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SPECIAL NOTE: Part III of THE VAULT’S Royal Ascot coverage will be posted Friday, June 21st and cover the closing day. (The fields are still unconfirmed for several races on the Saturday, making the addition of a third article prudent. AA)

This second of a three-part series covers some of the top races and horses on DAY THREE, Thursday, June 20 and DAY FOUR, Friday, June 21. Please note that the fields in each race covered below are still shifting somewhat, but every effort has been made to focus on top thoroughbreds confirmed in the running at this time, with a particular emphasis on those who are likely to be less-familiar to non-UK viewers.

WHERE TO WATCH: HRTV is covering the key Royal Ascot races, beginning at 9:00 A.M. (approx.) over each of the 5 days.

FOR RACE CARDS and COMPLETE RACE SCHEDULE, please visit LET’S GO TO THE RACES at http://www.letsgototheraces.blogspot.ca

AT THE RACES (UK) at http://www.attheraces.com/ascot/list.aspx?lid=pa+news also offers complete Royal Ascot coverage and will post all races on its YouTube channel by the end of each day.

RACING POST (UK) hosts its own Royal Ascot site, complete with race cards for each race and articles: http://royal-ascot.racingpost.com

OVERVIEW

The following Royal Ascot races are reviewed below:

THURSDAY, JUNE 20: the RIBBLESDALE STAKES (3 yr-old fillies) featuring ALIVE ALIVE OH, THE LARK, RIPOSTE, SAY, MAGICAL DREAM, JUST PRETENDING; and THE GOLD CUP (4 yr-olds and up) featuring RITE OF PASSAGE, SIMENON, COLOUR VISION, ESTIMATE and SADDLER’S ROCK.

FRIDAY, JUNE 21 : the ALBANY STAKES featuring FRANKEL’S half-sister JOYEUSE and a host of other precocious 2 YR. OLD fillies; the KING EDWARD VII STAKES featuring BATTLE OF MARENGO, MUTASHADED, BRASS RING and DYNAFORMER’S son, ESHTIAAL; and the CORONATION STAKES featuring another anticipated battle between two fabulous files, JUST THE JUDGE and SKY LANTERN.

THURSDAY, JUNE 20

THE RIBBLESDALE STAKES (3 yr-old fillies, Fillies Grade 2. Distance: 1 m  4 f)

This race might be a real corker because, despite the apparent superiority of Alive Alive Oh (2010), all of the contenders do best over soft-yielding turf. At present, it looks as though the turf will be firm-hard, leading several trainers to flirt with withdrawing their fillies from Ascot altogether.

ALIVE ALIVE OH wins for trainer Tommy Stack and enters the Ribblesdale as the filly to beat.

ALIVE ALIVE OH wins for trainer Tommy Stack. She enters the Ribblesdale as the filly to beat.

What makes Tommy Stack’s filly a prohibitive favourite is that she’s managed 2 impressive wins in her 3 starts, beating Coolmore-Ballydoyle’s  Magical Dream most recently and running third to their very good colt, Magician, in her maiden almost a year ago. Of course, a lot can change in a year, but Alive Alive Oh only seems to be getting better. The dark bay daughter of The Duke of Marmalade (see coverage of him in Part 1, under St. James Palace Stakes) walked away from the field to win brilliantly over Magical Dream in her last outing on May 7th over yielding turf.

The Lark, trained by Michael Bell, is a daughter of the outstanding world-class sire, Pivotal (1993) who had 100 SW in 2012, both fillies and colts. She arrives at Ascot with 4 races under her belt and a record of 4-1-0-2, although her only win came back in October 2012.

Coolmore-Ballydoyle has 2 confirmed entries and may run a third. Definitely in the mix for the Ribblesdale are Magical Dream and Just Pretending. The former, a daughter of Galileo(1998) has a record of 6-2-1-1 but hasn’t chalked up a victory since September 2012. Giant’s Causeway (1997) is the sire of Just Pretending, who has won twice in her 4 starts to date, running third to a superstar in Just The Judge in her last start, the 1,000 Irish Guineas. However, on May 12th (2013) in the Derrinstown Stud 1,000 Trial, under Joseph O’Brien, she came home first in a close finish. Say, another Galileo filly, may also contest the Ribblesdale but we will need to wait until mid-week to know for certain.

