch with AP McCoy on board. Should My Tent Or Yours win however, it will make Nicky Henderson a six time champion trainer of the Champion Hurdle. Our Conor meanwhile also shoulders Irish hopes in the race. The Dessie Hughes trained five year old has had good form as of late and is not one to rule out.

Hurricane Fly in action with Ruby Walsh. Photo Credit: ITM2013 (Flickr)
Hurricane Fly in action with Ruby Walsh. Photo Credit: ITM2013 (Flickr)

Champion Chase

On Wednesday, Ladies Day, the feature race is the Queen Mother Champion Chase. The absence of last year’s winner, the Nicky Henderson trained Sprinter Sacre, has left the Champion Chase wide open. Sire de Grugy has gone straight into the favourite position and it is difficult to write him off. The Irish challenge consists of Willie Mullins’ Arvika Ligeonniere and Henry de Bromhead’s charges of Special Tiara and Sizing Europe. Arvika Ligeonniere has won four of his last five outings and it would be a shock if he caused an upset.

Sire de Grugy with Jamie Moore on board. Photo credit: Arkle1
Sire de Grugy with Jamie Moore on board. Photo credit: Arkle1 (Flickr)

World Hurdle

The race to watch will be the Ladbrokes World Hurdle on Thursday. It promises to be a cracker with a showdown between super mare Annie Power and four time champion Big Bucks. The Willie Mullins trained Annie Power has won all three of her outings this year one of which being at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day on soft ground. Annie Power hasn’t run over three miles before, however she performed well on the day and now with Ruby Walsh on board looks a real favourite.

Big Bucks has previously won the race all four times with Ruby Walsh on board. Their partnership secured 18 wins from 19 for the Paul Nicholls trained gelding.  Ruby has switched his mount this year but he and Annie Power are a great pairing; her last six wins had him on board. Big Bucks however is now eleven and was ruled out of the race last year due to injury, the time has come for a new champion.

Regardless of the other runners, such as At Fishers Cross and More Of That, it is sure to be a showdown between Annie Power and Big Bucks.

Unbeaten mare Annie Power. Photo credit: Steve Barowik (Flickr)
Unbeaten mare Annie Power. Photo credit: Steve Barowik (Flickr)

Gold Cup

On the final day of racing the Cheltenham Gold Cup takes centre stage. This year the defending champion Bob’s Worth is the one to beat. The Nicky Henderson trained nine year old has won five from five outings at Prestbury Park. Other runners include Long Run, the 2011 winner, Last Instalment and First Lieutenant. Irish hopes rest on Mouse Morris’ First Lieutenant who will have to really work if he wants to win and the Willie Mullins trained Boston Bob.

Bob's Worth. Photo credit:  Meteorshoweryn (Flickr)
Bob’s Worth. Photo credit: Meteorshoweryn (Flickr)

So, will Hurricane Fly cause a storm? Will Sire de Grugy live up to the expectations? Will Annie Power remain unbeaten? Will Bob’s Worth retain his crown? What do you think? You can comment below!

It’s Cheltenham week, the racing world waits in anticipation!

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