Ed Chamberlin tips up the final two days of the Cheltenham Festival and explains why he's favouring, amongst others, Vukovar, Bobs Worth and Thomas Edison...
No horse has made a bigger impression on me this season than Vukovar did at Newbury just after Christmas. He looked the absolute business in the paddock and didn't disappoint on the track, bolting up while putting in as impressive a round of jumping as you will see from a novice. He looked like a star of the future. Vukovar looks tailor-made for the JLT and this is a horse we are set to hear a lot more of.
I follow Phillip Hobbs blind in Pertemps qualifiers and will do the same in next week's final. The stable seem to have supreme confidence in Fingal Bay. He must have been infuriating to train but when he's right and fit, Fingal Bay is massively talented and has only been beaten twice on the racecourse when he's completed. Fingal Bay looked as good as ever last month at Exeter and remains on a winning mark.
Sports fans love a heavyweight clash and Big Bucks v Annie Power should be very special.
Quotes of the week
If Dynaste is back to the form of his Betfair Chase run he will win the Ryanair with ease. That form, splitting Cue Card and Silviniaco Conti, is different class to the rest of the field. He ran a shocker in the King George but the good news is that five of the last six winners have been beaten in the Kempton showpiece; the bad news is how far he was beaten that day because Dynaste now has questions to answer. I also worry how easily Benefficient mowed him down up the hill last year. Baily Green would be the each-way play if Mouse Morris sent him here.
Sports fans love a heavyweight clash and racing has been lucky in recent times with Kauto Star v Denman. Thursday has something to rival that: Big Bucks v Annie Power - the old master against the new female superstar - has a different dynamic but should be very special. The Champion Hurdle may have lost something without Annie Power in the field but it's brought the World Hurdle to life. It's a showdown that should capture the imaginations of sports fans as well as racing fanatics. Racing must take advantage.
The two key questions that need answering: 1. Can Big Bucks improve enough on his reappearance to regain his crown at the age of 11? Will Annie Power stay?
Solwhit won a slowly run World Hurdle last season. This year's race will be a total contrast. Paul Nicholls' entries will ensure there's pace from the off and it's a thorough test of stamina. There will be no hiding place. Guesswork is involved but I think it's a tall order to go from being beaten by Knockara Beau to winning a World Hurdle within a few weeks, though Paul Nicholls' confidence is infectious, and that Annie Power WILL stay and will win impressively. She is the brightest star in racing and can take a giant leap forward next week. It would cost me a fortune but I'd also love to see Big Bucks win. What a great story that would be.
The winners of the Byrne Group Plate and Kim Muir look harder to pick than a broken nose.
Day Three selections: Vukovar (nap), Fingal Bay, Baily Green, Annie Power
Bar the Gold Cup, I'm not normally too fussed about the Friday at the Festival. This year my mind will be firmly fixed on a potentially epic Super Sunday with Manchester United v Liverpool and Tottenham v Arsenal.
That said, day four looks brilliant this year and will go a long way to deciding if the Chamberlin family will have food on the table this weekend as there are plenty of decent betting opportunities.
The children are putting pressure on me to back Broughton in the Triumph Hurdle as that is the name of our village. More importantly I'm told the top judge Michael Shinners was keen on his chance at the excellent preview night at Elland Road on Wednesday. Activial made a big impression at Kempton, while the Nicholls team seem bullish about Calipto who beat Activial at Newbury in November.
In the County Hurdle my old friend Thomas Edison could line up. He put up one of the most eye-catching performances of the season at Down Royal in November. I then tipped him to win the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham, which he won - but as a loose horse after colliding with a caller at the fourth flight and depositing AP McCoy on the deck. Thomas Edison remains really well handicapped and badly due a change of luck.
The Albert Bartlett is set to be one of the races of the week with two high class novices going head to head. The race looks like a straight match between Kings Palace and Briar Hill. I'd be amazed if anything is good enough to match these two. It promises to be an epic battle as Kings Palace will be the hare and Ruby Walsh will stalk him on last year's Bumper winner and hope to pounce in the straight. If Tom Scudamore gets the pace right at the front Kings Palace's superior jumping could prove decisive as he should be a tough nut to crack up the hill. I've been harping on in this column about Kings Palace for weeks but will be having a saver on Briar Hill, who's likely to go off favourite, as the race looks like a match and he's a major threat.
Bobs Worth has done this column such a good turn at the last three Festivals that there's no way I'm deserting him in the Gold Cup. If he's in contention at the bottom of the hill, Bobs Worth will win again as no horse puts his head down and flies up the Cheltenham hill like him.
Caid du Berlais is another horse I have tipped here recently but let us down at Doncaster in a novice chase last time. Switched back to hurdles in the Martin Pipe Conditionals Handicap Hurdle he looks a very interesting runner and even more so after Paul Nicholls admitted to having backed him. He ran a blinder to finish second to Flaxen Flare in last year's Fred Winter so we know he relishes a contest like this and the extra half mile will definitely suit him.
Day Four selections: Thomas Edison, Kings Palace, Caid du Berlais