Lady Cecil, who has been extended a trainer’s licence in light of the recent death of her husband, Sir Henry Cecil, comes into the Ribblesdale with a lovely Juddmonte filly, Riposte. Sir Henry was still nominating horses to Royal Ascot in the last days of his life and there can be no doubt that Riposte is here because she deserves to be. The daughter of another super sire, Dansili (1996) is, of course, trained by Sir Henry and she will have Tom Queally to guide her home. The filly comes into the race with a record of 2-1-1-0, but the fact she’s been so lightly raced ought to be subscribed to her trainer’s illness and not to her abilities. And: Riposte is the only other serious contender other than Alive Alive Oh to have won over firm – hard ground.

RIPOSTE under Tom Queally shown here beating the filly MUTHMERA

RIPOSTE under Tom Queally shown here beating the filly MUTHMERA at Newmarket this May. The ground was listed as Firm, making her a particularly strong contender in the Ribblesdale.

THE GOLD CUP ( 4 yr-olds & up, Group 1, part of the British Champions Series. Distance: 2m 4f)

The Gold Cup is a marathon of a race and this year’s version sees some really good horses entered. Winners here will shout stamina, as did the most famous of all Gold Cup winners, the mighty Yeats (2001) who won it an unprecedented 4 years in a row.

Aidan O'Brien's magnificent YEATS has set the Gold Cup standard. Now retired, he performs the dual function of siring both jump and flat thoroughbreds.

Aidan O’Brien’s magnificent YEATS has set the Gold Cup standard. Now retired, he performs the dual function of siring both jump and flat thoroughbreds.

Simenon (2007), a 6 yr. old campaigner and son of Marju (1988), has raced 21 times with 4 wins, one being in the Ascot Stakes over good-soft ground at Royal Ascot a year ago. This fellow is bound to be the sentimental favourite, although he will get some play at the betting pools as well. Interestingly, the gelding has raced over fences too. His last time out, Simenon finished 4th of 17 in the Stan James Chester Cup (over fences). This is one hard-working, talented and gutsy thoroughbred and Yeats would have loved him for it. Fittingly, Simenon stands at current odds of 7-1. Here he is, winning the Ascot Stakes in 2012:

The Gold Cup will also be graced by an entry from Her Majesty the Queen in the form of the filly, Estimate (2009), who is currently the favourite. She was a gift from Prince Khalid Abdullah to Her Majesty as a baby and was selected from Juddmonte’s top breeding stock that year. The daughter of the late great German sire, Monsun (1990) won the Longines Sagaro Stakes her last time out, but also took home the Queen’s Vase at Ascot last year. In 6 starts, Estimate has only been out of the money once, chalking up 3 wins and 2 shows (3rd). No question that this talented lady will be another sentimental choice to take the honours, it being the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

ESTIMATE poses with HM The Queen after winning the Queen's Vase at Royal Ascot in 2012.

ESTIMATE poses with HM The Queen after winning the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot in 2012.

After Simenon and Estimate, the other really good horses running in the Gold Cup seem to pale by comparison. However, expect the 9 yr.old Rite of Passage to run in very good form. Currently the second favourite, the chestnut gelding by Giant’s Causeway is another sturdy character, having started 9 times on the flat(record of 6-0-2) and 3 times over jumps (record of 2-0-1). Versatile as well as talented, Rite of Passage has already won the Gold Cup once — at Royal Ascot in 2010. His last start, in October 2012, was on British Champions Day, where he walked off with the Group 3 Long Distance Cup beating Saddler’s Rock, Colour Vision and Fame and Glory in the process. However, that was over soft-yielding ground and the conditions at Ascot look to favour hard-firm this year.

