The Cheltenham Festival will soon be upon us, and there are two names that almost surpass even the greatest of the four-legged achievers. These are the veteran trainers Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson. Between them, they have trained more winners than everyone else put together over the past 50 years, and the battle between the intense Irishman and the jovial Englishman is one of the most compelling sideshows of the festival.
But Warren Greatrex feels he has every chance of stealing their thunder. At 43, he is very much the new kid on the block, but while high profile winners were in short supply in 2017, he has a few horses ready that could pull off some major surprises at Cheltenham 2018.
Spotting a winner
With 28 races to choose from, it is important not to get too drawn in to the headline events. At least, that’s the advice from the pundits at Cheltenham Fest. As well as providing tips on the most promising runners, they can also direct you to the sites that are offering free festival bets, so there is nothing to lose and potentially plenty to gain. Here are three of the Greatrex contenders that are aiming to steal the limelight from Henderson and Mullins and could be worth a wager.
La Bague Au Roi
Spearheading Greatrex’s hopes is this seven year old mare, entered in the Mares Hurdle on Tuesday and the showpiece race on Thursday, the Stayers Hurdle. He will decide closer to the day which race she will run in, but having won her last four outings, including an impressive run at Ascot last month, she has never looked fitter.
Clearly, her best chance of success is in the Mare’s Hurdle, but Greatrex is hugely tempted to go for glory. Is she in with a chance in the Stayers? Bookmakers are quoting between 12/1 and 20/1, and anything at the longer end is definitely worth grabbing.
The six year old gelding enjoyed a run of wins last year, and had a creditable second place at Newbury against strong competition. He looked below par in a run out at Cheltenham last week, but Greatrex was not unduly concerned. He said: “I think that was my fault running him back too quickly after the Challow at Newbury.” The horse is entered in the Albert Bartlett novice hurdle, which immediately precedes the Gold Cup. Tipsters have seen odds as long as 33/1, and suggest that they are just too good to turn down for an each way wager.
For those looking for the archetypal dark horse, Keeper Hill is the tipster’s choice. Greatrex was hoping to follow up on a solid win in Doncaster just before Christmas with a good showing at Musselburgh last weekend. That came to nothing when the horse fell while leading. The trainer says he has few better stayers, and is confident he would have won. With little to go on, the bookmakers are tentatively offering 16/1 in the Novice Chase on Tuesday, and those odds look highly generous.