What Are The Highlights Of The 2019 Cheltenham Festival?

We are just weeks away from the start of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, the biggest meeting in National Hunt racing by some distance. There are 28 races scheduled across four days this year, with the Cheltenham Gold Cup the feature contest. Here are some of the horses and races to look out for at Prestbury Park next month.

Altior Puts Unbeaten Record On The Line In Champion Chase

After three successful outings so far season, Altior is now unbeaten in 12 races over fences as his domination of the 2m chase division continues. Nicky Henderson’s stablestar will look to retain his crown in the Queen Mother Champion Chase where he is the odds-on favourite at 2/5.

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The challengers to Altior include recent Grade One Dublin Chase winner Min, Footpad and Un de Sceaux but it would be a huge upset if the nine-year-old did not win his fourth straight race at the Festival this year.

Buveur D’Air Bids For Hat-Trick In Champion Hurdle

Another horse who has been so successful in his respective division at the Festival is Buveur D’Air who is on the verge of a hat-trick of Champion Hurdle victories. The 2017 and 2018 winner of the 2m contest, which is the feature race on day one of the meeting, has tasted defeat this season, though, as he was second behind Verdana Blue in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.

Henderson’s hurdler started his campaign in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle which he won for a third time in a field which included Samcro and Summerville Boy. Those two novices both went into the race with big reputations, however, the defending champion was a comfortable winner as proved his class with a seven-length success.

Buveur D’Air bounced back from his Kempton defeat to claim the Contenders Hurdle on his latest start. He is as big as 2/1 in the Champion Hurdle betting and victory once again in the race would help cement his name alongside some of the greats of the sport which have won this contest three times.

Presenting Percy Takes On Older Horses In Gold Cup

Presenting Percy goes into the Cheltenham Gold Cup at a top price of 7/2 with the bookmakers listed by Oddschecker for the 3m2f contest on the final day of the meeting, despite only having the one run so far this season.

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Patrick Kelly’s chaser ended the 2017/18 campaign as the leading novice chaser in the UK and Ireland. The Irish horse was an impressive winner of the RSA Chase which immediately put him in the frame for the 2019 Gold Cup.

With just the five runs under his belt over fences, Presenting Percy will be one of the least experienced horses in the field this year. He will be taking on last year’s winner Native River, former King George VI Chase winner Might Bite and Road To Respect. Although those runners have been there before, none of them have really stood out this season, therefore, the opportunity may be there for Presenting Percy to seize on the biggest stage of them all.

Stayers’ Hurdle The Target For Impressive Paisley Park

The star performer in the 3m hurdle division this season has been Paisley Park, who has just got better with every run. The seven-year-old has appeared four times in the campaign and he has done enough in those appearances to earn the spot as the 2/1 favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle.

Emma Lavelle’s horse stood out after claiming the Grade One JLT Hurdle at Ascot just before Christmas where he finished ahead of West Approach and Top Notch respectively. He then featured at Cheltenham in what was arguably an even better performance in the Cleeve Hurdle as his margin of victory was 12 lengths on that occasion.

The Stayers’ Hurdle is an interesting race this year as it features a former Champion Hurdle winner in Faugheen, Unowhatimeanharry, who has had so much success in the division over the last couple of seasons, and last year’s winner Penhill, who is going straight into the race again without a preparation run.

If Paisley Park repeats what he has shown this season, he will be difficult to beat, however, we have seen a number of surprises in this race before so it is sure to make for fascinating viewing.

Look out for the final declarations for all 28 races 48 hours prior to each day’s action, especially if the horse you are looking to back has multiple entries across the week.

Can Australian Trainer Chris Waller Clinch Success in the Long Distance Cup?


Racing at Ascot always attracts a global audience and, over the past decade, there has been an exponential rise in trainers sending their horses to Berkshire from countries such as the USA, Japan and Australia. The latter don’t have many winners at UK festivals but a former Southern Hemisphere runner picked up a notable success at Royal Ascot in summer 2018 and trainer Chris Waller will be looking to fly the flag for Australia once again in October.

Source: Amanda Dudman via Twitter

 

Merchant Navy was the latest horse to be bred down under to triumph on the Ascot turf with the four-year-old grinding out a victory in the Diamond Jubilee at this year’s royal event. Having previously been victorious in the Coolmore Stud Stakes, connections were confident of a big run and he was roared home by a smattering of Australians who were in attendance.

It was a typically competitive contest with Merchant Navy holding off French raider City Light and Bound for Nowhere. Although trained by Aidan O’Brien in Ireland, Merchant Navy is a household name to Australian racing fans. It was just his second run in Europe following a switch of stables and original trainer Ciaron Maher was in attendance to watch his former charge make it seven wins from ten on the flat.

