THE greatest four days in the sporting calendar are almost upon us.
Here are this column’s five horses to follow for the Cheltenham Festival.
Topping the list is one of the most fascinating contenders of the entire meeting, and that is Ramses De Teillee.
David Pipe’s charge may not have the typical profile of a novice hurdler running at the Festival, but he has plenty in his favour for the attritional test posed by the Albert Bartlett.
Having placed second in a Welsh National, and having run in the Aintree equivalent, he returned to hurdling this season after a spell chasing. The son of Martaline, who has raced more than 20 times under rules, has won a brace of grade two hurdle contests this term, and he also landed a hurdle race at Cheltenham earlier in the season.
With lots of experience, and with stamina aplenty, he looks like a major player for the three-mile grade one on Friday. At 12/1, the Cork/Waterford point-to-point graduate could be the each-way play of the meeting. The last six winners of the Albert Bartlett have returned at big prices; 50/1, 33/1, 16/1, 11/1, 14/1, 33/1. It is a race which requires a battle-hardened, experienced, gutsy stayer. Ramses De Teillee looks to hold those traits in abundance. Soft ground would further enhance his claims.
The Terence O’Brien-trained
Articulum could be a live outsider in Thursday’s Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate. Third in last year’s Arkle, he has always been highly-regarded by connections. Having shaped well on his first two outings this season, he somewhat frustratingly fell or unseated on his next three starts, most notably when going well and still in with a chance at Leopardstown.
He shaped much better last time out when runner-up to Any Second Now in a graded contest at Naas. If his jumping holds, the son of Definite Article could make the frame at tasty odds for his Carrigtwohill handler.
Rouge Vif makes plenty of appeal in Tuesday’s Arkle. The son of Sageburg rates as one of Gavin Sheehan’s best chances of the meeting, after enhancing his Festival claims with a good win in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick. Having had a wind op earlier in the season, he was a fine second in a grade two at Kempton behind Global Citizen. He followed up with victory at Warwick — a race won by Voy Por Ustedes en route to Festival glory — and he stands out as a big player, at a big price for the two-mile novice race.
Black Op is another who might be slightly under the radar for the novice chases at the Festival. The nine-year-old could run in either Wednesday’s RSA or the Marsh Novices’ Chase on Thursday. After finishing second to Samcro in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle in 2018, the Sandmason gelding subsequently won a grade one at Aintree. He was sent chasing last term and, following a brace of third-placed finishes — efforts which initially seemed somewhat tame, although he was behind subsequent leading novices such as Defi Du Seuil, Lostintranslation and Topofthegame — he returned to hurdling.
This season, he was sent back over fences and he was impressive on debut at Stratford. Black Op has filled the runner-up berth twice since, placing behind talented novices, Champ and Slate House, in a grade two and grade one respectively. Connections feel that he is still improving and, at double-figure odds, he could run into the money for trainer Tom George.
Concertista was beaten a short head when second in last year’s Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. Having kept her novice status, she is eligible to run in the race again this year, though she does hold four entries in total across the week, with races such as the Coral Cup, the County Hurdle and the Martin Pipe also on her agenda. Willie Mullins’ filly has run well in three starts this season, most recently when third in a valuable mares’ handicap at Leopardstown.
The daughter of Nathaniel has only run four times since joining the Closutton yard, and she could be an interesting contender, if she takes her chance at this year’s Festival.