Monday March 13
The best four days in NH racing are about to be unveiled with the start of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival now just 24 hours away, and we look like getting near-perfect ground and temperatures a lot milder than last year, so all is set for a wonderful week.
Alan concedes that one winner would be marvellous and anything else is a bonus, and he makes no secret of the fact that he considers our best chance comes on day one with Yanworth in the Stan James Champion Hurdle.
Though disappointed that Barry Geraghty, who knows Yanworth so well, misses the meeting through injury, Alan “could not be happier” with our stable-star.
He said:”Some have expressed doubts about Yanworth’s jumping, but I am certainly not amongst them. Mark Walsh came over and schooled him over 10 flights last Thursday and I have never known the horse quicker and slicker at his hurdles.
“Everything has gone smoothly since the Kingwell, and I think he won his last two races despite the track as neither Kempton nor Wincanton played to his stengths.
“Cheltenham suits him so much better and he is in a good place physically. In fact, he’s the best shape I have had him in all season, and, while I’ll stop short of saying he will win, I expect him to run a huge race.
“However, don’t forget that we also have Sceau Royal in the race. He travelled really well in the Kingwell before fading into third behind Yanworth, but, while initially disappointed with the performance, it was his first race since November and I might have left him a tad short.
“Like Yanworth, Elgin, who runs in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, will definitely be much happier around Cheltenham than he has the flat tracks he has been encountering. He won his first two races over hurdles and then ran a decent race in second behind the smart Neon Wolf at Haydock and lost nothing in defeat when trying to give weight to River Wylde at Kempton. He could well run better than his odds suggest.
“It’s a busy first day for us as we also have Label des Obeaux and Annacotty the Ultima Handicap Chase, both Midnight Tour and Miss Crick in the Grade 1 Mares Hurdle and Kerrow in the four-mile NH Chase.
“Label des Obeaux will find this tougher than Ludlow and Exeter, where he clocked up victories in small fields. But those wins have done wonders for his confidence and, though he has gone up another 7lb, he was a graded winner over hurdles and has a bit of quality about him, while there will be a little ease in the ground on day one which he enjoys.
“Annacotty has not fired this season, but Cheltenham brings out the best in him and he has been dropped 3lb since Kempton, so he takes his chance, too.
“The more the ground dries up the better for Miss Crick, who had a very good summer and early winter campaign and would have appreciated faster underfoot conditions. She is rated 3lb better than Midnight Tour, who might be up against it but it’s Cheltenham and the owners are keen to give it a go, so why not ?
“Josh Newman, who won the four-miler for us three years ago with Midnight Prayer, rides Kerrow, who is stepping into the unknown, having never raced beyond three miles before. But we think he’ll stay and he won at Taunton and then finished second at Doncaster, so he deserves his place in the field.”