Ben Linfoot looks back on the Cheltenham Festival winners that had their final prep race on Saturday’s cards at Kempton and Warwick.
With around eight weeks to go until the Cheltenham Festival Saturday’s cards at Kempton and Warwick have traditionally thrown up many winners for the March spectacle with the timing perfect for those horses best off a two-month break.
The Grade Two Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick has been a particularly good source of Festival winners and this year’s renewal looks well worth keeping an eye on with Shan Blue and Decor Irlandais potentially among those in action.
The McCoy Contractors Civil Engineering Classic Handicap Chase on the same card is more likely to unearth a Grand National hopeful – like it did with One For Arthur a couple of years ago – but there are a few options for staying chasers at Cheltenham and the next High Chimes could well be lurking down the field.
2005 – No Refuge
NO REFUGE won the Leamington Novices’ Hurdle by three lengths at Warwick in 2005 for Howard Johnson and Graham Wylie, although he jumped to his right and hung to his left so he didn’t exactly look the most straightforward prospect with Cheltenham in mind. His hurdling improved markedly at the Festival, though, and he knuckled down well under Graham Lee to see off Racing Demon by three parts of a length in the then Royal & SunAlliance Hurdle.
2008 – High Chimes
Evan Williams’ only Cheltenham Festival winner so far has been HIGH CHIMES in the 2008 Kim Muir and he went to the Festival freshened up after running in the Classic Chase at Warwick on his previous start. Prior to Warwick he’d been in pretty good form in two runs at Haydock and was sent off at 5/1 for the Classic Chase, but he was pulled up before the 17th with jockey Paul Moloney reporting his horse ‘never travelled’.
2008 – Nenuphar Collonges
The gallant Carruthers hosed up in the 2008 Leamington Novices’ Hurdle but the form was emphatically reversed in the Albert Bartlett when NENUPHAR COLLONGES, 12 lengths behind in second at Warwick, gained Cheltenham Festival success for Alan King and Robert Thornton. A winner over three miles at Cheltenham in the December of that season, Nenuphar Collonges dropped in trip for the Warwick race but thrived when stepped back up in trip two months later at the Festival.
2011 – Buena Vista
The Lanzarote Hurdle found back-to-back Cheltenham Festival winners in 2011-2012 and both took some finding, judging by their prep runs at Kempton at least. In 2011 David Pipe’s BUENA VISTA was the reigning champion in the Pertemps Final but his prospects of following up looked bleak when he finished a tailed off 144-length 15th in the Lanzarote on January 15. However, he settled into his customary groove up front back at Cheltenham, winning a second Pertemps at 20/1 under Conor O’Farrell.
2012 – Son Of Flicka
Fast forward 12 months and the Lanzarote unearthed another unlikely Cheltenham Festival winner, this time SON OF FLICKA for Donald McCain. Beaten 52 lengths in 13th at 66/1 at Kempton on January 14, a 60-day break and a 7lb drop in the weights helped work the oracle and he fairly bolted up in the Coral Cup under Jason Maguire at 16/1, beating Get Me Out Of Here by over three lengths thanks to a strong finish up the Cheltenham hill.
2013 – Holywell
HOLYWELL cut a frustrating figure at the start of the 2012-13 season, finishing second at Aintree and Haydock and he subsequently edged up the weights despite not winning. Another second in the Pertemps qualifier at Warwick on January 12 seemed to do his Festival prospects more harm than good as he had now gone up a stone for three seconds in three starts. Jonjo O'Neill reached for the first-time blinkers in the Pertemps Final, however, and the headgear helped him to a clear-cut Cheltenham Festival success at odds of 25/1.
2017 – Willoughby Court
WILLOUGHBY COURT first announced himself as a top-class horse with his barnstorming win in the Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick in 2017. Ben Pauling’s horse made all under David Bass for an eight-length victory and he followed it up two months later after getting the better of Neon Wolf in a ding-dong battle for the then Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle.