One of National Hunt racing’s great pulls is that fans of the sport see their favourite horses come back year after year.
This is seen to great effect at the Cheltenham Festival, with previous Festival winners held in high regard – and multiple Festival winners forever etched into racing folklore.
Below, Joe Eccles has identified five Cheltenham Festival heroes who are set to be back at Prestbury Park in March – providing his verdict on their chances of further Festival success.
If you feel all five are likely to be back in the winner’s enclosure next month, the combined accumulator is priced-up at a healthy 7,506/1 with Coral.
Where better to start than the Nicky Henderson-trained Altior, who broke the legendary Big Buck’s’ record of eighteen consecutive jump wins when landing the Celebration Chase at Sandown in April.
That sequence included four Cheltenham Festival victories (2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, 2017 Arkle Novices’ Chase and the last two renewals of the Queen Mother Champion Chase).
If Altior lines up in the Champion Chase next month, he will be bidding to become just the second horse after Badsworth Boy (1983, 1984 & 1985) to win three renewals of the race.
Although some think further success at the top level is now beyond Altior – and this year’s Champion Chase shaping up to be an absolute belter – it’d take a brave punter to completely dismiss the ten-year-old’s chances of achieving history.
Strength of chances: 7/10
There are simply not enough superlatives to describe Tiger Roll, a dual Grand National winner, he also belongs in a small bracket of horses to have achieved four wins at the Cheltenham Festival (2014 Triumph Hurdle, 2017 National Hunt Chase and the last two renewals of the Glenfarclas Cross County) – his only defeat at the Festival coming in the 2015 Stayers’ Hurdle.
Before bidding to become the first horse to win three consecutive Grand Nationals, he will attempt to become the first horse to win three consecutive renewals of the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase.
Last weekend’s reappearance in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan should have put him spot-on for the race, which he took by an unbelievable twenty-two-length margin last year.
Although he will face a new set of rivals in March – namely the French raider Easysland – he should prove tough to beat if in anywhere near the same form as last year.
Strength of chances: 9/10
Altior is not the only horse going to Cheltenham with a 100% Festival record – with Penhill – winner of the 2017 Albert Bartlett and 2018 Stayers’ Hurdle, set to take on Paisley Park in this year’s renewal of the Stayers’.
Penhill has not been at his best in four starts this season, but last weekend’s second-place finish in the Boyne Hurdle was a step back in the right direction, and his likely pilot in the Stayers’ – Paul Townend – has impressive form figures of 111122 when riding.
Strength of chances: 2/10
One horse who epitomises everything that is good about the Cheltenham Festival is Native River, with his form figures over fences at the Festival currently read 2314 – the last three of those runs coming in the last three renewals of the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Colin Tizzard’s charge may now be an eleven-year-old, but he is certainly not without his supporters in the Gold Cup this year – and it is not difficult to see why having won both of his starts so far this season.
Although it would be no shock to see him vulnerable to a couple of younger legs at the business end next month, he arrives at the Festival a live each-way contender.
Strength of chances: 3/10
Jonjo O’Neill has won the Cheltenham Gold Cup as both a trainer and rider – and his Minella Rocco finished a close second in the race back in 2017.
That is not the only time that Minella Rocco has run creditably at the Festival, however, with the gelding seeing off Native River in the 2016 National Hunt Chase.
His form has generally been in decline since that Gold Cup second, but he has enjoyed something of a renaissance since sent hunter chasing earlier this year, winning both of his starts – seeing off last year’s Foxhunters Chase winner Hazel Hill at Wetherby earlier this month.
He is set to take on that rival again in next month’s Foxhunters – for which he is currently a best-priced 6/1.
Strength of chances: 6/10