By now everyone knows that anything can happen at the Cheltenham Festival. One of the biggest days on the horse racing calendar, the magic of the big stage will feel that much greater this year, with spectators back in attendance for the first time since 2020 prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
There was something strange about the eery silence of a race won behind closed doors during last year’s Festival, and their absence is only felt greater when the roar of a boisterous crowd returned to the racetrack halfway through last year.
Cheltenham promises to be a special event with plenty of shocks on the cards. With that in mind, we take a look at some of the horses who could cause a stir when it returns next month.
While he may not have secured victory in the Denman Chase, a good performance at Newbury was certainly a step in the right direction, running well but eventually falling behind winner Eldorado Allen. Despite finishing as a runner up, the Venetia Williams-trained eight-year-old saw his odds change after an unexpected podium place that changes the dynamic of the Gold Cup. Obviously, the likes of A Plus Tard and Galvin are still very much favourites in the horse racing tips, but given the unpredictability of the Festival’s showpiece event, there’s always an outside chance of a shock winner, and Royale Pagaille certainly fits the billing in that department.
Ann and Ian Hamilton’s Cheltenham story is always a brilliant one. Tommy’s Oscar is flying the flag for the owners who come into the Festival as outsiders, but with just five horses in their stable, the dream of winning the Champion Hurdle would be one that lives long in the memory. Having recorded four consecutive wins in his last races, including a victory in the Handicap Hurdle where he saw off experienced winners in First Impression and at Haydock against Global Citizen, the seven-year-old is riding the crest of a wave, something that gives him a real chance of snatching a result in a race where a lot of attention will be on Henry de Bromhead’s unbeaten Honeysuckle.
For a trainer as experienced as Willie Mullins, the Cheltenham Festival is always a great chance of adding more accolades to an already impressive legacy. He’ll be relishing the opportunity of seeing his outsider Tornado Flyer, who unexpectedly won the King George VI Chase back on Boxing Day, race again with his nephew Danny aboard as jockey. The big question is can lightning strike twice, and as the Gold Cup approaches a fantastic run at Kempton has left the conversation wide open as to who will be crowned champion.
He already saw off more experienced competition in the form of Clan Des Obeaux and Frodon last time out, and if he can replicate that magic it will make the showpiece event an interesting proposition. Mullins confirmed his entry amongst a plethora of talented Grade One stablemates in his cavalry for Cheltenham. “I image Tornado Flyer will go for the Gold Cup after having done a fantastic trial for it in Kempton,” he said. “Al Boum Photo is fit and well. Things just didn’t work out in terms of another race this season but he’s in good shape”