Barton, Hors La Loi 111 and Youlneverwalkalone – any one or all three could be centre stage at the world’s biggest jumps meeting, the Cheltenham Festival in March. First, they clash in Saturday’s Bonusprint Bula Hurdle over the Gloucestershire course and what a dress rehearsal they provide.
Will there be a Martin Pipe-A P McCoy encore with Exit Swinger? National Hunt racing’s fabulous duo delivered in last month’s Cheltenham showpiece, the Thomas Pink Gold Cup with Lady Cricket. Exit Swinger was a bold second to his stable companion that day and Pipe has had this in mind for this ex-French chaser.
Throw in Tiutchev and you have a programme of championship proportions. Tiutchev recently suffered a sore joint but has recovered in time for the re-opened Doubleprint Tingle Creek Chase, which has been rescued from last weekend’s abandoned Sandown meeting.
But first that tremendous trio of hurdlers. Barton returned to the fray with a faultless winning exhibition at Newcastle last month. He missed last season with tendon trouble after spreadeagling the field for the Royal & SunAlliance Hurdle at the 1999 Festival.
Hors La Loi 111 chased home mighty Istabraq in the Champion Hurdle last March and Youlneverwalkalone looked oh-so-impressive when held up for a late winning thrust at Fairyhouse on Sunday. All three are out of the top drawer. Take time to savour this pre-Festival showdown.
A 15lb hike in the weights following the withdrawal of the three topweights means thatMcCoy can comfortably do 10st 13lb on Exit Swinger in the Tripleprint. However, Red Marauder blew up in fourth place behind Exit Swinger here last month and will strip considerably fitter.
Red Marauder is now 4lb better off and ran a cracker to finish fifth in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury a fortnight ago. The soft ground and shorter trip will be right up his street.
Tiutchev’s sole aim this winter is to wrest the two mile chasing crown from Edredon Bleu. He will get his chance in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Festival, where last year he won the Arkle Trophy. But first the last two winners of the Tingle Creek, Direct Route and Flagship Uberalles will put him to the test here.
There won’t be many more informative days between now and the Festival.