Rock On Ruby ready to rise again
Winter may have returned with an unwelcome ferocity but Cheltenham are confident that nothing will prevent them starting on time today.
Clerk of the course Simon Claisse is satisfied every measure is in place for the traditional curtain-raiser, the Supreme Novices Hurdle, to start on time. The whole of the Old Course, which is used for the first two days of the meeting, the New Course, which comes into play for the last two days, and vulnerable areas of the Cross Country track are under 65 acres of black frost covers. The lifting of covers on the Old Course will have to be completed by 1.15pm, but should be finished before then.
JP McManus is no different to the next man in that his whole season is structured so that Cheltenham in March becomes the showcase for his best horses.
It is fascinating that he has resisted the temptation to run talented novice My Tent Or Yours in the Champion Hurdle and relies instead on 2010 winner Binocular, which is considered to be a back number. It is relevant as he also owns Jezki, second favourite behind My Tent Or Yours in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
Perhaps the signs at home have been encouraging for Binocular in his Champion Hurdle attempt, but I feel he will have his work cut out against last year's winner Rock On Ruby, which has been grossly underestimated, as well as the 2011 winner Hurricane Fly, which looks like he is back near his best.
The Paul Nicholls-trained Zarkandar, the Triumph Hurdle winner two years ago, finished sixth behind Rock On Ruby last year but has grown in confidence, winning all three outings this season, including the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton. He has place claims but will have to excel to turn the form around with Rock On Ruby, which is blinkered for the first time.
Potentially one of the great clashes of the week, Simonsig against Overturn, takes place in the Arkle Trophy. Donald McCain has warned that his horse is in peak form and that he will stretch Simonsig, but Nicky Henderson will have none of it. It's a war of words that I feel will end with Simonsig coming out on top. Stand by for an epic first day.
The most eagerly-awaited appearance of the week will be that of Sprinter Sacre in tomorrow's Queen Mother Champion Chase. Henderson and jockey Barry Geraghty are in awe of this handsome chaser, and with good reason. If Sprinter Sacre runs away with the race, winning by a wide margin, you can look with some relish to the coronation that will follow.
Quevega is another favourite not worth taking on in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle. Willie Mullins resisted calls to test her in the World Hurdle and it is easy to see why as she would be making history taking this race for the fifth year in a row.
The Druids Nephew is the pick in the Rewards4Racing Novices' Handicap Chase. Nabbed on the line by RSA hope Hadrian's Approach on his chasing debut, he failed to stay three miles at Kempton but over this trip next time he beat Grandioso easily at Wincanton. That form looks red hot and a mark of 139 seems generous in the extreme.
The JLT Specialty Chase can go the way of the JP McManus-owned Quantitativeeasing, which looks to have been plotted for this despite the fact that Tony McCoy prefers Nadiya De La Vega.
Barry Geraghty's mount races off 144, which is 1lb lower than when he won a big handicap at Cheltenham in December 2011, and fully 11lb lower than when seventh in this race last year.
Arabella Boy can land the Glen-farclas Handicap Chase for race specialist Enda Bolger, who has won four of the eight runnings of this race since its inception in 2005. Bolger suspects Arabella Boy might be better at Punchestown but he was far from out of it when un-seating here in December and looks certain to give punters a run for their money. (© Daily Telegraph, London)