THE centrepiece of the National Hunt season, the Cheltenham Festival, takes place next week and, as befits the most anticipated four days in the turf calendar, the dedicated racing media have been steadily building up the huge level of expectation for what is always a wonderful spectacle. And the event which epitomises everything that imprints this sport into the hearts of its legion of supporters.
More than 250,000 people will flock to Prestbury Park for a meeting that will culminate on Friday with the showpiece event of the week, the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
This season the race is a crossroads for two generations. The elder stalwarts hope to maintain their dominance for at best another year whilst the young upstarts will arrive fresh-faced with the clear intention of sweeping aside the wizened professionals. The courage and bravery required to achieve that aim will without question surprise the newcomers.
Three miles and two furlongs of unrelenting pace, with 22 fences thrown in for good measure, has broken the heart of many talented horses in years gone by and this year will be no different.
Of course, ultimately only one from either side can etch their name on this most prized trophy and whilst the convergence of youth and experience is intriguing, establishing who will receive the post race accolades is as usual a desperately difficult affair. A myriad of facts, figures and interpretations produce nothing but more questions. Eventually an opinion is required, which, if held strongly enough, may tempt the holder into backing it up with hard cash.
Unfortunately, this year I do not have such a strong opinion but I am certain that the race will once again produce a thrilling contest, captivating to such a degree that immediately afterwards fans will be yearning for more and forming fresh opinions on what will win the very same Gold Cup next year.
This time around I would tentatively suggest Pandorama on soft ground at a nice each-way price.
Many of our local trainers have entries at the Festival and they include Suzy Smith, Jamie Poulton, Sheena West, Nick Gifford and Gary Moore. It will be a notable achievement for any of them to achieve a winner when every race at the Festival is so ferociously contested.
I recall Lewes trainer Suzy Smith being narrowly denied when her mare Material World ran such a brave second a few years ago. Suzy will be hoping the rain stays away for Aimigayle, who has a number of entries in various races and on the best of her form the mare holds claims to be competitive in whichever race Suzy decides upon.
Meanwhile, Telscombe-based trainer Jamie Poulton will be hoping the heavens open for his tough stayer Ballyfoy in the Kim Muir, a race for amateur riders.
Sheena West has three or four entries in the handicap hurdles and Gary Moore will be hoping Megastar can show his real worth. Possibly a step up in trip on decent ground will help the horse.
The best of luck to all the trainers and jockeys from our area who will be competing at Cheltenham next week.
One trainer from our region that won’t be represented is Diana Grissell.
However, the Brightling trainer has a very nice young horse on her hands in the shape of Arbeo, who recently scored a second success from just two racecourse appearances. From the same family as the talented pair Bachelors Hall and Aquilifer, the five-year-old is from the first crop of the highly promising stallion Brian Boru who famously won the Racing Post Trophy and the St Leger.
Arbeo is a staying prospect with a future.