Co-favoured at 7-1 with Simenon is Saddler’s Rock (2008). Even though he hasn’t had a win since last August, the 5 yr. old son of the fantastic Sadler’s Wells is trained by John Oxx, the man who took Sea The Stars to racing glory. Oxx was already a leading Irish trainer before Sea The Stars, having trained the brilliant filly Ridgewood Pearl, as well as Sinndar, winner of the Investic Derby, Irish Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe for Oxx’s main client, the Aga Khan. If the turf plays good-firm, look for Saddler’s Rock to run a blinder.

SADDLER'S ROCK won't appreciate soft ground, but if the Ascot turf plays good-firm, look to see this son of Sadler's Wells run possibly his best race to date.

SADDLER’S ROCK won’t appreciate soft ground, but if the Ascot turf plays good-firm, look to see this son of Sadler’s Wells run his best race to date.

Last but not least is Godolphin’s Colour Vision (2008), last year’s Gold Cup winner. And even though the grey son of Rainbow Quest(1981) hasn’t scored since Frankie Dettori left Godolphin, he’s a versatile horse who has won over good to soft ground, making him a serious contender in this year’s field.

An elated Frankie Dettorri rides back to the winner's enclosure after COLOUR VISION'S win in the 2012 Gold Cup.

An elated Frankie Dettori rides back to the winner’s enclosure after COLOUR VISION’S win in the 2012 Gold Cup.

FRIDAY, JUNE 21st

THE ALBANY STAKES ( 2 yr. old fillies, Group 3. DISTANCE: 6 f)

Excitement will be in the air as Day Four of Royal Ascot kicks off with Frankel’s little half-sister, Joyeuse, taking on a field of fairly accomplished babies. Of course, these are juveniles and have only just gotten started, making the task of choosing a winner pretty demanding.

Joyeuse, by Oasis Dream (2000), broke her maiden at first asking at 6f over ground labelled “good.” Meaning that neither the distance nor the probable state of the Ascot turf should bother her. Joyeuse was trained by Sir Henry Cecil for owner, Prince Khalid Abdullah and will have her big brother’s jockey, Tom Queally, back to guide her. Here’s a look at the compact and feminine-looking filly on her very first time out. Quite apart from the race, the hijinks at the gate and Queally’s struggles keeping Joyeuse on-track — a little like his early battles with Frankel who, like this young lady, just wanted to run — provide a great insight into what it’s like when babies first race!

As much as the fans will be behind Joyeuse and Queally, there are a number of other good fillies running against the pair. From Godolphin comes Fire Blaze, a daughter of Dubawi (2002) and Wedding Ring, a daughter of Oasis Dream (2000), both of whom also won their maidens and like the turf good-firm. In the case of the latter, her win came at 6f and she will be under the excellent tutelage of Mikhail Barcelona. Lady Kristale is undefeated and has started twice; like the previous 3 fillies, she has won at 6f and will like the good to firm going at Ascot.

SANDIVA and Pat Smullen race home in the Coolmore Stud Fillies Sprint for trainer, Richard Fahey.

SANDIVA and Pat Smullen race home in the Coolmore Stud Fillies Sprint for trainer, Richard Fahey.

Trainer Richard Fahey’s Sandiva is by Footstepsinthesand (2002), a son of Giant’s Causeway(1997). Sandiva has been very impressive in her 2 winning starts to date, her most recent win coming in the Coolmore Stud Fillies’ Sprint Stakes at 6f. Expect this baby to be right there in the thick of it. Coolmore-Ballydoyle have entered Wonderfully, as well as Bye Bye Birdie, but it is the former who seems a better bet. By Galileo (1998), Wonderfully’s BM sire is the great Danehill (1986); she comes in off a maiden win at 6f and is still another filly who will appreciate good-firm footing. Last but not least is Princess Noor, By Holy Roman Emperor(2004) who is a maiden winner at 6f on an all-weather surface. Princess Noor will be ridden by William Buick, another fabulous young jockey and one in the same league as either Joseph O’Brien or Tom Queally.

