Brexit & the Cheltenham Festival: Roll On the Ides of March!

There are a lot of people out there who, without wanting to wish their lives away, cannot wait for March to come around.

One such person is Theresa May, who might just see an end to this Brexit debacle which has surely been causing her sleepless nights for more than two years now.

As we know, the deadline for the EU divorce deal is March 29, and after a period of deadlock caused by ructions in the House of Commons, there may just have been a breakthrough this week with the PM enjoying ‘robust but constructive’ talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels.

Many of us had ‘robust but constructive’ talks with our parents growing up when we came home late from a night out – we usually agreed that we wouldn’t do it again, of course, but it would seem as though there has been some progress regarding the dreaded Irish backstop.

And of course there’s another key engagement in March: the rollicking Cheltenham Festival, where many of Europe and Ireland’s – the sweet irony – best horses, jockeys and trainers will come together in harmony to put on a sublime show in the market town.

Preparations were set to hot up this weekend with the Denman Chase, amongst many other ‘waypoint’ races, but unfortunately the schedule has been thrown into chaos by an outbreak of equine flu.

The Dreaded Flu Wipes Out Racecards Across the Land

Sick HorseYep, it’s true: horses can catch the flu too.

It’s slightly different to the strain that humans get, and you certainly won’t find any horses tucked up under a blanket on the sofa watching daytime TV and complaining of feeling ‘just a bit tired and achy, really’.

But it is highly contagious, and can wide-ranging effects on a horse’s short and long-term health, so it’s at times like these that it’s best for all to batten down the hatches.

All four meetings on Thursday were cancelled in order to help stop the spread, and British-trained horses will be prevented from travelling to Ireland for the time being.

As ever, panic has set in and left many wondering if the Cheltenham Festival will be cancelled, like it was 18 years ago when the foot-and-mouth crisis took hold.

That seems highly unlikely somehow, and we would expect top-flight racing to be back on the radar by the weekend.

Hopefully that means that the planned ‘Super Saturday’ meeting at Newbury will go ahead as planned.

A Super Saturday to Do Some Cheltenham Scouting

The ‘Super’ before the Saturday is of course a marketing ploy from Newbury officials, but actually the card they are serving up certainly has plenty of out-of-the-ordinary horses battling it out, assuming the meeting survives the equine flu outbreak of course.

The Betfair Hurdle has a top prize of more than £150,000 – hence why so many are keen for the meeting to proceed as normal, and it’s a race that has offered plenty of intriguing pointers ahead of Cheltenham, with Kalashnikov winning this race and at the Festival and My Tent of Yours – the three-time Champion Hurdle runner-up – also tasting Betfair Hurdle glory.

As such, all eyes will be on the field in this Grade One race, with Al Dancer, Getaway Trump and Monsieur Lecoq all looking to make a statement ahead of the Cheltenham trip.

The Betfair Exchange Chase could be one to savour as well. Fox Norton, who lost the Champion Chase by a head to Special Tiara at the 2017 Festival, will take another step towards full fitness, and he could be challenged by Waiting Patiently, the Ascot Chase winner who many are touting for glory in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham.

The progress of Kalashnikov, so impressive in finishing second in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, will also be monitored in this classy Betfair Exchange Chase renewal.

But for my money, the pick of the day – despite only having Grade Two status – is the Denman Chase, named after the legendary Gold Cup winner who was nicknamed ‘The Tank’.

It’s a race which has been a fantastic proving ground for Gold Cup champions at Cheltenham, with Denman, Kauto Star, Coneygree and the defending champion Native River all winning at Newbury before going on to triumph in one of National Hunt racing’s ultimate contests.

Native River is actually looking to complete a hat-trick in this 23f trip, and has been installed by the bookmakers as an odds-on favourite to do exactly that.

Can Colin Tizzard’s horse be toppled? He’s without a win in two starts so perhaps, and Clan Des Obeaux – the King George VI winner – might just fancy the job should conditions be quick at Newbury.

If you’re at a loose end on Saturday, be sure to make it ‘Super’ by enjoying this fantastic day of racing.