Norm on Cheltenham

The talking will finally stop at 1.30 on Tuesday afternoon when the tapes go up for the first race and, as one, the Cheltenham crowd voices its approval.

As each year passes, rather like the Ryder Cup, the build-up, focus and intensity seems to increase with the participants coming under the microscope for weeks in advance.

There are many variables in racing but thankfully it looks like the weather is something we, as punters, will be able to rely on this week.

As of Monday morning the going is described as good to soft, with the forecast seemingly set fair with balmy spring temperatures, little more than a breeze and no rain to speak of.

It may be a year in which it could be said there are ‘no excuses for anyone’, but clearly those who flourish on soft ground could find things happening all too fast.

By Thursday clerk of the course Simon Claisse could be turning on the taps to maintain safe ground, music to the ears of Cue Card fans who will raise the roof if the popular 11-year-old can become the oldest winner of the Timico Gold Cup since 1969.

For Friday’s blue riband event, as for Tuesday’s feature – the Champion Hurdle – there isn’t one particular horse there to be shot at, previous Gold Cup winners Coneygree and Don Cossack absent through injury, similarly ex-Champions Faugheen and Annie Power.

It means both the big races look wide open, and I like the look of a couple of outsiders in both races. Ch’Tibello has ground to make up on Yanworth on recent form, but a recent wind operation could unlock further improvement and he is 10x the price of the favourite.

The Mullins/Walsh combination shouldn’t be overlooked but Footpad has been completely ignored in the market and he’ll be staying on when others have cried enough, so could be worth each-way support.

Native River ridden by Richard Johnson – RealTime Images

In the Gold Cup, apart from Cue Card’s record attempt the market leaders each have something to prove, so some of the longer priced runners appeal from an each-way perspective.

Bristol De Mai’s run behind Native River at Newbury was all wrong and he can prove that by running a stormer at 20/1, while Irish raiders Champagne West and Outlander have shown enough to suggest they are now ready to dine at the top table.

Purists and money buyers will be looking forward to the likes of Altior and Douvan strutting their stuff at prohibitive odds on Tuesday and Wednesday, while on Thursday Unowhatimeanharry looks a good thing for favourite backers in the Stayers Hurdle.

I’ll be trackside for the first three days trying to separate the wheat from the chaff, not that there’ll be much of the latter.

The handicaps will no doubt be as difficult as ever but if we can hit one or two out the ballpark we should cover expenses with a bit left over.

David Pipe’s Starchitect is the horse I’m most looking forward to backing, although it remains to be seen whether he goes for Thurday’s Brown Advisory Plate or the Grand Annual, which closes the show on Friday.

You can follow my selections for each race on the site throughout the week.

Good luck!

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