The Albany appears to be a very evenly-matched field and should be a thrilling race.

Jockey William Buick, shown here in 2010 at Meydan aboard Sheema Classic winner Da Re Mi, gets the ride on the talented Princess Noor.

Jockey William Buick, shown here in 2010 at Meydan aboard Sheema Classic winner DAR RE MI, gets the ride on the talented Princess Noor.

KING EDWARD VII STAKES (3 yr. olds, Group 2. Distance: 1 m 4f)

Fourth in the Investic Derby to Ruler of the World, but undefeated in 3 starts prior to it, including the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial Stakes in May (above) there is no question that Coolmore-Ballydoyle’s Battle of Marengo is the colt to beat in this year’s running of the King Edward VII at Ascot. In his 7 starts, the son of Galileo (1998) has only ever been out of the money in his recent Derby run and has 5 wins to his credit. But the handsome bay won’t be left all alone at the wire.

Roger Varian has confirmed the undefeated Mutashaded, a lightly-raced but competent son of the mighty Raven’s Pass (2005), winner of the 2008 BC Classic. Mutashaded’s 2 wins have come over firm and heavy (wet) turf, showing his versatility. Two other colts that are only getting better are Brass Ring and Eshtiaal. Both have won their last 2 races and Brass Ring seems to do best over good-firm going. Trained by the winning John Gosden for Prince Khalid Abdullah, Brass Ring’s last win came at the King Edward distance, but his competition is a distinct step up for the son of Rail Link(2003), a sire who won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe as a 3 yr. old.

RAIL LINK, Juddmonte's Arc winner of 2008, shown here with his ecstatic jockey. The stallion is represented by Brass Ring and

RAIL LINK, Juddmonte’s Arc winner of 2008, shown here with his ecstatic jockey. The stallion is represented by Brass Ring and SPILLWAY in the King Edward VII.

Eshtiaal will be of particular interest to North American racing fans. Racing for Hamdan Al Maktoum, the colt is a son of Dynaformer(1985) and his BM sire is Kingmambo(1990). Eshtiaal has won on both soft and good ground, something that bodes well for him. But like Brass Ring, he is taking a huge step up in company in the King Edward.

All in all, this race looks like a romp — albeit a prestigious one — for Battle of Marengo.

We lost him in April 2012, but Three Chimneys' much-loved DYNAFORMER will be represented by ESHTIAAL in the KIng Edward VII Stakes.

We lost him in April 2012, but Three Chimneys’ much-loved DYNAFORMER will be represented by ESHTIAAL at Royal Ascot in 2013.

 

THE CORONATION STAKES ( 3 yr. old fillies, GROUP 1, part of the British Champions series. DISTANCE: 1m)

For hard-wired racing enthusiasts, the Coronation is shaping up to be a modern Battle of the Titans between two brilliant fillies: Just The Judge and Sky Lantern.

The Charlie Hills-trained Just The Judge, won the Irish 1,000 Guineas last time out, running the mile on turf that was good-firm. Her career record stands at 5-4-1-0 and she has also handled soft ground with aplomb. Her sire, Lawman (2004), winner of the Prix Matchless at 2 and of the Prix de Jockey (G1), Prix Jean Prat(G1) and Prix de Guiche (G3) at 3, is a son of the great Invincible Spirit (1997).  Just The Judge is his second highly successful filly in earnings, after Forces of Darkness (2009) who began her career in France like her sire before moving to the USA this year.

Sky Lantern, trained by the excellent Richard Hughes won the QUIPCO 1,000 Guineas, beating Just The Judge by a nose, in her last start. Piloted by the talented Richard Hughes, the grey filly has a career record of 7-4-3-0. She prefers the ground to be good-firm, but has also won over a soft surface. Her sire, Red Clubs (2003) is a son of the late, prominent sire Red Ransom (1987) who produced more than 100 SW’s. Red Clubs continues the Roberto bloodline in style, having won the Cartier European Champion Sprinter in 2007; at stud, he has also sired two other champion fillies, The Gold Cheongsam (2010) and Vedelago (2009), who races in Italy.

