Cheltenham Festival: The Ultimate Guide - 2021-03-05


Tower can reach new heights in Champion Hurdle


Brian Sheerin

IT WILL be a very different Cheltenham Festival this year for many reasons and recent events have only added to that with high-profile horses moving yards. Envoi Allen and Sir Gerhard are rated as likely winners by many, while Ballyadam is single-figure odds for the Supreme and Quilixios is second favourite for the Triumph. However, it can hardly be ideal for horses to switch stables less than a fortnight before the festival. A change in surroundings, routine and feed alone will be enough for them to need time to acclimatise. Given there are more questions than answers at this juncture, it may be best to look elsewhere and one horse who will arrive at Cheltenham off the back of an ideal preparation is Aspire Tower, who has major each-way claims in the day-one showpiece. Henry de Bromhead may have the ace in the Champion Hurdle pack with Honeysuckle, but Aspire Tower is a coming force and looks well up to the challenge required to run a big race. First things first, Honeysuckle sets a high standard. She was exceptional in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown, stretching her unbeaten record to ten, and the style in which that win was achieved will make her the one to beat at Cheltenham. What is notable as well is how her jumping has progressed. Early in her career, Honeysuckle would linger in the air, not what you want from a Champion Hurdle contender. Now she is quick and slick. She is deadly. However, as a general 9-4 favourite, Honeysuckle does not represent a huge amount of value whereas Aspire Tower at 20-1 does. There was a time people would poke holes in Aspire Tower because of his age, but five-year-old Espoir D’allen blew that narrative to smithereens when winning the Champion Hurdle by a record distance in 2019. Espoir D’allen and Katchit remain the only members of th age group to have won the Champion Hurdle since 1985 but there is reason to believe Aspire Tower ca bolster the record. While Aspire Tower did not win last season’s Triumph Hurdle, he marked himself down as above average given he did so much wrong but still managed to finish second. He has confirmed that thought in both of his starts this season. First, by making a winning reappearance in the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle at Down Royal, and second when running out a fine second to Sharjah in the Matheson urdle at Leopardstown. De Bromhead has purposefully left Aspire Tower fresh for Cheltenham, which explains why he hasn’t run since Christmas, and the trainer sounded notably confident in his charge in a recent Racing Post stable tour. The fact of the matter is Aspire Tower is open to a huge amount of improvement and it’s not like he needs to find much to get involved in this ear’s race. Honeysuckle may set the standard but in Aspire Tower De Bromhead has an excellent second string to his bow. Sticking with the stable, it seems as though Minella Indo could be the forgotten horse in the Gold Cup. A winner of the Albert Bartlett in 2019, Minella Indo was just edged out in an epic RSA Chase by Champ last season and it’s patently obvious he raises his game for the festival. For that reason, he could be overpriced at odds of around 14-1 for the Gold Cup. Minella Indo was an early faller in the Savills Chase over Christmas before finishing only fourth of the five runners in the Irish Gold Cup at the same track last month. That was effectively his first race against the big boys and it seems as though the main objective was a clear round with connections having one eye on Cheltenham. There should be lots more improvement to come and he will be a hard horse to keep out of the frame if rocking up in top shape.



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