The four-year-old had previously been successful at Flemington, Pakenham and in the Group 3 McNeil Stakes at Caulfield but has since been retired to stud and won’t be seen again on UK soil.

Unfortunately, fellow Aussie raider Redkirk Warrior wasn’t as effective and struggled to get involved in the six-furlong sprint.

 

Source: Coolmore Australia via Twitter

 

There will be further Australian interest in October with Finche entered into the Group 2 QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup. Trainer Chris Waller will be hoping that his stayer can be successful in the two-miler and justify the trip to the Northern Hemisphere. It could potentially be a busy month for the four-year-old, who is sired by Frankel, as he also holds an entry for the Qatar Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe, which takes place at Longchamp on October 7th.

Finche has previously been successful on French soil with a victory in the Grade 3 Prix de Reux, beating Tiberian by two lengths. With over $110,500 of prize money to its name, Waller will be hoping that his charge will have the stamina to cope with the Ascot trip. Finche is currently un-raced beyond 1 mile and 4 furlongs but has been staying on nicely during the majority of his performances so far.

It’s been a successful year for Sydney’s top trainer, who has dominated the sport since 2005. His first Group 1 winner came in 2008 when Triple Honour was victorious in the Doncaster Handicap and he’s been crowned Australia’s Champion Group 1 trainer on a number of occasions since.

He currently has a hugely talented string and holds entries to the Group 1 Darley Stakes at Randwick and, at the time of writing, he has an eight-strong hand for the Tab Epsom Handicap.

His most notable inmate is Winx who has recorded 31 victories from 37 outings on the turf. The mare is admired worldwide and hasn’t been defeated since April 2015 when finishing second in the Seven News Australian Oaks at Randwick. Her achievements also include securing two successive Cox Plates in 2015 and 2016. The seven-year-old was recently seen in the Group 1 Colgate Optic White Stakes beating Romain by a comfortable four lengths.

She has broken all sorts of records during her time on the track and made history with a 26th consecutive victory in August and was once again partnered by regular jockey Hugh Bowman. The previous record had been set by Black Caviar who managed to rack up 25 consecutive wins on Australian soil.

There have been many calls for Winx to test herself in the UK but she has remained down under and doesn’t hold any entries for European races. Australian horses travelling to the Northern Hemisphere has become increasingly common and connections are refusing to rule out the possibility of a future venture to Europe.

 

Source: Racing.com via Twitter

 

Chris Waller has also enjoyed success this season with a victory in the Newcastle Gold Cup which took place on September 14th. The trainer had two entries to the contest with Vassal finishing eighth under the ride of Jeff Penza. Stablemate Carzoff had better luck, however, and helped land the prize pot of over $60,000 for connections. Going off the 13/5 favourite, he clinched a narrow victory ahead of Auvray and Just Shine. Both Carzoff and Auvray were identified as key runners to look out for in the Group 3 event in Oddschecker’s preview of the 1 mile and 3 furlong contest and they were separated by just half a length as they hit the line together in a thrilling finish.

It was the second successive year in which Auvray has finished second in the race with the Richard Freedman trained seven-year-old narrowly missing out on top spot yet again. Twelve months ago, he was beaten by a neck as Broadside snuck through to narrowly edge the contest. It’s been a frustrating period for connections but there is little doubt that the perennial runner-up has plenty of quality.

Carzoff was mightily impressive throughout the contest and jockey Kerrin McEvoy gave him a superb hold-up ride. That patient approach resulted in gaps opening up during the latter stages of the contest and McEvoy took full advantage. The pilot was quick to praise his mount and described him as being “in a really good space”. Carzoff was previously untried at the distance but looked comfortable throughout and the five-year-old can now boast back-to-back successes after securing the Wyong Cup at the end of August.

 

 

Source: Racing.com via Twitter

 

Finche will be taking on a quality field at Ascot with Stradivarius likely to go off as odds-on favourite. There are a number of runners who still need to be supplemented for the contest but he is likely to be up against Kew Gardens, Southern France, Dee Ex Bee and Willie Mullin’s eight-year-old Thomas Hobson. The latter was last seen winning at Doncaster over a longer distance and has the stamina to outlast many of its opponents in this field. This meeting is seen as the denouement of the flat-racing season in the UK and is one of the richest race days on the calendar.

