Marcus Armytage gives Grapevine his picks for this year's Cheltenham Festival
Five horses to keep an eye on at this year's Cheltenham Festival
1. ELIXIR DE NUTZ (Colin Tizzard) Sky Bet Supreme Hurdle Tuesday March 12
Al Dancer, winner of the Betfair Hurdle, is a worthy favourite for the Festival’s opening race but the less fashionable Elixir De Nutz has done very little wrong and is likely to start at double figure odds. He completed a hat-trick of wins in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown in January with two of those wins coming at Cheltenham and he seems to go on any ground. The horse he beat half a length at Sandown, Grand Sancy, has since won a Champion Hurdle trial and another, Southfield Stone, beat Angel’s Breath at Kempton on Saturday.
2. GLEN FORSA (Mick Channon) Racing Post Arkle Trophy Tuesday March 12.
Probably the nicest novice chaser I have seen all season and has probably benefitted from schooling sessions with Henrietta Knight. Owned by Tim Radford whose company Timico sponsored the Gold Cup until last year, this is his Gold Cup winner of the future. I was slightly surprised to see him drop back to two miles for his most recent run having already won over three miles at Chepstow and two and a half at Kempton but he found it just as easy and it probably helps if you can stay further than two miles in the Arkle and remember three time Gold Cup winner Best Mate was odds-on for the race until it was abandoned for foot and mouth. He would just as probably win the JLT Chase if connections go for that.
3. TOPOFTHEGAME (Paul Nicholls) RSA Chase Wednesday March 13.
Nicky Henderson’s Santini is likely to start favourite for the RSA and as much as he always looked a smart staying chaser in the making Topofthegame’s class might be slightly under-estimated even though he is yet to win a chase. Runner-up in last year’s Coral Cup under a big weight, he actually had Santini behind him in the Kauto Star Chase at Kempton when beaten by La Bague Au Roi but she misses Cheltenham so he won’t have to give her 7lbs again.
4. SIR EREC (Joseph O’Brien) JCB Triumph Hurdle Friday March 15.
Very lightly raced on the flat he ended up chasing home Stradivarius in the Long Distance Cup at Ascot in October for Aidan O’Brien before joining his son. Now a winner of both starts over hurdles, you will not see too many better looking horses at this year’s Festival.
5. CLAN DES OBEAUX (Paul Nicholls) Magners Gold Cup Friday March 15.
The favourite Presenting Percy is attempting to do something not done since 1929 which is win the Gold Cup without a run over fences during the season. Pat Kelly, his trainer, may be a genius but he will need to be to pull it off. But Clan Des Obeaux has led the Nicholls revival this season winning the King George and Ascot Chase. Nothing goes into this year’s Gold Cup with better form.
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