Cheltenham fever is really grabbing hold now with only a week until the greatest race meeting in the world (only a personal opinion!).
Thursday, Mar 13
JLT Novices' Chase - Vukovar is the horse I'm looking forward to seeing run here. Did you know his trainer Harry Fry has been operating with an incredible strike rate for most of the new season? This horse has been the subject of much chat since his arrival from France and despite being turned over on his British debut at Warwick he made amends by winning very easily at Newbury on his second start for his new trainer in December. He's only a five-year-old and the Newbury race he won has been taken by some real stars in the past, including Kauto Star and Cue Card, and this horse also could be top class.
Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle - Fingal Bay has top weight to carry, but he also has bags of class and his trainer Philip Hobbs has been in great form this season. He is also favourite in an ultra-competitive handicap. However, it's worth bearing in mind he is five from six over hurdles - three of those were in Grade 2 company and one at the highest level. He returned from 14 months off with a tendon injury in a handicap at Exeter in early February and won cosily. Hobbs had considered running in the World Hurdle, he's still in the race, but off a mark of 148 he can win this.
Al Ferof! I NEED this horse to run here and I need him to win!
Alex on the Ryanair Chase
Quotes of the week
Ryanair Chase - Al Ferof! I NEED this horse to run here and I need him to win! He is in my Sky Sports 10-to-follow list and I can still win the most prestigious competition being run this jumps season. That aside, this looks the ideal race for John Hales' grey, he doesn't look like he's crying out for the trip of the Gold Cup and although the Champion Chase is now without it's stand out performer, I don't think he wants two miles at this level either.
World Hurdle - Big Buck's may have a fight on his hands if WM decides to run Annie Power. I said last week that if I was going to try and second guess the trainer he would send his unbeaten mare to the stayers' race rather than run in the Champion Hurdle or Mares' Hurdle. I would hate to see Big Buck's beaten again, but my head tells me that this mare would be a tough opponent stepped up in trip. Big Buck's will have improved for his first run back, but he showed his fallibility in the Cleeve and this is an improving freak of a mare who has a chance in whatever race she runs in.
At Fishers Cross has been held back by physical problems, but he ran much better to be second in the Cleeve and only just failed to win. In the same ownership is More Of That, but Jonjo O'Neill trains this horse for JP McManus. He comes here with an unbeaten record and won his fourth and latest start in the Relkeel here in December. He is yet to run beyond two and a half miles, but is an improving young horse who has stayers in his pedigree. He looks an exciting long-term prospect and presents AP with another headache. In summary, Annie Power is a huge threat to Big Buck's if she runs here, but when Paul Nicholls says his staying champion is his best chance of a winner at the festival you take notice.
Byrne Group Plate Handicap Chase - Nigel Twiston-Davies has trained Double Ross to win two races this season and he's the sort of horse who you like to have on your side in a battle. He's three from six at Cheltenham and has also been placed twice at Prestbury Park. He holds four entries this week, including in the Grade 1 RSA Chase, so if he runs here I'd be very interested - remember Sky Bet are non-runner no bet on all the races throughout the week so there's nothing to lose.
Kim Muir Handicap Chase - Indian Castle is short for a race of this nature, but Donald McCain usually targets the contest and that makes him hard to overlook. He jumps well for a novice and is very consistent, there will be worse bets to be had this week. It's always worth taking note of jockey bookings in this amateur race and having a top jock on side can make all the difference.
Click here to read Alex's thoughts on the Tuesday at Cheltenham.
Click here to read Alex's thoughts on the Wednesday at Cheltenham.