Coronavirus permitting, the Cheltenham Festival will take place from Tuesday 10 March to Friday 13 March.
For those who wish to consider times (overall and sectionals) here are summaries, arranged alphabetically (and with the horses’ highest recent sectional ratings in brackets), of some of the leading contenders. “FS%” is finishing speed as a % of average race speed.
AL BOUM PHOTO (170), as last year, ran fast overall and on sectionals when winning at Tramore on New Year’s Day (once suspect race distances are allowed for), and all those behind him have run well since.
ALLAHO (153) was much faster overall in relative terms, and a bit faster late on, than the other two chase winners at Fairyhouse in January, and, though inexperienced, is very likely smart.
ALLMANKIND (145), after a 91% FS on his debut, has been more measured, and faster overall, when following up at Cheltenham and Chepstow, but the doubt remains how he will cope if taken on.
ALTIOR (169), untouchable at his best, ran fast – just not as fast as Cyrname – at Ascot then typically dug himself out of trouble with quick late splits (107% finishing speed) at Newbury.
A PLUS TARD (162) went fast early, less so late (98% FS), when beating a reappearing Chacun Pour Soi at Leopardstown at Christmas but with an ordinary one quite close in third.
APPRECIATE IT (138) carried more weight and ran 3.1s faster overall (most of it early on) than did Irish Champion Hurdle winner Honeysuckle at Leopardstown, which is top form by bumper standards.
ASPIRE TOWER (146) was upgraded lots for scorching along early and slowing less late than his rivals (93% FS) at Leopardstown, but was less superior at an even pace until falling at the last there recently.
ASTERION FORLONGE (156) was fastest of three winners at 2m on the Sunday of the Dublin Racing Festival, and is at least smart, but he (95% FS) and his rivals finished slowly due to a strong early pace.
BENIE DES DIEUX (161) was a major standout on time when winning at Gowran, easily the fastest average speed on a card on which only one race was run at longer and second-fastest in the last 4f.
CHACUN POUR SOI (177) was fast when beating Defi Du Seuil at Punchestown and even faster (over 20 lengths superior to Notebook at same C&D) when beating Min at Leopardstown, latter with a 97% FS.
CILAOS EMERY (160) ran a solid overall time and late splits when unpenalised and winning in the mud at Gowran, though was not quite top drawer on earlier hurdles efforts.
CLAN DES OBEAUX (171) won by a wide margin at Kempton, though splits show everything else caved in (99% FS to their under 89% FS) and emptied late when fifth in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
COPPERHEAD (150) ran a smart time at Ascot but comparisons should factor in significant ground deterioration and the fact that he kept going (97% finishing speed) as others stopped (93% and below).
DEFI DU SEUIL (172) has been all about late speed, even when winning at further, and only just lasted home in front when winning strongly-run Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown (99% FS).
DELTA WORK (164) won Savills Chase and Irish Gold Cup, both at Leopardstown, in similar style, grinding it out in slow-motion finishes, but does have a smart overall time from his third in RSA Chase in 2019.
EPATANTE (157) quickened exceptionally at Newbury in November but her Christmas Hurdle win at Kempton was well-run and resulted in a time 3.0s (15 lengths) quicker than the opening novice.
ENVOI ALLEN (158) is the real deal judged on his fast-time win in a well-run Royal Bond at Fairyhouse in December but not so much judged on the time/sectionals he recorded at Naas last time.
FAUGHEEN (153) slammed Samcro at Limerick (difficult to weigh up on time) then toughed it out against Easy Game at Leopardstown in a time that compared well with others on the card (101% FS).
FIDDLERONTHEROOF (153) was much faster than the other two C&D winners at Sandown in January and managed to finish strongly up the hill (98.7% FS) despite the solid gallop and soft ground.
GLOBAL CITIZEN (152) ran faster overall and faster late on than Bun Doran, winner of the Desert Orchid Chase on the same card, when victorious at Kempton at Christmas from a next-time winner.
GOSHEN (147) has come home clear in three Juvenile Hurdles, his time at Sandown on second of them much faster than given officially, slow FS%s showing he has stayed far better than most of his rivals.
HONEYSUCKLE (158) was workmanlike in winning the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown, but three out to the last was many lengths faster than any other hurdle at the DRF and likely excessive.
KEMBOY (172) is only about 163 on this season’s efforts but did beat Clan Des Obeaux at Aintree and Al Boum Photo at Punchestown last season, both seemingly on merit and the latter in a very good time.
LOSTINTRANSLATION (170) snapped at Defi Du Seuil’s heels as a novice and bagged a big one in the Betfair Chase at Haydock – in a surprisingly modest overall time – before bombing out at Christmas.
MIN (174) could not match Altior in that one’s prime but a fast-time victory at Aintree showed he stays 20f and a good second to Chacun Pour Soi at Leopardstown suggests he is at least as good as ever.
NOTEBOOK (158) ran efficiently and fast when winning at Leopardstown the last twice, though he gets his biggest figure from his effort at Christmas, not last time (when he all but bolted beforehand).
PAISLEY PARK (165) used to need strongly-run races at long trips, but showed more speed to win falsely-run affairs at Newbury and Cheltenham this season against slightly limited opposition.
RAMSES DE TEILLEE (148) is one of a few in this list who has proved good at running his rivals into the ground and keeping going better (despite slow FS%s), though that is no easy trick at Cheltenham.
SANTINI (173) lost a shoe when outpaced late on in second in RSA Chase 12 months ago and went into overdrive run-in to beat Bristol De Mai in slog at Cheltenham last time: stamina is his trump card.
SHISHKIN (155) was not especially fast overall at Newbury or Huntingdon, but a 108% FS at the latter boosts his basic time rating to something much better.
SOLO (142) was excellent on visuals but surprisingly ordinary on times (overall and sectionals) when running away with the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton on his only start since coming from France.
SPORTING JOHN (152) ran quickly when winning at Ascot last time, but not nearly as quickly as some reckon: his official time was about 6.6s faster than his time in reality.
THIRD TIME LUCKI (128) ran quicker overall than the useful novice hurdler West Cork on the same card when winning at Huntingdon and looks one of the best British bumper hopes.
THYME HILL (149) is unbeaten in three hurdles, all in solid overall times, though his defeat of The Cashel man at Newbury last time was workmanlike and efficiently achieved.
TIGER ROLL (166) finds hurdles, cross-country obstacles and the Grand National fences all coming alike to him, though even at marathon trips his late speed is his signature (107% FS for latest Aintree win).