Last season’s renewal was won by Order of St.George who beat Torcedor by half a length, staying on well for Ryan Moore. The 2018 favourite, Stradivarius, finished in third for trainer John Gosden. Thirteen went to post in the 2017 race and whilst there were a number of Irish raiders in the field, there were no Australian representatives present. Connections remain undecided as to whether the irrepressible Order of St George will return to the scene of his victory and bid to defend his crown.

Finche is quite lightly raced and although currently priced as an outsider for the Long Distance Cup, he could potentially go under the radar for this two-miler. As the son of Frankel, he will be incredibly popular with the Ascot crowd. The Sir Henry Cecil-trained wonder-horse remained unbeaten throughout his career with his final outing coming at the Berkshire track. He beat Cirrus Des Aigles by just shy of two lengths in the 2012 staging of the Group 1 British Qipco Stakes shortly before being retired to stud.

Chris Waller has dominated the Australian racing scene for a number of years and he will be looking to add an Ascot success to his list of achievements. Final declarations will be confirmed in the days leading up to the contest and many will hope to see Finche taking his chance in the contest which takes place on October 20th.

Summer Festival

 The Summer Festival, currently sponsored by Coral, is a two-day meeting staged annually at Sandown Park Racecourse in Esher, Surrey in South East England in early July. Day one, a.k.a. Ladies’ Day, on the Friday, features a seven-race card, which includes two Listed races, the Dragon Stakes and the Gala Stakes. The Dragon Stakes, which was inaugurated in 1992, is run over 5 furlongs and 10 yards and restricted to two-year-olds. The 2018 winner, Well Done Fox, trained by Richard Hannon, also won another Listed contest, the Julia Graves Roses Stakes at York in August, before finishing second in the Group 2 Flying Childers Stakes at the Doncaster St. Leger Meeting.

 

The Gala Stakes, on the other hand, is run over 1 mile 1 furlong and 209 yards and open to horses aged three years and upwards. In 2018, Sir Michael Stoute, renowned for his prowess with older horses, saddled the 5-year-old Mustashry to readily hold off Spark Plug, trained by Brian Meehan, who had won the race in 2017, despite returning from a lengthy absence.

 

Day two, a.k.a. Coral-Eclipse Day, on the Saturday, is really all about the feature race, officially the Eclipse Stakes, but sponsored by Coral since 1976 and widely known as the Coral-Eclipse. Inaugurated in 1886, the Coral-Eclipse is run over 1 mile 1 furlong and 209 yards and open to horses aged three years and upwards. It is, in fact, the first race of the season in which the current Classic generation – in other words, the three-year-old generation – has the opportunity to compete against the older horses at the highest level.

 

The roll of honour for the Coral-Eclipse includes such luminaries as Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard and Dancing Brave. Worth £790,625 in prize money and, since 2011, part of the British Champions Series Middle Distance Category, the Coral-Eclipse is one of the most prestigious, and informative, races of the season.

 

The supporting card for the Coral-Eclipse also includes the Sprint Stakes, run over 5 furlongs and 10 yards and open to horses aged three years and upwards. Promoted to Group 3 status in 2004, the Sprint Stakes has been sponsored by Coral since 2009 and is run, for sponsorship purposed, as the Coral Charge.

Northumberland Plate Festival

 The Northumberland Plate Festival is a three-day fixture staged annually at Newcastle Racecourse, in High Gosforth Park, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in North East England in late June or early July. The Festival takes its name from the feature race, the Northumberland Plate, which is run on the Saturday.

 

The Northumberland Plate, run over 2 miles and 56 yards and open to horses aged three years and upwards, was inaugurated in 1833, but first run at High Gosforth Park in 1881. The race was originally staged on a Wednesday and, until 1949, formed the centrepiece of a holiday period known as “Race Week”. The Northumberland Plate was switched to a Saturday in 1952, but remains one of the highlights of the horse racing and social calendar in North East England and is still popularly known as the “Pitmen’s Derby”. In fact, nowadays, the race is one of the most valuable races of its kind in Europe, worth over £92,000 to the winner.

 

Currently sponsored by Stobart Rail Limited, who took over from previous sponsor John Smith’s in 2017, the Northumberland Plate was run on turf until 2016 but, following the £12 million redevelopment of Newcastle Racecourse, which included the installation of a replacement all-weather, Tapeta™ surface, has been run on an artificial surface. So, too, of course, have the other major races that form part of the Northumberland Plate Festival, including the Gosforth Park Cup, a valuable 5-furlong handicap sprint run on the Friday evening and the Seaton Delaval Trophy, nowadays a £20,000 added handicap, run over the straight mile and the traditional highlight of the opening day.