Cheltenham 2008 starts on Tuesday Special preview by Seamus Duke From next Tuesday 11th to Friday 14th of March the Cotswold Hills in England will again come alive to the sounds of tens of thousands of national hunt racing fans as the annual ‘championships’ of jump racing take place at Prestbury Park, Cheltenham. The biggest race of all is the Cheltenham Gold Cup which will be run on Friday, 14th March and features two of the best steeplechasers that the national hunt game has seen in many decades, Denman and the reigning champion Kauto Star. That clash will be the biggest and most eagerly-awaited of the whole meeting. Meanwhile on Monday night last over 400 people gathered in The Abbey Hotel, Roscommon to hear some of the most knowledgeable people in the racing industry give their views on the 2008 festival. It was all in aid of The Roscommon Lions Club and the night was certainly a big success. The following is a sample of what the panel had to say about some of the big races… Tuesday 11th March Supreme Novices Hurdle Noel O’Brien: Reckoned that it is not a good year for novices but said that in his view Muirhead and Captain Cee Bee were the pick of the bunch. Robert Cooper: Was very sweet on the chances of Rippling Ring who he said ran very well at Doncaster recently. No real consensus here but Rippling Ring seemed to be the hesitant choice. Verdict: Rippling Ring Arkle Chase Tony Mullins: Was very strong on the chances of Noland who he said was the best bet of the meeting. Robert Cooper: Was also very strong on the chances of Noland who he said would win given a clear round. Noel O’Brien: Was also leaning towards Noland as a strong tip. A number of the panellists gave Leslingtaylor at 12/1 as a possible each-way bet in this race and Ivan Yates said that he was not convinced by the claims of Noland and was willing to lay him. The Paul Nicholls yard are so strong that it is difficult to oppose Noland and Ruby Walsh landing this valuable chasing title. people summary: Noland Champion Hurdle There was no agreement among the experts as to who would win the Champion Hurdle in 2008. Noel O’Brien: Was of the view that people are too hard on Harchibald for his defeats. Said he is a top class hurdler and was only beaten (by Hardy Eustace) a short head in a Champion Hurdle and was well capable of winning it. Ken Whelan: Was strongly of the opposite view. ‘He is allergic to hills as far as I can see. He will run grand on flat tracks but he doesn’t like Cheltenham or any hilly course. He won’t do it. He has a built-in hill detector. Simple as that. My money is on Sublimity. He did it last year and he is good enough again’ he said. Tony Mullins: Was of the view that Sublimity was not the horse he was last year. ‘You couldn’t shut up John Carr (Sublimity’s trainer) last year but this year there isn’t a word out of him. Sizing Europe is the horse for me and I think that he is the best horse in the race’ he said. Ivan Yates: Said that he would be favouring an each-way bet on Osana and Robbie Power agreed with that. Tracy Piggott: Said that she would not rule out Harchbald despite his many failed attempts to win big races. people summary: No clear choice here at all so maybe a race to keep the hands in the pockets!! Wednesday 12th March Ballymore Properties Hurdle Ivan Yates: Said that he was sweet on the chances of Aigle D’or, a horse that he saw winning in Paris last year. Robert Cooper: Gave Group Captain as his nap of the whole meeting and said that he would take the best price on offer for him. Tony Mullins: Also thought that Aigle D’or was the value bet in the race. people summary: Although there were more votes for Aigle D’or the strength of the argument put up by Robert Cooper swings it in favour of Group Captain. Queen Mother Champion Chase There was much debate about this race and it was generally agreed that the Irish would not win the Queen Mother Chase. Noel O’Brien: Said that it was hard to oppose the claims of Twist Magic and his view was shared by Robert Power. Robert Power: Power said that Twist Magic was the class horse in the race and he also favoured an each-way flutter on Fair Along. Ken Whelan reckoned that Fair Along had no chance at all as the horse was far too small for Cheltenham. ‘He has to use up too much energy to jump the fences. I would not have him at all’ he said. Tony Mullins had a fancy for Master Minded because of Ruby Walsh being on board – which led to a lively discussion. The quip that ‘Ruby is a mighty man but he would put you into the poorhouse. He is the bookies’ friend, a good friend of Ivan Yates and his friends’ was met with by howls of laughter. people summary: Most went for Twist Magic to land the spoils. Champion Bumper This is a race that has been won almost exclusively by Irish horses and it was agreed even by Robert Cooper that Ireland would win this one again. However with Willie Mullins represented by four horses there was no agreement on which Irish horse might win the big flat race. Tony Mullins: Reckoned that Zaarito was the wise choice, given his excellent form. ‘He wins on good ground, soft ground, left-handed, right-handed. A class act’ he said. Robert Power: Agreed with Tony Mullins – ‘They won’t live with him if he gets a bit of luck in running’ he said. Robert Cooper said that Ireland would win the race with Big Eared Fran the best of a weak-looking home team in this race. Ken Whelan advised that Cousin Vinny might be good each-way value here while there was also big mention for the Roscommon-owned horse Corskeagh Royale which was available at a price of about 14/1. people summary: : Despite big local interest, it would appear that Zaarito is the choice to win for Ireland. Thursday 13th March Ryanair Chase This race generated more lively discussion. Paddy Flood: Said that The Listener was his choice on a line of form with several other horses in the race. Robert Powell: Tipped Tamarin Bleu to run into a place at big odds. However the big tip here was surprisingly L’Antartique who was the choice of Robert Cooper, Ken Whelan and Ivan Yates who all argued that the horse liked Cheltenham and that the course and race distance would suit him. Our Vic and Moss Bank were also mentioned as possible winners here. people summary: Despite the claims of Moss Bank and Our Vic the clear choice at a value price was L’Antartique. World Hurdle This race did not generate much debate – however all the panellists mentioned Inglis Drever as either one of the bets of the meeting or one of the biggest liabilities of the meeting – a possible bismark!! At evens he is very skimpy value for money. Noel O’Brien and Robert Cooper liked the claims of Blazing Bailey while Paddy Flood liked the claims of Witchita Lineman. people summary: Inglis Drever (only for some!) Friday 14th March Triumph Hurdle This race is usually a bookie benefit, however in recent years the more fancied horses seemed to be making more of an impression. Noel O’Brien: Gave the favourite Franchoek as his nap of the meeting and Tony Mullins agreed with that choice. Ken Whelan was of the view that Spiderback might well be a good each-way bet in this race. people summary: : The strength of the claim for Franchoek makes him the clear choice here.