Emma Spencer: the Cheltenham Festival is finally upon us

Adam Courtney
2017-03-13
Emma describes what the Cheltenham Festival means to her

It’s finally upon us. The Cheltenham Festival - jump racing’s Olympics, World Cup and Super Bowl rolled into one – kicks off on Tuesday, and I can’t wait.

One of the greatest experiences of my life was when my parents, both former trainers, had a winner in Top Cees in 1998 – the cacophony when he was led in in front of stands, with me by his side, will stay with me forever; in fact, I think the hangover is only just wearing off!

Ah. Cheltenham and hangovers. It wouldn’t be a Festival without one, and those without the constitution of a Gold Cup-winning gelding may very well not last the pace.

If the Irish only used to trounce the Brits in the drinking department, they’re doing the same on the track now, largely thanks to a man by the name of Willie Mullins.

The master trainer has plundered 48 Festival winners in the past two years, including 15 at the last two Festivals and he again holds most of the aces.

His best chance is the magnificent Douvan in Wednesday’s Queen Mother Champion Chase, while Vroum Vroum Mag faces stablemate Limini in the Mares' event - he should have the 1-2.

I really like the look of Brain Power in the Champion Hurdle - he's an unexposed type who absolutely trounced a valuable handicap hurdle field at Ascot last time, and in a race without an obvious superstar, it could pay to back an up-and-comer.

Money has been pouring in for Unowhatimeanharry to land the Stayers’ Hurdle on Thursday, but Cole Harden won the race in 2015 and has been primed to regain his crown.

The Gold Cup could be an absolute cracker. Trainer Colin Tizzard has the top two in the betting, Cue Card and Native River; it looks like it’s his to lose, but you’d do worse than to have some each-way money on Sizing John, winner of the Irish Gold Cup and tip of many a shrewd judge.

Whatever you’re backing, have a great Festival!

My five favourite Festival winners

Top Cees 1998

Nothing’s more special than having a Cheltenham winner, and that’s exactly what my parents had with Top Cees when I was a teenager. I’ll never forget the sheer elation of seeing a horse I grew up with win a race at the toughest meeting of them all.

Best Mate 2004

The emotion of seeing ‘Matey’ win his third Gold Cup was something to behold. He was one of those horses who caught the imagination of the wider public and watching him make history was special.

Hardy Eustace 2005

Who can forget Paul Carberry sitting motionless on Harchibald, going like a winner as Brave Inca and Hardy were being hard ridden, until the last 50 yards but not quite getting a response in time? A race for the ages.

Synchronised 2012

Vintage AP McCoy as he pushed and shoved the game and talented Sychronised for over a circuit to grab Gold Cup glory – a superhuman effort from horse and rider.

Sprinter Sacre 2016

The comeback of all comebacks. Sprinter looked to be finished with heart problems, but trainer Nicky Henderson somehow coaxed him back to regain his Champion Chase crown – I’ve never heard a Cheltenham roar like it.