Trainer Gordon Elliot returns to the Festival for the first time since 2020 and with a strong team assembled for this year’s four-day spectacular, our expert editor has delved into the entries and highlighted some of the notable names to watch out for at this year’s Festival.
Ginto – Ballymore Novices Hurdle / Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
Owners Bective Stud is responsible for some of the leading fancies at Cheltenham this year and certainly will be expecting a big performance from GINTO, who has certainly become a leading novice hurdler for Gordon Elliot this campaign and holds options on Day 2 and Day 4 of the Festival as things stand.
Unbeaten so far in three starts over timber, the six-year-old has improved with each outing this year and quickly led to a resounding Grade 1 success over 2m4f in the Lawlor’s Of Naas back in January. Ginto moved stylishly throughout the contest that day before readily pulling away in the closing stages to see off his six toiling rivals.
The yard has the option of stepping up Ginto to 3miles at this year’s festival in the Albert Bartlett which could be his likeliest destination, especially with stablemate Minella Crooner a recent absentee, however, Gordon Elliot’s charge will be worth supporting wherever he ends up and is very smart prospect indeed.
American Mike – Champion Bumper
The former impressive point-to-point winner AMERICAN MIKE has looked like a superstar in the making in his opening two bumper starts for team Elliot, winning by 7l at Down Royal on stable debut before reappearing in December with a 17l romp in Listed company at Navan.
That Listed contest has been targeted by the trainer in recent seasons with both Envoi Allen and Sir Gerhard lading the prize before going on to Champion Bumper glory in the same season.
Much has been made about the clash between American Mike and the equally talented Willie Mullins runner Facile Vega but it’s very hard to separate them from what we’ve seen on the track and certainly, the pair should be much closer in the betting than the current odds reflect.
Dunboyne – Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle
It’s hard to know if DUNBOYNE will get in here or not as things stand but if he does lineup, Gordon Elliot’s seven-year-old will be a leading player in a race that the trainer has a formidable record in.
The yard has always been associated with winning handicap hurdle events at the Festival but the Pertemps Network is where they have thrived in recent seasons, landing three of the last four renewals whilst Elliot’s other seven runners to contest this have all gone on to be placed.
Dunboyne could be the likeliest winner if turning up, after previously producing an eye-catching run in a qualifier at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting to finish fifth, staying on well in the closing stages despite being hampered turning for home. A recent spin back over that course and distance should have the seven-year-old spot on for the Thursday contest and could be dangerously well-treated if sneaking in.
Frontal Assault – Kim Muir Handicap Chase
No surprises to see FRONTAL ASSAULT on the list of top chances for Elliot this year as the seven-year-old is arguably one of the best-treated handicappers across the four days with a mark of 145. The yard has previously landed the Kim Muir with the likes of Cause Of Causes and Milan Native and In Frontal Assault, they have another strong chance.
Frontal Assault has seemingly been brought along over fences this season with a Festival handicap in mind, running with credit over intermediate trips on his opening three starts over the larger obstacles in novice company.
The seven-year-old has steadily improved between each outing since attention has turned to chasing, including when catching the eye with his finishing effort at Fairyhouse, staying on well in the closing stages despite making an error over the last fence to force a dead-heat in second.
Gordon Elliot will have high hopes for his charge at this year’s meeting and having previously finished eighth in the Martin Pipe over hurdles at last year’s Festival, Frontal Assault should relish the occasion and is bound to be suited by the step-up in trip having landed a 3mile hurdle earlier in his career.
Pied Piper – Triumph Hurdle
This will likely prove a match up between previous rivals Vauban and PIED PIPER with Gordon Elliot’s unbeaten hurdler set to resume winning ways after bounding clear in effortless style to take a Grade 2 trial at Prestbury Park in January by 9l.
The four-year-old had penultimately got the better of the Willie Mullins trained runner at Punchestown over Christmas despite being keen and a tad novicey over his obstacles.
There will likely be little separating the pair once more at the Festival but looks all about speed and has vital course experience to rely upon when two clash on Day 4.
Galvin – Cheltenham Gold Cup
Expectations are certainly high for three-time course winner GALVIN as he bids to provide the yard with another winner in the Gold Cup after Don Cossack last triumphed for the yard back in 2016.
Not many would have expected the grey gelding to be lining up in the Gold Cup at the start of the year, with the yard contemplating a tilt at the Grand National after his opening season win in Grade 3 company at Punchestown.
However, the eight-year-old has proven to be a high-quality performer at the top level, finishing runner-up to Frodon in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal before denying the impressive Betfair Chase hero A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over the festive period.
That short head victory over last year’s Gold Cup second was yet another staggering performance and a seventh victory from his last ten racecourse appearances. Galvin has certainly proved that he belongs amongst the best-staying chasers anywhere in Britain and Ireland and connections will be confident that he can improve once more and land the week’s feature contest on the grandest stage of them all.