While horses trained in the north of England don’t have the best record when heading down to Gloucestershire for the Cheltenham Festival, it’s not for want of trying.
The northern racing circuit has its own big events like the Betfair Chase at Haydock and the Grand National at Aintree, but nothing quite compares to Cheltenham over jumps. Who are among the hopefuls heading down south for this year’s Festival? We take a look at four.
Last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup sixth Definitly Red has won both of his starts at Grade 2 level for trainer Brian Ellison this season and goes back to the Festival a fresh horse. This ten-year-old Definite Article gelding landed the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby back in November and retained his Many Clouds Chase crown around Aintree before being put away for the winter.
This is a different approach to last season, as the ten-year-old raced in and won the Cotswold Chase on Festival Trials Day in 2018. Skipping that often-gruelling test six weeks before the big Cheltenham meeting may prove a wise decision if he can improve on last year’s Gold Cup position.
Another northern trainer, Philip Kirby has an in-form sort in Lady Buttons, who is unbeaten in four starts this season. The nine-year-old daughter of Beneficial also has Cheltenham Festival options, with entries in both the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle and the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Lady Buttons has won two hurdle races and a couple of steeplechases in the campaign so far and is a likeable, versatile mare. Current betting suggests there’s a better chance of her landing the Mares’ Hurdle over two-and-a-half miles, but her best form is at the shorter trip.
Popular veteran two-mile chaser Simply Ned has been a great flagbearer for Nicky Richards’ Northwest yard. Now aged 12, a third and likely final crack at the Champion Chase is on the cards after he missed an intended target – the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival.
Simply Ned has only suffered a minor setback, however, and still retains plenty of ability. He rolled back the years on another trip across the Irish Sea to Leopardstown just after Christmas and collared impressive Racing Post Arkle winner Footpad close home for a second Grade 1 success.
As Altior is a red-hot favourite to retain his Champion Chase crown, many rivals may swerve him. That gives Simply Ned every chance of making the frame if it that is how things pan out. He’s thus each-way value come Cheltenham on the pick of his form.
Ruth Jefferson trained stable star Waiting Patiently skipped the Festival last season but – if turning up in the Ryanair Chase this year – his form over the 2m 5f trip gives him every chance. Connections have not always been sure that the eight-year-old son of Flemensfirth will be suited by the undulating nature of Cheltenham racecourse.
There’s only one way to find out, though, and that’s to run him. Waiting Patiently was unbeaten in six previous starts over fences until unseating jockey Brian Hughes when badly hampered in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
If proving no worse for the tumble, and potentially defending his Ascot Chase crown en route, this is one horse with leading form claims of winning the Ryanair. Waiting Patiently still has a big future and it could be well worth forgiving him that King George disappointment.
Main image courtesy of Chris Homer via Flickr, with thanks.