Kevin Blake

On Cheltenham week, leading racing writer Kevin Blake makes the case that both Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore could be in for a big four days.

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The time for talking is almost over. The build-up to the Cheltenham Festival seems to get longer and more intense with each passing season. The tension has only been multiplied in recent years by various scares with the weather, equine flu and most recently Coronavirus. Such is the sport’s focus on this one meeting, the thought of it being cancelled is almost too much to compute for National Hunt fans.

With less than 48 hours to go, it looks as though the meeting will just about be safe from the looming threat of Coronavirus and we can look forward to our sport being showcased in the most tremendous theatre we have to offer.

Such is the nature of National Hunt racing that much of the focus in the build-up to the meeting has been on the established powerhouse trainers such as Nicky Henderson, Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott. However, it would be dangerous to underestimate the impact that Henry De Bromhead could have on the meeting.

De Bromhead has had a remarkable few years that have perhaps slipped under the radar with many. He was dealt a hammer blow in August 2016 when the late Alan Potts removed his horses from his yard. With Potts being his biggest owner and the departed having included future Gold Cup winner Sizing John and multiple Grade 1-winning hurdler Supasundae, many might have expected it to result in a downturn in De Bromhead’s fortunes.

Not only were such fears unfounded, the opposite has proven to be the case. De Bromhead’s best-ever seasonal tally of winners in the Potts era was 49, but he has since surged forward, registering a career-best 98 domestic winners last season to finish third in the Trainers’ Championship. As well as that, the last three seasons have seen him saddle a total of four winners at the Cheltenham Festival, including Special Tiara in the Queen Mother Champion Chase and Balko Des Flos in the Ryanair Chase.

This season has seen him lift his performance to all-new levels. He has already surpassed his previous best seasonal tally of prize money with him having over €2m in the pot already thanks in no small part to five Grade 1 and five Grade 2 victories.

That success has translated into him having his strongest-ever team of runners heading to the Cheltenham Festival. Notebook (Arkle Trophy), Honeysuckle (Mares’ Hurdle), Minella Indo (RSA Chase) and A Plus Tard (Ryanair Chase) are all 3/1 or shorter for their Grade 1 targets.

Aspire Tower is amongst the leading contenders for the Triumph Hurdle and Minella Melody is a general 9/4 shot for the Mares’ Novice Hurdle. He also sends over some sneakier but talented contenders for Grade 1 races such as Captain Guinness (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle), Put The Kettle On (Arkle Trophy), Cobbler’s Way(Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle), Monalee (Gold Cup) and Chris’s Dream (Gold Cup).

As well as that, he has a small but select team in the handicaps too with the likes of Trainwreck (Novices’ Handicap Chase), Plan Of Attack (Kim Muir), Paloma Blue (Grand Annual) and Jan Maat (Grand Annual) all having very realistic prospects.

Considering all of this, it really is surprising to see De Bromhead available at prices as big as 14/1 to be crowned leading trainer at the meeting. With his leading contenders being front loaded towards the first half of the meeting, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him burst out of the blocks and take up a prominent position in the table. Granted a bit of luck, he could well be right in the mix at the end of the week.

An obvious offshoot to the above is that if De Bromhead enjoys the sort of success that could put him in the mix for leading trainer honours is that Rachael Blackmore is very likely to be right there with him. While Rachael hasn’t ridden as many winners this season as she had at the same stage last season, she has more than made up for that at the highest level having already ridden five Grade 1 winners compared to three in all of last season. With her looking to have her best-ever book of rides for the Cheltenham Festival, she could well emerge as the star performer amongst the jockeys at the meeting.

Whatever way the results fall this week, the main hope is that every man, woman and horse involved comes home safe and sound. After that, the best advice I can give is to savour every moment of the Cheltenham Festival. We only get four days of this every year, so make the most of it.

This is the cream of our crop. This is as good as it gets. As Jerry Hannon might say: “Strap yourselves in!”

Kevin Blake
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