The Big Question: Can Bobs Worth & co stay unbeaten at Cheltenham?
Course form is something that should be taken into account when researching any horse race, but at the Cheltenham Festival almost more than any other event, it holds added appeal.
Factors including a stiff uphill finish and an undulation track make the demands of Cheltenham unique and well-fancied horses have been caught out by either or both at Festivals in the past.
Celestial Halo (16/1 for World Hurdle), Somersby (14/1 for Champion Chase), Medermit (33/1 for Ryanair) and Tullamore Dew (33/1 for Byrne Group Plate) have had 27 Cheltenham starts between them without accruing a single victory.
At the opposite end of the scale, there are six horses that have had a minimum of two starts at Cheltenham and remain unbeaten at the course.
The obvious and most well-known duo are Bobs Worth and Quevega.
Bobs Worth has won 6-6 at Cheltenham and triumphed at each of the last three Festivals, including when landing the Cheltenham Gold Cup 12 months ago.
He is 2/1 in the Cheltenham Gold Cup odds this time and his victory in the Lexus Chase on his last start has restored some confidence after running below par in the Betfair Chase in November, when finishing 40 lengths behind Cue Card.
There have been no such lapses seen from Quevega, as Willie Mullins has taken the now recognised approach of avoiding a prep run in the build up to the Festival.
This strategy has paid dividends for the past four years and now Quevega goes in search of a sixth successive success in the Mares’ Hurdle, for which she is the 8/11 favourite.
Champagne Fever is the 3/1 favourite to win the Arkle and the fact he was well beaten on Boxing Day may have thrown some doubt into the minds of some punters.
But he did the same over the Xmas period last year before bouncing back to win the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and so it would be foolish to write Champagne Fever off.
David Pipe has two staying novices who are 2-2 at Cheltenham, with Red Sherlock likely to go for the Neptune, leaving Kings Palace to tackle the Albert Bartlett.
Kings Palace (11/4 for the Albert Bartlett) will look to make all and the main question with him is whether he will be allowed to dictate in the way he has in his career so far, while Red Sherlock (9/2 for the Neptune) triumphed in the race last time that has previously been won by Bobs Worth and At Fishers Cross.
Finally, Alderwood is entered in the Champion Chase, but is rumoured to have bruised a hoof during preparations that could cause him to miss the Festival.