Classy Go Native has look of a champion
One thing the thousands of visiting Irish will never do at Cheltenham is go native. There is simply no need when the horse of that name holds an outstanding chance of winning the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle (3.20) for Noel Meade and Paul Carberry.
Go Native certainly has what it takes. On a day when Ireland should be celebrating hard at the close, the improving seven-year-old brings the best form into the race. The ground has come right and, in Carberry, he has the perfect partner to out-finesse his opponents on the run-in.
Some choose to knock the horse on the grounds that he is Harchibald in disguise, which is totally unjustified. While Go Native has the same explosive turn of foot, he has already prevailed over the course and distance in last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
That victory, when Carberry poked up the inside rail turning for home and quickly went clear, is one of last season's abiding memories. It will also have shown the jockey that he can leave it later still this time. Medermit closed to within shouting distance that day but will find it hard to reverse the verdict -- particularly as the race lacks an obvious front-runner.
That won't bother Go Native, whose speed swamped the opposition at Newcastle in November. Among the vanquished then was Solwhit, which would have had prospects here but for the well-documented interruption to his preparation.
Furthermore, Go Native's subsequent Kempton victory from Starluck, which puts him in line for a £1m bonus, leaves the latter with an uphill task on a track that doesn't suit him.
Khyber Kim is the dark horse, even though his Cheltenham defeat of Celestial Halo and Medermit portrayed him in a flattering light. The eight-year-old finds little off the bridle, and it's hard to believe he will still be coasting when Go Native is let down. In any case, Celestial Halo is taken to reverse that form with blinkers fitted for the first time.
Paul Nicholls' hurdler, runner-up to Punjabi in last year's renewal, represents a danger but, while the blinds will sharpen him up, the lack of early pace might oblige him to be too active throughout the race. Punjabi is thus taken to follow Go Native home, with Jumbo Rio, a 100/1 chance, best of the outsiders.
SIZING A PERFECT FIT FOR TRICKY ARKLE
If this newspaper likes to provoke thought among its readers, it will be delighted with a cerebral renewal of the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy Novices' Chase (2.05). It's a Sudoku within a Kakuro inside a crossword with few clues.
Upon deep reflection, I narrow the race down to a pair of horses which clashed at Leopardstown in December.
On that occasion, Sizing Europe, the winner, might not have beaten Captain Cee Bee, which fell at the last, had he stayed up. But he can do so in this intriguing two-mile test, which he approaches after a break to freshen him up.
Very few in the line-up have previously crossed swords. And several among them lack experience of jumping fences at pace -- notably Somersby, Riverside Theatre and Sports Line, whose headstrong tendencies go against him here.
Sizing Europe, by contrast, has had four runs over fences. His jumping was exemplary on the first three of them and although his trainer, Henry de Bromhead, feels he jumped without zest at Leopardstown last time, the horse was still able to win. His top-class form over hurdles is another major asset.
Captain Cee Bee, for his part, is inclined to land steeply over his fences. That is far from ideal across Cheltenham's undulating terrain.