Brilliant first-season chasers Thistlecrack and Altior feature among the latest championship acceptors for the six non-novice Grade 1 championship contests at The Festival following the 14th February scratchings deadline.
Timeform, the Halifax-based ratings and content provider, has Thistlecrack (Colin Tizzard) top of its weight-adjusted ratings on 186 for the feature £575,000 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup on Gold Cup Day, Friday 17th March, narrowly ahead of last year’s runner-up Djakadam (Willie Mullins IRE, 185 with Timeform) and stablemate Cue Card (184+).
The 29 Timico Gold Cup championship acceptors also include Hennessy Gold Cup hero Native River (Colin Tizzard, 178p), G1 Lexus Chaser scorer Outlander (Gordon Elliott IRE, 180) and Sizing John (Jessica Harrington, 179), who relished the step up to 3 miles in the G1 Irish Gold Cup on 12th February.
Besides Outlander, Gordon Elliott and owner Gigginstown House Stud also combine with Don Poli (178), last year’s third, Irish Gold Cup runner-up Empire Of Dirt (178) and Roi Des Francs.
Willie Mullins-trained stars Douvan (193p), unbeaten in 13 starts including twice at The Festival for Ireland’s champion Jump trainer, and Un De Sceaux (183), the 2016 second, head Timeform’s ratings for the 2-mile chasing championship, the £350,000 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (20 championship acceptors) on Ladies Day, Wednesday 15th March.
Unbeaten novice chaser Altior (Nicky Henderson, 178p) has been left in after his dazzling display at Newbury, but is reported more likely to contest the £175,000 G1 Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase on Champion Day, 14th March.
Impressive course and distance scorer Fox Norton (Colin Tizzard, 177+), 2014 champion Sire De Grugy (Gary Moore, 177) and locally-trained God’s Own (Tom George, 176), last year’s fourth, remain engaged in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Douvan, Djakadam and Un De Sceaux are also among 34 entries going forward for the £300,000 Ryanair Chase over an extended 2 and a half miles on St Patrick’s Thursday, 16th March.
2015 scorer Uxizandre (Alan King, 178), who returned from almost two years off the track with a good second on Festival Trials Day, is on course for the race along with G1 Irish Gold Cup runner-up Empire Of Dirt (Gordon Elliott IRE, 178), who was an impressive winner in handicap company at The Festival last year.
Leading owner JP McManus holds a strong hand in £400,000 Stan James Champion Hurdle on Champion Day, Tuesday 14th March, with 2014 victor Jezki (Jessica Harrington IRE) and Yanworth (Alan King) heading Timeform’s ratings on 178.
Another McManus-owned contender Buveur D’Air (Nicky Henderson, 176p) is ante-post favourite with most bookmakers after a smooth return to hurdling at Sandown Park on 4th February, while stalwart The New One (Nigel Twiston-Davies, 177x) could run in his fourth Stan James Champion Hurdle after finishing fourth (2016), fifth (2015) and third (2014).
Petit Mouchoir (Henry de Bromhead, 175) is among eight Irish-trained confirmations and the Gigginstown House Stud-owned six-year-old is much improved this season following a brace of G1 triumphs at Leopardstown.
McManus is also responsible for Timeform’s top three rated champonship acceptors going forward in the £300,000 Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle, headed by Unowhatimeanharry (Harry Fry, 180). The nine-year-old has won his last eight races over hurdles including the G1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and G2 galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The 36 Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle championship acceptors also include last year’s Stan James Champion Hurdle third Nichols Canyon (Willie Mullins, 174) and French Champion Hurdle scorer Un Temps Pour Tout (David Pipe, 173), a winner over fences at The Festival in 2016.
Willie Mullins has trimmed down his entries for the £110,000 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle to seven (from an initial 15) but the trainer still boasts a formidable hand as he seeks a remarkable ninth consecutive victory in the race.
Six of the seven top 10 mares according to Timeform are trained by Mullins and none are more popular than Vroum Vroum Mag (173) who captured this race impressively last year and has won 13 of her 14 starts since joining Ireland’s champion trainer.
Mullins has also left in exciting novices Airlie Beach (165), Augusta Kate (158p) and Let’s Dance(160p).
Last year’s leading juvenile hurdler Apple’s Jade (Gordon Elliott IRE, 170) defeated Vroum Vroum Mag by a short-head in the G1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in December.