Mark Walsh: could get first Festival winner in grand style
PICTURE:Caroline Norris (racingpost.com/photos)
By David Baxter 2:03PM 9 MAR 2017
THE focal point of the jumps calendar, the Cheltenham Festival seems to grow in stature every year, and increasingly it is the defining measure of whether a season is a success or not. David Baxter looks at who could be in store for a big four days.
One man’s loss is another man’s gain. While nobody in the weighing room wants to pick up rides due to another jockey’s misfortune, Barry Geraghty’s injuries meant a host of desirable rides suddenly became available.
Walsh is already the number two rider for JP McManus in Ireland, but will now have the chance to showcase his skills on a bigger stage. Yanworth is fantastic spare to pick up in the Champion Hurdle, along with former Ryanair winner Uxizandre. Throw in Jezki and More Of That and Walsh has several serious chances to ride a first festival winner.
The famous green and yellow silks are a Cheltenham Festival staple, but McManus appears to hold one of his strongest hands for a long time this year.
Yanworth, Buveur D’Air, Unowhatimeanharry, Edwulf, Cantlow and Defi Du Seuil are all at the head of, or near the top of the market for their respective races.
Add in an army of runners for the handicaps, and McManus could be offering to buy the Cheltenham faithful a drink like he did for Towcester racegoers when Tony McCoy reached 4,000 winners.
For the first time since the 2006-07 season, there could be an Irish champion jumps trainer that does not go by the name of Willie Mullins. Gordon Elliott has been runner-up for three of the last four seasons, but this term he leads Mullins by €335,355 with a total of €3,447,118 in prize-money.
Picking up several of the Gigginstown-owned horses that were taken away from Mullins has helped Elliott’s cause, and a successful festival would be the icing on the cake for what has already been a tremendous season.
A narrative that has run all season has been Colin Tizzard’s emergence at the top table of jumps trainers in Britain.
If your Gold Cup favourite is ruled out through injury, most trainers would be willing for the season to end. Yet such is the strength and depth at Tizzard’s disposal he still has the front two in the market with Cue Card and Native River despite Thistlecrack missing.
Toss in Finian’s Oscar and Fox Norton and it could be a very good meeting for Tizzard, and few would begrudge him a first Gold Cup.