But why say more? Below are Just The Judge and Sky Lantern in each of their winning 1,000 Guineas races. Clearly, their encounter at Royal Ascot will bring the kind of suspense and drama that makes thoroughbred racing so thrilling.

NOTE: Part III of THE VAULT’S Royal Ascot coverage will be posted Friday, June 21st and cover the closing day. 

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The Cheltenham Festival kicks off this coming week, beginning on Tuesday, March 12. It’s a 4-day celebration of the very best of the season, and the horses arrive carrying the hopes and dreams of owners, trainers, jockeys and passionate fans. 

This handbook of some of the most hotly-contested races is aimed primarily at those who are less familiar with this oldest of thoroughbred racing venues. 

At the conclusion is the full 4-day race schedule, complete with race cards and profiles of individual horses. As for non-UK enthusiasts’ chances of watching Cheltenham live we can only suggest that you run a search on your computer to locate possible free live streaming. Failing that, both the http://www.racingpost.com (click on the television tab or go to its Cheltenham site) or http://www.atthraces.com will post replays probably less than 24 hours after the most popular races are run. 

As with our previous article, THE VAULT again thanks the generosity of Toby Connors in allowing us to use more of his fabulous photos. (Please note that they are all copyright-protected). 

In conclusion, THE VAULT expresses its hope that every one of the courageous horses and jockeys competing at this year’s Festival come home safe and sound. 

ZARKANDAR. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Zarkandar, trained by the great Paul Nicholls, is the current favourite to win the Champion Hurdle. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

FESTIVAL RACES: A PRIMER

As was noted in our previous post about the champion hurdler, Sprinter Sacre, the official title of the Cheltenham Festival is the National Hunt Meeting. Originating in 1860, the Festival is held in March, close to the time of the Grand National Steeplechase at Aintree.  The Cheltenham Festival is the most prestigious National Hunt meet of the year. It is here that all but the Grand National horses come out  — and so many of them are absolute stars, as is the case this year.

The zenith of the Festival is the Grade 1 Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase. Run at a distance of 3m 2f 110y on the closing day, March 15, it can be compared to the most elite races for thoroughbreds run on the flat. Except that the horses themselves can be thoroughbreds or thoroughbred-derived breeds, like the Selle Francais. (In National Hunt racing, only the Grand National Steeplechase is reserved strictly for thoroughbreds.) Famous jumpers to have won the Gold Cup include the greatest of them all, Golden Miller. Born in 1927, the bay gelding made 55 starts and won 29 times. He took the Gold Cup on 5 consecutive occasions, between 1932-1936. And, as if that weren’t enough, in 1934 he won the British Grand National and the Gold Cup — the only horse to have ever accomplished this feat in a single season. Owned latterly by the Honorable Dorothy Paget, Golden Miller died in 1957, leaving a National Hunt record still unequalled today.

The amazing Golden Miller, shown here, not only won the Cheltenham Golden Cup for 5 consecutive years, but is the only horse to have won the British and Irish Grand Nationals, as well as the Gold Cup, in the same year -- 1934.

The amazing Golden Miller, shown here, not only won the Cheltenham Golden Cup for 5 consecutive years, but is the only horse to have won the British and Irish Grand Nationals, as well as the Gold Cup, in the same year — 1934.

Other great horses have won over a period of 2-3 consecutive years: the Vincent O’Brien-trained Cottage Rake (3 times, from 1948-1950), the beloved Arkle (3 times, from 1964-1966), Raymond R. Guest’s L’Escargot (twice, in 1970 and again in 1971) and most recently the champion, Best Mate (3 times, from 2002-2004). Other noteworthy winners, each of whom was well-loved by his racing public, include Desert Orchid, Kauto Star (twice in 3 years) and his stablemate, Denman, as well as The Dikler, Dawn Run, Imperial Call and Master Oats. The 2011 winner, Paul Nicholls’ Long Run, will compete again in this year’s Gold Cup.

