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Cheltenham Festival 2014: 10 of the best leading Gloucestershire challenge

By MikalLudlow  |  Posted: March 07, 2014

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There has been at least one winner trained in the county at the Festival in all but one of the past 12 years, headed by Gold Cup winners Imperial Commander and Synchronised.

Here, racing editor Jonathan Herbert turns the spotlight on 10 horses who could be making headlines at their home course next week.

ANY CURRENCY:

The Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase on Wednesday isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but no one in Martin Keighley’s camp will care if Any Currency wins it this year.

Though he hasn’t won for 18 months, he hasn’t been beaten far in two cross-country races at Cheltenham this term and appears to have taken a liking to its unusual challenges.

Keighley has already celebrated his first Grade One success this season and, if jockey Ian Popham can get Any Currency into a rhythm, he could be shouting home his first Festival winner.

DOUBLE ROSS:

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ chaser has relished the gruelling test provided by Prestbury Park this season, bagging two wins in impressive style and going down all guns blazing to the back-to-form Wishfull Thinking on Festival Trials Day.

He is no stranger to the razzmatazz of the Festival, having finished third in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle last year, and goes into next week’s meeting in much better form.

He will be more experienced than most of his rivals in the JLT Novices’ Chase over two and half miles on Thursday and that, combined with his proven stamina and will to win, will stand him in good stead in the heat of battle.

DOWN ACE:

Fergal O’Brien is enjoying the best season of his fledgling training career with 40 winners – nearly double last year’s tally.

Down Ace faces the toughest test of all against Quevega in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle over two and a half miles on Tuesday but, judging by the way she has performed this season, a strong performance looks on the cards.

She was impressive when winning on her debut in a Cheltenham bumper in April and has since racked up another five wins in a row.

A top-four place isn’t beyond the realms of possibility for the improving seven-year-old.

GOODWOOD MIRAGE:

There is quiet confidence at Jackdaws Castle about Goodwood Mirage’s chances in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle over about two miles on Wednesday.

While Jonjo O’Neill’s youngster hasn’t covered himself in glory so far, the optimism felt by those closest to him is hard to ignore.

He didn’t settle for AP McCoy when he was well beaten at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day, but a stronger pace should help iron out any potential problems on that score on Wednesday and he could prove well handicapped.

HARRY TOPPER:

The weather holds the key to Harry Topper’s chances in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday.

If the going to no slower than good, there is every chance that Kim Bailey’s big-race hope will be run off his feet.

But should it turn into a mudbath, as it was when Bailey won the 1995 Gold Cup with Master Oats, Harry Topper will come into his own.

No doubt Bailey will be looking skywards regularly over the next few days wondering when the next deluge is going to come.

JOHNS SPIRIT:

Jonjo O’Neill’s Byrne Group Plate contender has been working well in the build-up to the Festival since undergoing treatment for sore shins.

He had impressed when winning twice at Cheltenham, before his shins were blamed for his relatively tame finish at the course in December.

He will go into Thursday’s race as one of the freshest horses in the line-up and with both the track and going likely to suit.

MODULE:

Tom George has been pondering the pros and cons of two races for Module at the Festival, but he has plumped for the the BetVictor Queen Mother Champion Chase over two miles on Wednesday.

Module kept on in the closing stages to take fourth place over two and a half miles at last year’s Festival.

While he has achieved most of his wins over further than two miles and there is a danger he could be outpaced, his proven stamina will boost his chances on Wednesday if the ground is testing.

TAQUIN DU SEUIL:

When Jonjo O’Neill rates Taquin Du Seuil as his best chance of a winner at the Festival, it is time to sit up and take note.

He didn’t live up to expectations when left trailing by The New One at last year’s meeting, but an improved showing looks on the cards next week.

He has gained valuable experience in preparation for Thursday’s JLT Chase in winning three times from five races this term.

While testing conditions will improve his chances, the Grade One-winning hurdler edged out Oscar Whisky on good ground at Cheltenham in November, suggesting he won’t be too far away whatever conditions he is forced to deal with.

THE GIANT BOLSTER:

There will be fewer more popular winners if David Bridgwater’s flag-bearer manages to pull it off in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday at the third attempt.

He looked back to his best when gaining his third Festival Trials Day win at Cheltenham in January.

If he turns up in the same mood on Friday he has a great chance of being placed in the race for the third year in a row, after finishing second to Synchronised in 2012 and fourth to Bobs Worth last year.

THE NEW ONE:

The exciting youngster is Nigel Twiston-Davies’ best chance to date of winning the Stan James Champion Hurdle, and he might never have a better one.

He served notice of his credentials with a commanding victory in last year’s Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, which Hardy Eustace and Istabraq won en route to taking the two-mile championship.

He probably would have beaten My Tent Or Yours if he hadn’t blundered his way through the last hurdle and Kempton last time out, but it was a good run nonetheless considering the track wouldn’t have been ideal.

It is a slight concern that he hasn’t run since Boxing Day – only one of the past 19 winners hadn’t raced in the same calendar year – but Twiston-Davies is an expert at getting horses fit enough to win after a break.

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