Cheltenham races not greatest springboards to success at Festival

Niall Cronin

SOME are openly admitting it, others are quietly hoping, but connections of those prominent in the betting for the Paddy Power Gold Cup tomorrow and Racing Post Hurdle on Sunday at Cheltenham are praying they will be in a position to return in March with strong Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle claims.

While the two forthcoming big pots are not the be-all and end-all of the season, they certainly aren't to be scoffed at, although all concerned will be dreaming of standing in the winners' enclosure in March rather than this coming weekend. To be stood their on both occasions would be beyond most dreams.

Since 2002, though, the aforementioned races have not exactly been great guides to spring success.

The 2008 Paddy Power Gold Cup victor Imperial Commander is undoubtedly the best of the winners in recent years, as he won the Ryanair Chase in the same season and, of course, went on to win the Gold Cup.

Sizing Europe is the standout name on the recent roll of honour for the Racing Post Hurdle, although it wasn't in the same season as his win in 2007 that he made his mark at the Festival.

With the likes of Rooster Booster and Menorah also winners in the last decade, it is probably a better guide for success throughout the season. But if Darlan is to be a Champion Hurdle contender, as is being touted, he will have a bit more to prove.

In all, only one horse from each of the two races has gone on to win at the Festival in the same season.

In that light, maybe it would be wise to hold fire on the antepost bets, especially when both respective winners are going to suffer the inevitable cut from all bookmaking firms.

One of the biggest attractions of the weekend is going to be Nicky Henderson's Sprinter Sacre, who scared away most potential rivals in the Shloer Chase on Sunday and is a long odds-on favourite to make a winning start to his first season outside of novice company.

Nicky Henderson's exciting six-year-old has never tasted defeat over hurdles and is one of the most eagerly anticipated horses this winter.