With the Cheltenham Festival kicking off tomorrow (10-13 March), we have asked Henrietta Knight, Marcus Armytage, Nick Skelton, Philip Kirby, Kim Bailey and Chris Gordon who they think will clean up during the highlight of the National Hunt calendar…
Henrietta Knight, Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning trainer and author
Pentland Hills, pictured above (Unibet Champion Hurdle): I have always liked this horse; he started his jumping at my yard when he came off the Flat and was always a natural. He is not inconvenienced by soft ground, plus he is in good form at the moment and loves Cheltenham.
Benie Des Dieux (Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle OR Stayers’ Hurdle): I am certain she will win whichever race she goes in. She is an outstanding mare and not many horses can touch her in a race. She fell at the final hurdle at the Festival last year, but has since won some big races — she really is a freak of a mare.
Goshen (JCB Triumph Hurdle): I have been very impressed by this horse throughout his career, both over hurdles and on the Flat beforehand. He always wins by large margins, and he has great pedigree being sired by Authorized.
A Wave Of The Sea (JCB Triumph Hurdle): an outside chance for this race, but I have known the horse since seeing him as a yearling in Ireland and he has great action and build. Now racing over hurdles, he’s proving to have a very good technique — I said to his owner from day one that he’d be a future Triumph Hurdle winner.
Minella Melody (Daylesford Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle): she is a lovely filly and I watched her win a maiden hurdle at Cork in November. She is very impressive and could go a long way.
Marcus Armytage, H&H racing correspondent
Easysland, pictured above (Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase): the French raider was an easy winner over the course in December and is a nice winner of his last six races. He had a perfect warm-up race at Pau. Tiger Roll is a too short price for a horse that only started cantering in January — he can’t possibly be as geared up for this year’s race as he was for the last two years.
Lieutenant Rocco (Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle): this horse is a long-priced, each-way chance. One of two possible runners in the race for trainer Colin Tizzard, Lieutenant Rocco has hacked up by wide margins over 2½ miles on heavy in his two starts this season — could improve further over three miles.
Nick Skelton, Olympian and father of trainer Dan Skelton
Allmankind, pictured above (JCB Triumph Hurdle): ridden by my son, Harry, and trained by Dan. I really believe he has a great chance.
Clan Des Obeaux (Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase): I think Paul Nicholls had this horse spot on at Kempton when he won the King George on Boxing Day. He then gave him a break and I’m sure he’s got him fresh again for the Gold Cup at the Festival.
Tom Peacock, H&H racing correspondent
Esprit Du Large, pictured above (Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase): Grade One winner in December and a lightly raced horse, who still seems a little under the radar.
Presenting Percy (Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup): I can’t give up on a horse that has won twice at the Festival already and was not quite himself last season. He will be at his best on the day and has real each-way potential.
A Great View (Pertemps Network Final Hurdle): managed to finish sixth in this race two years ago despite making a terrible mistake at an important time. Caught the eye last time out and could be interesting.
Philip Kirby, Cheltenham Festival trainer
Lady Buttons, pictured above (Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle): she is a very straightforward horse to train — relaxed and talented — who loves her work and does as little or as much as is required. Jumping is her strong point, and I am not running her just to make up the numbers — she deserves the chance to run at the Festival. She ran a bit disappointingly at the Festival last year, finishing fourth in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, however, we won’t know if it’s a “track thing” until she underperforms again there.
Kim Bailey, Cheltenham Festival trainer
Imperial Aura, pictured above (Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase): we hope this horse is very much on the up — he ran well twice at Cheltenham and goes there with a great chance.
Vinndication (Ultima Chase): winner of seven of his nine races, but he is a big weight in a competitive handicap chase. He’s a good horse who, with luck and a clear run, will run a blinder.
Newtide (National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase): should stay and loves the ground — a good outside chance.
Two For Gold (Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Chase): has had a great season so far, winning three out of four races. If he runs, it will be a tough task in a big-field handicap, but has a chance of being placed.
Happygolucky (Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle): a progressive hurdler, who has had a break in preparation for the Festival. Ground a big worry because he wouldn’t want it too soft, but feeling very fresh and well.
Espoir De Romay (Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle): won two out of three over hurdles this season. A huge horse, who has progressed all season. He won easily last time out in not a great race — placing chance but he has a big future over fences next season.
Chris Gordon, Cheltenham Festival trainer
On The Slopes (Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Chase): certainly my best chance at this year’s Festival by a long way. He has surprised us all this season, because he’s quite a slow work horse at home. We’ve been shortening his trip and he seems to be getting faster with it. He has bags of speed and I think he deserves to be at the Festival, plus two miles around Cheltenham will suit him.
Highway One O One, pictured above (Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Chase): has been a great horse for our yard but has lost his way a bit recently. However, we have worked hard on his jumping and done a lot of schooling with him at home. He wouldn’t want much more rain though.
Don’t miss our Cheltenham Festival preview in 5 March issue of Horse & Hound, and read the full report in the 19 March issue.