THE Cheltenham Festival, the highlight of the National Hunt racing season, is just round the corner, writes Richard Walsh.

The four-day festival begins tomorrow (Tuesday, March 13) and ends with Gold Cup Day on Friday, March 16.

To have a winner at the Festival is every racehorse trainer’s dream and even though David Pipe, whose yard is situated at Nicholashayne not far from Wellington, has already notched up several winners there - he is hoping to add to his tally in 2018.

Looking ahead to Cheltenham, Pipe said: “All our horses have had a decent preparation and it’s so close and yet so far away, especially the way the weather has been recently.

“It’s just a case of ticking them over now and trying to avoid any silly accidents.

“So far in my career I have had 15 winners at the Cheltenham Festival and it gets tougher every year; hopefully, we will be going there with 10 or 12 horses this year and, fingers crossed, we are successful.”

Regarding which of his horses he thinks have the best chance of success at the ‘greatest show on turf’, Pipe said: “Our three best chances at Cheltenham will be Moon Racer in the Coral Cup or the County Hurdle, King’s Socks in the Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase, and Vaniteaux in the Grand Annual Chase.”

Up at Ditcheat, Paul Nicholls has a strong hand of contenders including the young chaser Modus who is as short as 7-1 for the JLT Novices’ Chase.

After an exceptional hurdling career, he won his chasing debut at Bangor, followed up in Wincanton’s Grade 2 John Romans Park Homes “Rising Stars” Novices’ Chase in November and then took a tumble at Exeter on heavy ground.

He put that right at Kempton where he made all to win the Matchbook VIP Graduation Chase and is regarded as one of Nicholls’ best chances at the Festival.

The Harry Fry-trained Drumcliffe, who won well at the course in November, will run in either the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase or the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase.


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