THURSDAY PREVIEWThe featured Grade 1 on Day 3 of the Festival is the World Hurdle -- a marathon at 3 miles -- and it goes as Cheltenham Race 4 for the Twinspires betting. It shapes up to be a real corker, pitting the two-time winner of this race, #4 BIG BUCK'S against the up-and-coming #8 GRAND GRUS (as a 6-year old he still qualifies as on the young side for a Festival runner, you gotta love it). BIG BUCK'S has run ten in a row and loves it here. I'm going to cast my lot with him.
Race 3, The Ryanair Chase (Grade 1), is a 2 mile 5 furlong steeplechase. I have been a fan of #6 KALAHARI KING for a long time, and have cashed on him before at the Festival (he hasn't won but has multiple Grade 1 placings). I feel like you can conjure various excuses for his last few runs and warrants a look here today at a course where he's run some big races. I may hedge and weight my bet on the place side.
The nightcap is Race 6, the Kim Muir Challenge Cup, a handicap chase. The Cheltenham handicaps are generally super-confusing events with huge spreads in weight that are hard for me to feel too confident about. But this race features a horse I've been an avid fan of for years. My friend, ace bloodstock agent and Eclipse-winning journalist Sean Clancy, first noticed #12 JUNIOR way back in 2007. Had he won at the Festival in 2008, we'd have gotten enough to buy a used car. By the time he scored for us at Royal Ascot on the flat this past June, our haul was down to a used tricycle. But that didn't matter -- it was great to see the old boy finally achieve some of the greatness we had long predicted for him.
I've heard some handicappers crab the jumping game because speed figures are hard to use when it comes to finding winners. But that just makes other handicapping factors more important, things like trips. Consider JUNIOR'S journey last time, where he won the pace battle (with stablemate Chartreux, the favorite for Race 2 today, the Printemps hurdle) but lost the war when the race was won by a closer. I think his day to obtain Festival glory is today and I'll be backing him.