Horse Racing with Jason Hall

THE Cheltenham Festival in March is unequivocally the centrepiece of the National Hunt calendar and with each passing month of the season the thoughts of every racing player and supporter alike are geared towards whether they have a horse that could fulfil their dreams and ambitions and realise success at the most vaunted arena in the equine racing world.

The questions posed by the media to trainers, jockeys and owners after any notable win are with Cheltenham in mind as it is freely presumed that the only place to seal the mark of real quality is at the home of jump racing in March. Whilst the merit of such an assumption can be questioned, that is the reality of the modern age and it sits well enough with the majority.

As ever, Cheltenham is widely anticipated to provide definitive answers and this season one particular National Hunt division is catching the imagination and the headlines.

The novice chasing category has attracted a great deal of attention this season with the thought that a large number of previously high class hurdlers transferring to the larger obstacles will provide a ‘golden’ year within the division widely hyped by the racing media.

Realistically, the novice chasers of 2010/11 looked a pretty moderate bunch at the time and that has been borne out by their progress this term so it would not take that much for this season’s young guns to rise above them.

So what have we seen to this point? Grand Crus from the David Pipe yard has taken all the plaudits on this side of the Irish Sea and is generally seen as the horse to beat in the novice staying division, whilst the impressive success of Sprinter Sacre at Kempton’s Christmas meeting has resulted in him being proclaimed the undisputed king of the novice speedsters.

Further embellishments from doting connections regarding these two individuals abilities has strengthened the belief of many within the dedicated racing media and in some instances the veracity of their opinion is such that you get the feeling they think that all bets on the horses in question achieving Cheltenham glory should be paid out now.

Time may prove that the many fonts of wisdom that have drawn these ebullient views were indeed correct, but it is always wise to temper enthusiasm by at least recalling past experience.

Kauto Star, Master Minded, Dunguib and Cue Card are just a few examples of horses about whom it was said victory was a formality prior to recent Festivals, but who on the day of reckoning came up short and earnt the bookmakers’ a fortune.

At this time, who could not fail to like the credentials of both Sprinter Sacre and Grand Crus but my point is caution and not to get too caught up in the hype about something that is still three months down the line.

From a personal perspective, I will definitely not be opposing Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle or Big Bucks in the World Hurdle though neither of those views are particularly earth shattering.

I would be very surprised if Kauto Star could win another Gold Cup despite the renewed enthusiasm of so many of his supporters after what has been a remarkable season for the racing legend to date.

The one horse that has caught my eye is the Irish trained Last Instalment who is a great jumper and looks to stay really well. I am yet to be convinced he has the quality to win his potential target, the RSA Chase, but the signs are encouraging though soft ground could be important.

There is racing at Plumpton on Monday with the first race of a seven race card at 1.40pm.