Golden Miller’s 1935 Gold Cup victory:

The fabulous Kauto Star leads his buddy, Denman, and the champion Neptune Collanges (grey) home in the 2007 Gold Cup:

 

SHINING STARS

MARCH 12

The Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy (G1): Simonsig (10) and Overturn (9) expected to do battle.

DISTANCE: 2m

According to jockey Barry Geraghty, his boss’ Simonsig is the only jumper he knows who might overhaul another champion of the Henderson stable: Sprinter Sacre. No worries this season, though, as Simonsig hasn’t been put to the test. The favourite in the Arkle, the gorgeous grey is expected to be challenged by Donald McCain’s talented Overturn.

Simonsig and trainer, Nicky Henderson.

Simonsig and trainer, Nicky Henderson. The grey has won 4 of his last 5 starts and has only ever lost once throughout his career. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Horse Racing - StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle - Newcastle Racecourse

Overturn, a son of the great Barathea (Sadler’s Wells), hasn’t had as unblemished a record as Simonsig, but he has won his previous 3 starts this season.

 

The Stan James Champion Challenge Hurdle Trophy (G1) : Hurricane Fly (7), Zarkandar (10), Rock On Ruby (9), Grandouet (6) and Binocular (2)

DISTANCE: 2m110y

One of the best is Rock On Ruby. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

One of the best is Rock On Ruby. Trainer Harry Fry’s 8 year-old has won 2 of 4 starts this season and will run in blinkers for the first time in the Champion Challenge Hurdle. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Don't be fooled by that pretty face. W.P. Mullins' superstar has won 16 of 19 starts over hurdles. The son of Montjeu goes into the race as the favourite.

Don’t be fooled by that pretty face. W.P. Mullins’ superstar, Hurricane Fly, has won 16 of 19 starts over hurdles. The son of Montjeu goes into the race as the favourite. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

This race promises to be a thriller, with the current favourite, Hurricane Fly, taking on a number of champion horses. Unless he’s hugely unlucky, there’s no reason that Hurricane Fly shouldn’t dominate again, even though the punters are very keen on the second choice favourite, Zarkandar.

Nicky Henderson's Binocular (green) races with Hurricane Fly (royal blue).

Nicky Henderson’s Binocular (green) races against Hurricane Fly (royal blue). A very decent jumper, Binocular has been beaten more than once by Hurricane Fly and Rock On Ruby. But come race day, he can be counted on to try his best. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Could he be the spoiler? Zarkandar has won his last 3 starts.

Could he be the spoiler? Zarkandar has won his last 3 starts. By Azamour ex. Zarkasha (Kahyasi) he’s got all the pedigree he needs to win. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

The OLGB Mares’ Hurdle (G2): Featuring the incomparable Quevega (5)

DISTANCE: 2m4f

This is one impressive lady! Champion Quevega goes to post. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

This is one impressive lady! Champion Quevega goes to post. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Her sire, Robin Des Champs (FR) was himself a very fine jumper, so you could say it’s in her blood. But even then. Quevega, a 9 year-old, has won her last 6 starts and has a lifetime record of 20-13-0-4. Trained by the noted W P Mullins and ridden to each of those victories by the accomplished Ruby Walsh, the last time out Quevega vanquished Voler La Vedette, who isn’t back in this particular race to take her on again. If she wins the OLGB Mares’ Hurdle, it will be for the 5th consecutive year, equalling the record of Golden Miller in the Gold Cup.

How fabulous is this great mare? Just take a look:

NOTE: As we go to press, Quevega has also been entered in the Ladbroke’s World Champion Hurdle, but trainer WP “Willie” Mullins has indicated he favours this race for his champion mare.

