The reigning champion, Jodami, is arguably the best staying chaser in training and after last week's defection of Barton Bank is likely to start odds-on for Thursday's big race. The last odds-on winner of the race was Arkle, at 1-10 in 1966, both Pendil (4-6) and Desert Orchid (10-11) having failed; in fact in the 22 runnings since L'Escargot became the last dual winner only four favourites have won. With a clear round - he has made mistakes - Jodami can become the fifth for his much-liked trainer Peter Beaumont.
The pride of France, The Fellow, admirable, classy horse though he is, seems to have lost the habit of winning, and looks destined to become a Halloween, four times in the frame, rather than follow The Dikler, who won at his fourth attempt.
Bradbury Star, who loves Cheltenham, is one to consider but better value might be found with either of the Irish pair, if they come over; John Mulhern's Flashing Steel was upsides Jodami when he fell at Leopardstown last month and Michael Hourigan's progressive seven-year-old Deep Bramble, a staying-on second that day, had previously beaten Flashing Steel in a Grade One race.
For much of the year the market has made the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday a two- horse race between Fortune and Fame (backed from 50-1, and Ladbrokes' biggest loser of the meeting) and Oh So Risky. Both have class, but I would prefer to see my money carried by a challenger who is guaranteed mentally and physically, the genuine mare Flakey Dove, bred, trained and owned by the farming Price family.
Nick Henderson has been known to reach for the Kleenex in times of high emotion, so expect a two-box performance if Remittance Man and Travado come up the hill together at the end of the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday. My heart will be with Remittance Man, my head with the improved Viking Flagship, though he will not be suited by the drying ground.
The Irish used to descend on Cheltenham like wolves on the fold, but their winners have been less frequent since they started selling all their best as youngsters for huge sums to English owners. However, the recession has meant they have held on to a few more recently and there are raiders from across the water this year for whom defeat is not envisaged. The most obvious is Danoli, who put up a tremendous performance for a novice when he ran Fortune and Fame close in the Leopardstown Champion Hurdle in January. His trainer, Tom Foley, has never visited Cheltenham but he hopes to know his way to the winners' circle after the Sun Alliance Novices Hurdle. The one who could foil him is the Hourigan- trained Dorans Pride.
The Sun Alliance Chase, also on Wednesday, is usually a delight to watch, highlighting the best young staying chasers. Favourites have a good record, and this year's market leader, One Man, is unbeaten in his five runs over fences. Mouse Morris's Belvederian, over from Ireland, and See More Indians, one of Paul Nicholls's Festival runners, may give the Gordon Richards-trained grey most to do.
Since Dawn Run in 1986, no mare had won one of the Festival's nine championship races until Shawiya, Shuil Ar Aghaidh and Gaelstrom notched a hat- trick for the fair sex last year. Flakey Dove has a chance in the Champion, and Mysilv is a raging favourite to win Thursday's opener, the Daily Express Triumph Hurdle. The David Nicholson-trained filly, unbeaten in five races, will get one of the biggest cheers if she wins, as she has 150 owners, members of the Million In Mind syndicate. But the race is a punters' graveyard and Robin Dickin's Kadastrof might be a sporting each-way wager, although he, like Viking Flagship, needs the mud.
The Arkle Chase on Tuesday produces the two-mile stars of the future and Nicholson's Baydon Star has the credentials, with Country Lad, from Sarah Williams's small Devon yard, the danger. In the opening Citroen Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Nick Henderson's Barna Boy can hold Eddie O'Grady's Sound Man at bay, but a small each-way interest in Fatack might be rewarding. Martin Pipe can land the Stayers Hurdle on Thursday with Balasani, though if Ubu III arrives from France he must be respected.Reuse content