Cheltenham: Defending champion Delta to work hard for Royal punters
There is no other feeling in the world like backing a winner at Cheltenham. That rush of blood you feel when your runner comes into contention as it swoops around the home bend with just one more flight to take.
You can hear the excitement of the crowd through the TV speakers as you too lose the run of yourself and begin shouting like never before.
Whether you’ve had it ante post since before Christmas or picked it because you like the colours, or you heard it from someone at work who said “Yea, I got word for this”, it brings that feeling of unbridled joy only the Cheltenham Festival can provide.
There is no real greater sight in National Hunt racing as we saw on the opening day today (Tuesday), as the runners descend from the top of Cleeve Hill and run down towards “this tremendous natural amphitheatre” as once described by Sir Peter O’Sullevan, creating even more history in the most historic of racing venues.
If you’re deciding to delve into the action or simply sitting back to watch some more magic unfold, here’s a Royal County Lucky 15 to keep on side over the next few days.
Gordon Elliott is yet to taste success in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase but he looks set to finally break his duck this time around with the unbeaten Gerri Colombe.
The Robcour-owned gelding is seven from seven under Rules for Elliott including back to back Grade 1s in his last two starts at Limerick and Sandown. While both of those performances came over two and a half miles, the manner in which he won the Scilly Isles Chase last time suggests the step up to three miles should prove no issue to the son of Saddle Maker. He still looks to be learning on the job and that was evident at Sandown with a few novicey errors which could cost him in a race of this magnitude, but any significant improvement may see him hard to beat and he looks a proper staying chaser in the making.
Elliott’s record in the Cross Country Chase is a lot stronger with the trainer collecting four of the last six running's, and defending champion Delta Work looks set to make it back-to-back successes in the 3m6f marathon event.
The Gigginstown-owned gelding has been campaigned this season with this race in mind since the start, and a pipe opener in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan last time where he finished sixth behind Blazing Khal is likely to have him spot on for the job on hand.
He has made two appearances over the Cross-Country tracks at Punchestown and Cheltenham this season, winning by a head at the former on his first start for 225 days last November before running a good race to finish third behind Back On The Lash over course and distance in January carrying a huge weight off a mark of 160.
Stablemate Galvin provides an intriguing rival who is tackling this sphere for the first time after two poor runs in Grade 1s this season. There will be no question about his stamina, as was seen when winning the Nationa Hunt Chase at the 2020 festival, but he will need to be at his very best to lower the colours of Delta Work who knows his way around the most unique of courses.
If there is one horse you should back at the Cheltenham Festival this week it has to be Final Orders in the Grand Annual on Wednesday.
Gavin Cromwell’s gelding is riding the crest of a wave at present, and he looked as good as ever when rattling off a five-timer at the Dublin Racing Festival last time. His form this season has seen him climb 29lb in the ratings, and with the British Handicapper only raising him a pound from his Irish mark, he looks reasonably treated in a competitive field.
His progression had his trainer leading towards a tilt at Grade 1 honours in the Arkle on Tuesday, but after the handicapper’s generous doing, it has Cromwell plotting a different route for the son of Camelot, and he should have a big chance if he can continue his brilliant campaign.
The Skyrne handler will also be hoping Flooring Porter can turn in another star-studded performance as he bids to become just the third horse to win the Stayers’ Hurdle three times. The 8-year-old's form this season has left a bit to be desired with two fourth placed finishes behind Home By The Lee at Navan and Leopardstown, but his form at this venue is something that cannot be overlooked, and that may give him a slight advantage over his rivals.
In saying that, he will have to improve, but there were questions marks over his form coming into last year’s race which he put to bed with a masterful performance, where he looked to still have a bit up his sleeve at the finish.
Danny Mullins’ will no doubt be in the plate again, and 13-2 is value that is too good to ignore.