Horse racing is about more than just the horse and rider. Just as a football team depends on its coach to make sure it plays to the best of its ability, a horse stands no chance of winning without the expertise of its trainer.
The forthcoming Cheltenham Festival is as much a battle between trainers as horses. The two big guns will be there – Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins have trained more than 100 Cheltenham winners between them over the years, and both will add to their tallies in March. But there is one man who is looking to make sure it is not an entirely “two horse race” as far as the trainers go.
Colin Tizzard has trained some highly successful horses over the years. In 2017 alone, he had nine grade one winners. Yet he came away from last year’s festival without a single trophy. Will 2018 be a better year for Team Tizzard, and if so, which are the horses to watch out for?
Tipster’s guide to Team Tizzard
With 28 races to choose from, it seems impossible to think that a trainer with such a high quality stable can come away from Cheltenham winless again. The experts at Racing Tips will post tips for every Cheltenham race in the run up to the Festival, and have taken a look at the bloodstock in the Tizzard stable. Here are the ones that caught their eye.
Cue Card is to Tizzard as Hedgehunter is to Willie Mullins. The gelding won the Champion Bumper in 2010 at 40/1, and scooped numerous other accolades in the years to follow. But now, at 11 years old, does Tizzard’s star turn have one more big win left in him?
The horse came so close yet so far in the Ascot Chase last week, just beaten into second place by Waiting Patiently, and Tizzard must be desperate to give him a chance for the biggest prize of all in the Gold Cup. However, the bookies feel the head will rule the heart, and he will ultimately decide to run the horse in the Ryanair Chase on St Patrick’s Day.
Cue Card might be the emotional choice, but the pragmatists are looking squarely at Native River for Tizzard’s most realistic chance of a showcase win at Cheltenham. For weeks, the tipsters have been saying there is more to the Gold Cup showdown than Might Bite and Sizing John, and finally the bookmakers are taking notice.
Last year, the horse came in third, and he has a real chance of beating anyone in 2018. With question marks over Sizing John’s fitness and Might Bite’s ability to keep all four legs under him, Native River is a compelling choice.
Like Cue Card, this is a horse that holds an entry in one of the showcase races – the Queen Mother Champions Chase – as well as the Ryanair Chase. The horse was conspicuous by its absence at a recent press briefing, apparently down to a minor foot infection. All the indications are that discretion will be the better part of valour, and Fox Norton will be duking it out with stablemate Cue Card in the Ryanair on the Thursday of the festival, particularly given his convincing victory over current favourite Un De Sceaux at the Punchestown Festival last year.
The six year old had a highly successful 2017, with five wins in six starts, and seemed a great punt for the Stayers Hurdle. However, when he pulled up at Cheltenham last month, a breathing problem threw everything into doubt. The horse will now run in the JLT Novices Chase, but ongoing fitness doubts mean bookmakers odds have started to slide. This is one horse that will most likely have to wait till 2019 for Cheltenham glory, but time is on his side.
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