Field sizes suffer
The combination of the increased cost of transporting horses post-Brexit, coupled with the fact owners are unable to attend this week, looks set to have a significant impact on the number of runners at this year’s Festival.
The Arkle has cut up to small fields in the past, but an eight-runner Supreme is the lowest number of starters for the Festival opener in living memory, while the 16 runners for the Ultima comes in eight short of a full field. Punters with ante-post slips will be nervously checking declarations for Thursday and Friday, particularly given the late omissions that have already been announced, notably Champion Chase absentee Altior.
Gallic twist to the Champion
Despite two favourites on the card, this isn’t even Willie Mullins’ strongest day of the week. However, one of his more intriguing contenders is James Du Berlais, who starts out for the yard on his first start since finishing second in the Grade 1 Prix Renaud du Vivier at Auteuil.
Given most arrivals at the Mullins yard don’t start off for him until the following season, it is fair to say that it goes against his modus operandi. He was most progressive in France, has an exceptional pedigree and with Mullins the driving force behind this huge ask on stable debut, it will be fascinating to see how he fares.
Here Come The Girls
The Champion Hurdle has it all this year…well, nearly. The one thing it might just be perceived to lack at the moment is a truly exceptional two-mile hurdler, but that could all change by 3.15pm tomorrow. Epatante has won eight of her 11 starts, including this race last year, while Honeysuckle puts an unbeaten record on the line and has never been more impressive than when thumping Abacadabras at Leopardstown last time. The two mares could well have it between them and it would make for a fantastic story, but the enigma that is Goshen could trump them both, having signalled at a return to his best when bolting up in the Kingwell last time. There has been more drama in his short career to date than the rest of the field combined, but it would be a famous victory for the Moore family and owner Steve Packham.
Who can sparkle in the Boodles?
Jewellers Boodles sponsor one of the trickiest handicaps of the season to solve, with six of the last nine winners coming home at odds of between 25-1 and 40-1. That suggests you should be looking for a diamond in the rough…which is a good thing, as we happen to have a long-priced fancy for the race. More to follow in our newsletter tomorrow morning.
Six-pack for Foster
Denise Foster has hit the ground running since taking over the Cullentra licence from Gordon Elliott and she has six chances to get her maiden Cheltenham Festival winner, with Escaria Ten the shortest-priced off the sextet in the National Hunt Challenge Cup Novices’ Chase. The defection of Royal Pagaille, who goes in search of greater riches in Friday’s Gold Cup, has left this looking a shade more open than was the case (though I’d have wanted to take him on).
Escaria Ten looks to have a live chance, but all at the yard will be watching how former stablemate Galvin fares, the Ronnie Bartlett-owned seven year old having transferred out of the yard earlier this month and now in the care of Ian Ferguson.