Paul Woloszyn focuses on previous Cheltenham Festival form as he bids to unearth a couple of candidates who may have been underestimated this year.
In the countdown to the Cheltenham Festival there are certain things that you can rely on year on year.
Simon Claisse’s daily going updates, word of an Irish handicap blot coming from a festival preview night and that there will be a day one acca which has got the bookies running for cover.
As well as all that a phrase you’ll hear a lot at this time of year is the importance of ‘festival form’. A crucial factor when putting together your shortlists for those all important winners, the experts will tell you, and history tells us that they would be right.
National Hunt legends Arkle, Istabraq and Big Buck’s all tasted festival success four times, while wondermare Quevega visited the winner’s enclosure on no less than six occasions. However, all were strongly fancied to do so. Much better cases of horses who left their best form for that week in March include Albertas Run, the winner of an RSA and two Ryanairs, who narrowly failed to claim another when beaten half a length in 2012, and the legendary Willie Wumpkins, a festival stalwart who won the race now known as the Pertemps three years in a row from 1979 to 1981 at prices of 25/1, 10/1 and 13/2 – the last of which at the grand old age of 13.
In recent years Cause Of Causes is without doubt the biggest flagbearer for festival form. Victory for Gordon Elliott’s charge in last year’s cross country followed success in the four-miler in 2015 and the Kim Muir a year later, a race he also finished a narrow runner-up in at the 2014 Festival. It’s fair to say the 10-year-old likes Cheltenham and will look to etch his name further into festival folklore in a couple of weeks’ time when he attempts to defend his cross country crown.
Lining up against him, however, is another horse with a penchant for Prestbury Park. When Tiger Roll won the Triumph Hurdle under Davy Russell in 2014 few would have predicted that three years later the son of Authorized would return to taste glory again in the National Hunt Chase.
Yet that is exactly what he did, powering up the hill for a three-length success to the delight of punters on at a starting price of 16/1.
He hasn’t won since that day but a 10-length third at Wexford in the run before his victory last year wouldn’t have exactly filled you with confidence then either. That’s the magic of festival form.
So, who else goes into this year’s showpiece with previous enhancing their claims?
One of the most fascinating is the enigma that is Yorkhill. Although he’s disappointed on both of his outings this term, the two times he’s had the Cheltenham air in his nostrils before he’s emerged victorious and if anyone is going to get him back to his best it’s Willie Mullins.
Whether even that would be good enough to deny Buveur D’Air in the Champion Hurdle (assuming that’s where he goes) is debatable, but the 9/2 on offer in the market without the favourite offers plenty of appeal.
Click on the image below for Sky Bet's 'betting without Buveur D'Air' market...
Un Temps Pour Tout underlined the merits of festival form last year when gaining back-to-back wins in the Ultima Handicap Chase. Injury has denied David Pipe’s charge the chance of a famous day one hat-trick but lurking at 20/1 for the 2018 renewal is another contender with a fine festival record.
Second last year in the Kim Muir, when looking like the winner after the last, Pendra was also placed at the 2014 festival, while in 2015 Charlie Longsdon’s 10-year-old was again in the mix, finishing fifth. As well as the Ultima he once again has the Kim Muir as an alternative option.
Another handicap featuring a couple of contenders with good memories of the festival is the Brown Advisory Plate where Tully East, a winner last year who was also fourth at the 2016 meeting, meets Ballyalton, whose two appearances have seen him win and before that finish second behind Faugheen in the 2014 Neptune. Ian Williams’ charge is a very interesting 25/1 shot for the 2m 4f chase.
Meanwhile, in the Gold Cup, Might Bite, Sizing John, Killultagh Vic, Road To Respect and Minella Rocco all have past Cheltenham Festival success to their names, but it is undoubtedly the last named who has been the horse to show the biggest improvement from their form over the rest of the season during festival week.
A winner, beating Native River, of the 2016 National Hunt Chase, he again left a miserable campaign behind last year when arriving at Cheltenham an 18/1 shot to be a Gold Cup runner-up.
If festival form is anything to go by, Jonjo O’Neill’s eight-year-old will be a player again this time.