MARCH 13

The Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Chase (G1): Sprinter Sacre (8), Sizing Europe (6), Finian’s Rainbow (2), Sanctuaire (5)

The handsome Sanctuaire goes down to the start.

The handsome Sanctuaire goes down to the start.Paul Nicholls’ champion has won 4 of his last 6 starts. The bad news? The 2 he lost were to Sprinter Sacre… Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

 

As was suggested in our last post here on THE VAULT, the Queen Mum is Sprinter Sacre’s to lose. Even though his enthusiastic running style leaves his trainer’s insides in ruins, Nicky Henderson is not willing to tinker with it on March 13th.

The horses Henderson’s superstar is poised to take on aren’t chopped liver either. The fabulous Sizing Europe has earned the right to be the bettors’ second choice: he’s only lost once since December 2011 and has earned over 800,000 BPS. But his single defeat did come at the hands of Finian’s Rainbow, another Henderson trainee who ranks as third pick. Mail de Bievre, the fourth choice of the betting public, was 5th and 4th in his last two races; his last win was in 2010.

Sizing Europe has already earned over 800,000 BPS. He's a real champion and finds himself in strong company in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Sizing Europe has already earned over 800,000 BPS. He’s a real champion and finds himself in strong company in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Sprinter Sacre looking to bring his fans to their feet once again. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Sprinter Sacre looking to bring his fans to their feet once again. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

The Wetherby’s Champion Bumper (G1)

 DISTANCE: 2m110y

What’s most exciting about this race has little to do with winners or losers. Trainer Aidan O’Brien has returned to Cheltenham for the first time since his mighty Istabraq (Sadler’s Wells ex. Betty’s Secret by Secretariat) was pulled up in 2002 in the Champion’s Hurdle and subsequently retired. This time, the horse in question is a son of Arc winner Dylan Thomas, Shield by name. The colt is a youngster by National Hunt standards at the age of 4 and has only 2 starts under his belt, even though he won one of them. Owned by O’Brien’s wife, Anne Marie, herself a canny breeder who runs her own farm and stable, Shield will be ridden by none other than Joseph O’Brien. It should be a real family affair and Aidan, who made his reputation as a Jumps trainer before going to Coolmore seems delighted to rekindle the excitement of Festival days.

Istabraq, the horse that moved a nation and who still ranks as one of the top 5 most popular Irish personalities today. To read more about this grandson of American legend, Secretariat, see THE VAULT's piece on Istabraq entitled "Secretariat's Heart..."

Istabraq, the horse that moved a nation and who still ranks as one of the top 5 most popular Irish personalities today. To read more about this grandson of American legend, Secretariat, see THE VAULT’s piece on Istabraq entitled “Secretariat’s Heart…”

...and the new kid in O'Brien's life, Shield.

…and the new kid in O’Brien’s life, Shield.

MARCH 14

The Ryanair Chase (G1): Cue Card (3), First Lieutenant (5), Riverside Theatre (9), Alberta’s Run(1) 

(NOTE: As we go to press, both Sizing Europe and Finian’s Rainbow are also listed for this event, but that may change by March 12)

DISTANCE: 2m5f

Cue Card

Cue Card has a lifetime record of 15-8-4-0 going into the Ryanair. The 7 year-old gelding arrives with a devoted fan following which he richly deserves. He’s “simply magnificent” and many would consider him next in line after Sprinter Sacre. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

 

Viewers are in for a treat on the second to last day of the Festival, as the scintillating Cue Card struts his stuff in the Ryanair Chase. Below, Cue Card is shown here winning the Sportingbet Haldon Gold Cup Chase in 2012 by an absolutely remarkable distance. He has been every bit as solid in 2013:

March 15

BETFRED CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP CHASE: Bob’s Worth, Sir Des Champs, First Lieutenant and Long Run

DISTANCE: 3m2f110y

Bob's Worth stands as the current favourite in the Gold Cup (as of 08-03-2013). Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Bob’s Worth (leading here by a whisker) stands as the current favourite in the Gold Cup (as of 08-03-2013). Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Champion Long Run won the Gold Cup in 2011. He will do his very best to win a second time on March 15, the last day of the Festival.

