One Safe Bet For Jump Racing’s Spectacular 

Venturing fearlessly into jumps territory this week, this correspondent would never be so bold as to offer tips or predictions for the Cheltenham Festival. There is only one safe bet to be had, and that is that Keeneland’s indefatigable European representative Ed Prosser will be up with the larks to cook the finest Full English for his housemates, and at some stage over the next four days will serenade us with his inimitable version of Rhinestone Cowboy.

The Prosser baritone is certainly much easier on the ears than the newly released ‘Roar-Remix’. In a rather unlikely development, the Jockey Club has gone clubbing in collaboration with someone known as DJ Cuddles. A less cool name for a DJ it is hard to imagine, but this pairing of the tweed brigade with the TikTok generation has, we are told, led to “a dance anthem like no other”.

The actual roar, which will be let out around at around 1.30pm on Tuesday as the tape pings back for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, will be followed, in all probability, by victory for the first favourite of the week, who has a stronger claim to the Cheltenham winner’s enclosure than most other horses. In fact, Facile Vega (Ire) (Walk In The Park {Ire}) already has one Cheltenham crown to his name thanks to his victory in last year’s Weatherbys Champion Bumper. But he still has a long way to go if he is to emulate his celebrated mother, Quevega (Fr), Queen of the Mares’ Hurdle.

The tiny daughter of Robin Des Champs (Fr) scampered up that hill to glory six years in a row. Yes, she was sparsely campaigned in between, but boy did she come alive at Prestbury Park. It is hard to believe that Quevega is already 19, but in Facile Vega, her second foal, she has written yet another chapter to her captivating story. 

There are still a lot of boring old Doubting Thomases out there when it comes to the Mares’ Hurdle but one really couldn’t ask for more than what is on offer in this year’s race. Honeysuckle (GB) vs. Epatante (Fr). There’s a corker of a prize fight if ever there was one. The two mares have won the last three Champion Hurdles and, both now nine, are appearing at what may well be their final Festival before perusing the stallion books in a kind of equine Tinder-fest. Swipe right for Blue Bresil (Fr) or Getaway (Ger). 

Before that they will of course have to do battle with last year’s Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle winner Marie’s Rock (Ire) (Milan {GB}). The eight-year-old is another wonder for the successful cross-code Middleham Park Racing syndicate. She went on to score at the Punchestown Festival and her only outing so far this season ended in triumph at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.

Those cribbing the expansion of the mares’ National Hunt programme in Britain and Ireland have clearly never stood outside a box on a sales ground on a cold winter’s day and tried to sell a filly foal. It matters that jumping fillies and mares have just as much of a clear pathway to the top as their Flat counterparts, and great work has been done on both sides of the Irish Sea in improving this situation. Yes, once they get near the top we want to see the mares mix it in open company, and the best of them have done so. Witness the fact that four of the last seven Champion Hurdles have been won by a mare, a run started by Annie Power (Ire) in 2015. But you have to scroll back to Flakey Dove (GB) in 1994 to find the last female winner before this mighty trio. Alas, we have no mare in the seven-strong Champion Hurdle this year, which surely is a coronation for the mighty Constitution Hill (GB) (Blue Bresil {Fr}). 

It is an increasingly rare thing these days to see homebred runners in the major National Hunt races, which is what makes Edwardstone (GB) (Kayf Tara {GB}) a little extra special, aside from his extraordinary talent. In last year’s Arkle Trophy, he provided one of the feel-good stories of the week, and was a much needed early home winner in the auld battle of England vs. Ireland, which has been so lopsided in the favour of the raiders of late. Edwardstone is currently favourite to add Wednesday’s Queen Mother Champion Chase to his record and to give his small breeders, the Abrey and Thurtle families, another big day in the spotlight. 

Similarly, there would be much joy attached to a win for Queens Gamble (Ire) (Getaway {Ger}) in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, which rounds off Wednesday’s card. The part the five-year-old mare has played in helping her trainer Oliver Sherwood through his tortuous battle with cancer has been well documented and she represents the brothers-in-law Alex Frost and Ed Galvin, who bred her at Galvin’s Ardmulchan Stud in Ireland. Frost has of course been busying himself in recent years with rebooting and revitalising the Tote. He deserves a day off from those endeavours, and hopefully it will be one spent celebrating a special homebred winner at the track not far from his Wiltshire-based Ladyswood Stud.

It now appears to be the law of the bloodstock sales calendar that no week can pass without an auction taking place, whether online or IRL (I’m told that’s what the kids say).

Those still standing by the end of Thursday’s action who have no wish to spend an hour trying to exit the car park may as well stick around for what has now become a regular fixture on the boutique jumps sales calendar. 

There can be no more aspirational venue for those in love with jump racing than to stage a sale in the winner’s enclosure at Cheltenham. Brian Sheerin spoke to Jamie Codd last week about his twin role during the Festival as both crack amateur rider and a driving force behind the Tattersalls Ireland Cheltenham Festival Sale. 

If you missed that interview, you can read it here, and in the meantime, please forgive us while our attention is temporarily diverted from all things Flat to quite a few things National Hunt over the next four days.

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