Lucky Luke's Cheltenham Notebook: Part Six



We are now just three weeks from the big meeting at Cheltenham and with the ante-post markets really starting to take shape, everybody has almost played their final cards before the Festival.

This weekend is pretty much the last chance to pick up any final clues and there’s plenty of action to enjoy with racing at Kempton and Fairyhouse to name just a couple.

Where ever there is racing, our resident racing pundit ‘Lucky Luke’ is never far behind and with Festival fever just about to strike, our main man is back again with the latest scribble in his Cheltenham Notebook.

Nicholls Steals The Saturday Show

The focus of my blog last week was on trainer Paul Nicholls, and he certainly didn’t disappoint last Saturday with eight winners across the cards, including five at the day’s feature meeting at Ascot.

  1. Quel Destin – Haydock
  2. Brio Conti – Ascot
  3. Magic Saint – Wincanton
  4. Clan Des Obeaux – Ascot
  5. Grand Sancy – Wincanton
  6. Cyrname – Ascot
  7. Worthy Farm – Ascot
  8. Silver Forever - Ascot

His winners there included Brio Conti, Clan Des Obeaux, Cyrname, Worthy Farm and Silver Forever, but it was two of those that impressed me in particular.

The first was Clan Des Obeaux, who of course won the King George VI Chase at Kempton over Christmas. He faced just three rivals in the Denman Chase, albeit a tricky one at least in the shape of Terrefort. He would prove a decent opponent, but Clan Des Obeaux is a horse on an upward curve and he quite simply proved his class at the Royal course.

Still, on the bridle coming down to the last, he leapt it with some style and landed running to score comfortably from Terrefort by 11 lengths. That is a performance that has put him into 4/1 second favourite for the Gold Cup at Betfred, and given that Presenting Percy is still to go over fences this season, CDO has certainly got the best form in the book so far this campaign.

As for the other Nicholls’ eyecatcher, that was by far Cyrname. I’d go as far to say that his victory in the Ascot Chase was the performance of the season. He jumped impeccably throughout, literally pinging every fence, and when the pressure came from behind him down the home straight he was game enough to kick on from the front to win by an impressive 17 lengths. If you haven’t had a chance to watch the race yet, I strongly recommend digging it up on the Internet somewhere, it was simply spectacular.

Sadly, at least for us racing fans, connections have confirmed he won’t be heading for Cheltenham and is instead likely to take up options later in the spring with the Punchestown Gold Cup a possible target, ahead of a King George bid next season.

Tiger Roll In Tip Top Shape

There is no horse, other than the two I own shares in, that I love more than Tiger Roll. After backing him on the course at Cheltenham to win the Cross Country last year and then sticking with him for the Grand National, he is a horse that reminds me of so many good memories.

It's not just me that loves the Tiger though, he’s become a fan favourite in recent years and it was great to see him get back to winning ways this week in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan. After the race, his trainer Gordon Elliot admitted that he was only 75% fit and was only running as a pipe-opener for Cheltenham. If that really is this case, then I’ll be backing him to land a famous double once again.

Tiger Rolls for everyone!

Laurina All Set For Champion Challenge

After being told by Timeform’s Irish Editor, Billy Nash, that Laurina was the best Irish horse in training at his firm’s Cheltenham preview night last year, I’ve kept a close eye on her ever since.

She blew away the field in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival last year and her performances have been top drawer since then to extend her impeccable record to six straight wins since moving to Willie Mullins.

She was again good this week to win the Quevega Mares Hurdle by six lengths, and I think she could be slightly underrated if she does head to the Champion Hurdle. Of course, Buveur D’Air and fellow mare Apple’s Jade both have Festival wins on the board, but I just sense that Ruby Walsh has taken a little liking to her and nobody knows what it takes to win at Cheltenham better than him.

Dovecote Headlines Kempton Card

With Cheltenham now less than three weeks away there’s not too much to get excited about this weekend in way of clues for the big meeting. The majority of the big names are now wrapped up in cotton wool with their connections just hoping and praying they can make it to mid-March in one piece.

There is though, still some action that is worth writing about in the UK this weekend and that comes from Kempton, where the Grade Two Dovecote Hurdle tops the card at 3:00pm.

The main attraction is the Nicky Henderson-trained Angels Breath, who is one from one since joining the champion trainer. He was a 6/4f winner of the Supreme Trial at Ascot in December and is one of two runners for his owners that could head to the Supreme. The other being the current favourite for the Festival opener in Al Dancer.

This is likely to decide whether or not they take each other on, but from what we have seen so far, there’s little to put you off him this weekend.

National Clues On Offer In The Bobbyjo

As for the Irish angle on my blog this weekend that comes from Fairyhouse where there’s a tasty looking Bobbyjo Chase to get stuck into.

The Grade Three gets underway at 4:00pm on Saturday afternoon with Alpha Des Obeaux likely to go off favourite for Gordon Elliot and Jack Kennedy. There are plenty of Grand National candidates in the mix with Willie Mullins declaring Rathvinden and last year’s National runner-up Pleasant Company.

For this one though, I’m going for Magic Of Light who is an improving mare from the yard of Jessica Harrington. She gets weight in her favour and is yet to be unplaced this season, including a win in a Mares’ Grade Two at Ascot. She’ll have to mix it with the big boys this time but I think she has the class to cope and the step-up in trip should be ideal.


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