■□■ View Photos
For many the long wait is finally over as the start of the Cheltenham festival is almost upon us. Commencing next Tuesday, March 10th, the four-day Gloucestershire meeting will attract its usual influx of Irish visitors. The question most will be wanting to know is whether we will be able to beat last year’s tally of seven winners?
The likelihood is that it’s quite possible for the signs are that we are set for another rewarding Cheltenham. So often in the past, it has been a case of ‘first blood to the Irish’ and normal service should continue in the opening Grade 1 williamhill.com Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Tuesday as Cousin Vinny holds outstanding prospects in this prestigious two-mile contest.
Willie Mullins’ Cousin Vinny is no stranger to the Cotswolds for he hardly ever came out of second gear when landing last season’s Grade 1 Festival bumper by some three and a half lengths from Corskeagh Royale. Cousin Vinny then showed himself to be a genuinely outstanding racehorse by following up in the Grade 1 bumper at the Punchestown festival, the only horse ever to attain this coveted double.
Since being launched over hurdles, Cousin Vinny has more or less continued where he left off back in April. The son of Bob Back got off the mark over flights at the second attempt when effortlessly landing a two and a quarter mile maiden hurdle with regular partner Patrick Mullins at Leopardstown over the festive period. He then followed up in a two-mile Naas novice hurdle in mid-January. Admittedly the ‘wheels fell off the bike’ on Cousin Vinny’s most recent start as he unseated the hapless Mullins at the final flight in a Grade 1 Leopardstown novice hurdle with victory almost certainly his for the taking in the race that was ultimately won by Pandorama.
Cousin Vinny however seems to have it all in that he’s a speedy type with the necessary reserves of stamina to come up that daunting Cheltenham hill. It’s certain that Cousin Vinny will start favourite a little after 2 pm on Tuesday and he’s taken to show a clean pair of heels to the genuinely-improving Michael Flips, trained by Andy Turnell.
To look at the betting of the opening afternoon’s feature, the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle, one would almost think that Binocular is gone past the post as the Nicky Henderson-trained five-year-old is a generally-priced 5/4.
Now that’s a joke with no one laughing in a contest of the calibre of the Champion Hurdle and one should also factor in that Binocular was beaten into second place by Captain Cee Bee in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Whilst Binocular has admittedly impressed this season, he’s no 5/4 shot and instead an each-way investment on Sublimity is recommended.
Sublimity is another that’s been there and done it for he won the 2007 Champion Hurdle when under the care of Maynooth-based handler John Carr. Sublimity is now trained by Robbie Hennessy and he’s had a quite satisfactory season this time around, finishing second to Punjabi in the reconvened Grade 1 Fighting Fifth at Wetherby in December before digging deep to beat Won In The Dark in the Grade 1 Leopardstown Golf Centre December Festival Hurdle on December 28th.
There were extenuating circumstances behind Sublimity’s fourth-placed effort behind Brave Inca in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in late January. The ground was unsuitably soft (heavy in places) whilst the French-bred was later found to have scoped wrong.
The likely fast ground at Cheltenham will be to his favour and, if in the same form as he was two years ago, then he will certainly go close at odds in or around 16/1. Binocular has to be respected, but a bigger threat may emerge in the form of last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner Celestial Halo. Of the remainder, the 2008 Champion Hurdle winner Katchit doesn’t seem to be same horse this year and therefore Sizing Europe could well make the frame for Knockeen handler Henry de Bromhead. Sizing Europe has had an interrupted campaign this season, but if he’s back to his best, then the son of Pistolet Bleu is likely to give a positive account of himself with in-form Youghal jockey Denis O’Regan.
(For full report read The Munster Express)