The Cheltenham Festival, the Mecca for National Hunt racing fans is almost upon us. Local trainers Kim Bailey, Tom George, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Fergal O'Brien, and Jonjo O'Neill will all have aspirations of bringing home a winner.
Kim Bailey’s yard looks to be in extremely good form, the yard turned out three consecutive winners on three individual days at three meetings during this last week of February.
One of only two trainers currently operating to have won the Grand National, the Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle, Bailey’s chief 2019 Festival hopes are Charbel (Ryanair Chase), Vinndication (JLT or RSA Chase), Minella Warrior (Pertemps), Rocky Treasure (Ultima Handicap Chase) and Diamond Gait in the Dawn Run Mares Novice Hurdle.
Fergal O’Brien, whose Poetic Rhythm took an Andoversford maiden before enjoying Listed and Grade 1 success, will have his hopes pinned on Benny’s Bridge, who could run in the Skybet Supreme Novice Hurdle or the County Hurdle at the 2019 Festival. Barney Dwan is another O’Brien inmate with options. He’s in the Kim Muir, the Ultima Handicap Chase and the Coral Cup over hurdles.
Cheltenham 2019 Betting Odds
With less than a fortnight until the Festival, the Cheltenham 2019 race odds are now described as ‘NRNB’ (or Non-Runner No Bet) and the latest prices show Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Al Dancer is the most likely winner from all the local yards. The six-year-old French-bred may have been unconvincing in bumpers but he is four-from-four over hurdles this season and is now the 3/1 favourite to take the curtain opening Supreme Novice Hurdle.
Given his outstanding record in the race, checking out Jonjo O'Neill runners in the National Hunt Chase is many people’s idea of finding a winner. Jonjo O’Neill has won this four-mile marathon race restricted to amateur riders no less than six times in the past. But the latest Cheltenham 2019 race odds show his two potential runners, Cloth Cap and Sky Pirate, can both be backed at 33/1.
Jonjo has just six runners amongst the early closing Cheltenham Festival races with Minella Rocco having several engagements. The 2016 National Hunt Chase winner finished runner-up in the following year’s Gold Cup but plenty of water has flowed under his bridge since.
It would be great if the O’Neill yard could rekindle some of his magic especially for owner JP McManus who has been a mainstay of the stable for as long as some of us can remember. The popular owner has his horses well spread these days and he owns a remarkable seven of the current 28 race Festival favourites. Amongst those is Buveur D’Air who is seeking to become a three-time Unibet Champion Hurdle winner following in the footsteps of Istabraq who won the two-mile hurdling crown for the Irishman three times between 1998 and 2000.
Fifth Festival appearance for Gods Own
Tom George could have a very big team at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival with his admirable veteran Gods Own, one of the most popular horses in training, spearheading his attack.
The admirable 11-year-old finished third to Altior in the 2018 Queen Mother Champion Chase and had previously taken fourth and fifth positions in this race. He was also runner-up in the 2015 Arkle Chase so this will be his fifth visit to Prestbury Park.
With many trainers conceding the unbeaten Altior is invincible over two miles many trainers may swerve a confrontation with Nicky Henderson’s charge which could see this Festival championship race cut-up badly and who knows? Gods Own might just bring home a silver of bronze medal once again.