Tomorrow... The Cheltenham Festival and four days of scintillating jump racing action begins. It is one of the finest sporting occasions staged in this country when the supreme athleticism of the very best racehorses in Ireland and Great Britain is matched by the bravery of jockeys, the anticipation of owners and trainers and the joy of the tens of thousands of people who descend upon Prestbury Park to be a part of this jump racing spectacle.
This season Wincanton Racecourse has played its part in the preparations of a handful of horses who head to the Festival next week with very real chances of landing some of racing’s most coveted prizes and it is not for nothing that racing stalwarts head to Wincanton with regularity knowing the chances are they will see a potential superstar in action.
Perhaps top of the list is Anthony Honeyball’s Acey Milan who has proved himself as good as any bumper horse this season with three impressive victories. The first came at Wincanton on December 7; he followed up at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day and then at Newbury in February where he sauntered to an 11 lengths win. He’s 10-1 for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper and a win for the Dorset-based handler, who is rapidly ascending the training ranks, would be hugely popular.
Paul Nicholls has a strong hand of contenders over the four days including the exciting young chaser Modus who is as short as 7-1 for the JLT Novices’ Chase. After an exceptional hurdling career, he won his chasing debut at Bangor, followed up in Wincanton’s Grade 2 John Romans Park Homes "Rising Stars" Novices' Chase in November and then took a tumble at Exeter on heavy ground. He put that right at Kempton where he made all to win the Matchbook VIP Graduation Chase and is regarded as one of Nicholls’ best chances at the Festival.
Unioniste, who won Wincanton’s Stewart Tory Memorial Open Hunters' Chase on Feb 1, will be one of Nicholls’ contenders for the St James’ Place Foxhunter Chase and he will be ridden by Mr David Maxwell who owns him.
Colin Tizzard’s chances at the Festival include White Moon who has rapidly progressed through the ranks since winning a maiden hurdle at Wincanton on October 20. He’ll go for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle or the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. Kilbricken Storm, who landed Wincanton’s EBF Stallions "National Hunt" Novices' Hurdle in November, is also likely to run in the Albert Bartlett with Tizzard saying as a thorough stayer he has every chance. Kim Bailey’s Red River, seen winning at Wincanton in October, is another set for the Albert Bartlett.
Dan Skelton saddled Ch’Tibello to finish second to Elgin in the Betway Kingwell Hurdle and he’s set to line up in the Unibet Champion Hurdle while Embole, who landed the Betway National Hunt Novices’ Hurdle on the same day, is set for the Boodles Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
The Harry Fry-trained Drumcliffe, who won well at the course in November, will run in either the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase or the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase and Robert Walford’s exciting mare Smaoineamh Alainn, who has won both her starts this season, including at Wincanton in October, has an entry in the Randox County Hurdle.
It’s been a vintage season in terms of quality at Wincanton with more future stars likely to be in action this Thursday, March 8 with the first of seven races, sponsored by Smarkets, off at 2.10pm.