Champion Long Run won the Gold Cup in 2011. He will do his very best to win a second time on March 15, the last day of the Festival. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

As was noted above, the Gold Cup is the crowning glory of the Cheltenham Festival, although it is not the last race on the card that day. And it is, as the British would say, a “very testing” race of over 3 miles. A “chase” is short for “steeplechase” and that means the highest and most complex array of jumps. Nicky Henderson’s Bob’s Worth is the current favourite given his power, stride and care over jumps of this magnitude. Nicky Henderson is also running the great Long Run — meaning that he’s got 2 of the strongest contenders. Here’s a look at the key horses in this, the most prestigious and storied race of the Cheltenham Festival:

One of the young "upstarts" in the Gold Cup field is jockey Sam Waley-Cohen, the son of Long Run's owner.

One of the young “upstarts” in the Gold Cup field is jockey Sam Waley-Cohen, the son of Long Run’s owner.

SCHEDULE OF RACES + RACE CARDS

Just CLICK on any of the list of races below to go to the race card. You can also click on a horse’s name to go to an individual race record. (Courtesy of the UK’s RACING POST)

NOTE: All entries listed were accurate as of March 8, 2013.

CHELTENHAM – Tue 12 March

1:30 William Hill Supreme Novices´ Hurdle Grade 1 2m110y CH4
2:05 Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase Grade 1 2m CH4
2:40 JLT Specialty Handicap Chase Grade 3 3m110y CH4
3:20 Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy Grade 1 2m110y CH4
4:00 Glenfarclas Handicap Chase (A Cross Country Chase) 3m7f CH4
4:40 OLBG Mares´ Hurdle (Registered As The David Nicholson Mares´ Hurdle) Grade 2 2m4f RUK
5:15 Rewards4Racing Novices´ Handicap Chase (Listed Race) 2m4f110y RUK
Final declarations will be available 48hrs in advance

CHELTENHAM – Wed 13 March

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1:30 John Oaksey National Hunt Chase (Amateur Riders´ Novices´ Chase ) 4m CH4
2:05 Neptune Investment Management Novices´ Hurdle (Registered Baring Bingham Novices´ Hurdle) Grade 1 2m5f CH4
2:40 RSA Chase (Grade 1) 3m110y CH4
3:20 Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Chase Grade 1 2m CH4
4:00 Coral Cup (A Handicap Hurdle) Grade 3 2m5f CH4
4:40 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle Grade 3 2m110y RUK
5:15 Weatherbys Champion Bumper (A Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race) Grade 1 2m110y RUK
Entries for all Wednesday’s races will be available 5 days in advance

CHELTENHAM – Thu 14 March

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1:30 Jewson Novices´ Chase (Registered As The Golden Miller Novices´ Chase) Grade 2 2m4f
2:05 Pertemps Final (A Handicap Hurdle) (Listed Race) 3m
2:40 Ryanair Chase (Registered As The Festival Trophy Chase) Grade 1 2m5f
3:20 Ladbrokes World Hurdle Grade 1 3m
4:00 Byrne Group Plate (A Handicap Chase) Grade 3 2m5f
4:40 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase (Amateur Riders) 3m1f110y
Entries for all Thursday’s races will be available 5 days in advance

CHELTENHAM – Fri 15 March

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1:33 JCB Triumph Hurdle Grade 1 2m1f
2:08 Vincent O´Brien County Handicap Hurdle Grade 3 2m1f
2:43 Albert Bartlett Novices´ Hurdle (Registered As The Spa Novices´ Hurdle Race) Grade 1 3m
3:23 Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase Grade 1 3m2f110y
4:03 CGA Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup 3m2f110y
4:43 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys´ Handicap Hurdle 2m4f110y
5:18 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase Challenge Cup (Handicap) Grade 3 2m110y
Entries for all Friday’s races will be available 5 days in advance

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