Timeform chief correspondent Jamie Lynch takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, heavily influenced by what he expects to happen at the impending renewal of the four-day extravaganza.
"Ever since his grinding glory in the 2018 RSA, he’s had his eyes on jumping’s number one prize..."
'We are made wise not by the recollection of the past, but by the responsibility for our future.'
George Bernard Shaw wouldn't have been a go-to guy for a Cheltenham preview panel, where caricatured pseudo-specialists - myself very much included - go on a persona-powered publicity drive to make themselves appear wizardly wise by recollecting on past form and past Festivals.
While others were barking bravado about how the past informs the present, Shaw would be more measured, more meticulous and more mindful of the responsibility of facing the future, of learning by looking ahead, rather than back.
Everybody's about done in with Cheltenham previews for this year. So how about one for next year, stirred by Shaw, in the belief that a long-range view may clarify the short-term snapshot. Unless you're an insomniac, it's only 369 sleeps until the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, and let's put a flippant focus on that, for a proxy perspective on next week.
TUESDAY 12TH MARCH 2019
No 'Beast' this year, and, like death and taxes, it's good, good to soft in places; but unlike death and taxes, the official verdict isn't definitive, and the possibility of ground with - dare we say - some firm in it is in danger of scuppering the story of the season, of Samcro's legacy-building march on the Champion Hurdle.
Ambitious and adventurous, to magnify his myth, Samcro had his chasing career put on hold to launch an assault on hurdling's biggest prize, and, in his Champion-charging campaign, everything has gone as smoothly as his eleven-length success in last year's Ballymore. But going quick on quick going is connections' concern for him, and there's little or no margin for error, not against hat-trick seeking Buveur d'Air, who impressed everyone in his prep run in the 9.5f maiden at Wolverhampton in November.
With or without Samcro, it's a strong renewal, factoring in the several graduates from last season's classy juvenile crop who served up a treat in the Triumph. It's a rematch from the 2018 Festival for them, as it is in the Arkle where the one-two from the Supreme, Getabird and Paloma Blue (or preferably Paloma Blue and Getabird), are putting their unbeaten chasing records on the line.
Better late than never for the week's hotpot Annamix, who's had a date with the Supreme ever since he was ante-post favourite back in October 2017, forced to miss that season but steamrollering through this one. Bookmakers claim they have liabilities of £3,000,000,000,000,000 on the Mullins monster multiple of Annamix in the Supreme, Getabird in the Arkle and Laurina in the Mares' Hurdle, the last-named as short as 2/5 to supplement last year's runaway win in the Dawn Run, the way opened by Apple's Jade heading elsewhere.
And Blow By Blow is 6/4 for the National Hunt Chase.
WEDNESDAY 13TH MARCH 2019
Altior and Min are both back, after their epic tussle last year, but a duel has become a mêlée à trois due to the rise and rise of Footpad, who provided the 'wow' moment of the 2018 Festival with a Sprinter Sacresque performance in the Arkle. Ruby Walsh has yet to commit to either Min or Footpad and says he may ride neither in favour of Yorkhill, though that one's first preference is for the Cross-Country Chase on the same day, and his second preference is for watching it from home with a fag and a beer. Finian's Oscar said he's up for that, too.
In the RSA Chase, all eyes are on Cracking Smart who has run riot in the division this season, carrying all before him at home in Ireland and looking a notch above the best of the British, Coup de Pinceau, who has won 13 of his 14 chases in a campaign that began in June.
THURSDAY 14TH MARCH 2019
It's time for the big girl to set about some big boys at Cheltenham, and Apple's Jade, too good for the mares at the last two Festivals, is now gunning for the Stayers' Hurdle, with defending champion Sam Spinner in her sights.
Thursday is also Thistlecrack day, but whether we see him in the Stayers' Hurdle or the Ryanair Chase is still to be decided, one as taxing as the other considering that the reinvigorated Douvan is said to be 100% on target for the Gold Cup, which means he's running in the Ryanair for sure.
And the search began, in France, a long time ago for a suitably sassy mare for Mullins, beginning with the letter 'L', to keep up the Dawn Run tradition. Limini, Let's Dance, Laurina...
FRIDAY 15TH MARCH 2019
Presenting Percy is bidding to become the first horse to complete the RSA-Gold Cup double since, erm, maybe last year. Ever since his grinding glory in the 2018 RSA, he's had his eyes on jumping's number one prize, and he warmed up for the Gold Cup in the way that only Presenting Percy warms up for big races, by winning the Irish Champion Hurdle.
Mark Bradstock has issued an upbeat bulletin about Coneygree potentially reappearing on the radar in the Gold Cup, and Minella Rocco has issued an equally upbeat bulletin about Jonjo O'Neill potentially reappearing on the radar in the Gold Cup.
And wind ops are back in focus, in the Foxhunter, as it's revealed that Bradley Wiggins, who's 'doing a Pendleton', has had six such operations in the three months since Team Sky refocused from one form of racing to another.