Norovirus, flu, colds, Cheltenham Festival fever – an annual pattern of winter bugs has developed in the Garratt household. While the first three maladies are the least pleasant, Cheltenham Festival fever lasts the longest.
Starting in January and ending in mid-March, typical symptoms include cold sweats (on hearing that your fancy for the Gold Cup hasn’t been entered), headaches (from endless form-studying), sleepless nights (as runners gallop through your dreams) and spontaneous shouting of horses’ names (usually in front of Channel 4 Racing).
In particularly bad years, early onset can be stimulated by exceptional equine performances in the Autumn – as with Sprinter Sacre who is already long odds-on to win the Champion Chase on 13th March.
Help for Cheltenham sufferers is at hand: the annual gathering of the afflicted will be at Cartmel’s Cheltenham Preview Night on Thursday evening 7th March, when a panel of experts will guide us through the form and hopefully to some big-priced winners. Tickets are now on sale from the racecourse office.
In the meantime, the Festival clues keep coming. At Sandown, on Saturday, Nicky Henderson looks set to take both key trials: the Contenders Hurdle with Darlan and the Scilly Isles Novices Chase with Captain Conan.
Previous Cartmel winner, Dunowen Point would be an interesting runner in Sandown’s 1.50, while his trainer Donald McCain could be seeks a cross-country treble with Hollow Tree in the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las and Real Milan in Weatherby’s Towton Chase.
Unusually, the best meeting of the weekend will take place on Sunday – at Musselburgh Racecourse. Their annual trials day has real significance this year and has attracted a quality entry for the novice chases including: Overtturn, Tetlami, Vulcanite and Tap Night. The Triumph Hurdle Trial features Kashmir Peak, whose trainer John Quinn prepared Countrywide Flame to score at Cartmel and then the Cheltenham Festival last year.
Lord Wishes will be a warm order for the Albert Bartlett Trial and Cloudy Lane for the Foxhunter Chase. My temperature is rising!