The excitement surrounding this year’s Cheltenham Festival is rife, and there’s no doubt that punters up and down the country are thoroughly scouring through the form guides with a fine-tooth comb as we speak, looking for who they think are going to win in all of the Festival’s big races. Given the nature of the Prestbury Park meeting, and the quality of horses taking part across the four days, it’s notoriously difficult to land a winner at Cheltenham and often horses can win from left of field.
Two slight outsiders who will certainly be gaining the attention of the punters in two of the biggest races of the Festival are Imperial Aura and First Flow. The Kim Bailey-trained horses are due to take part in the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Ryanair Chase respectively, and their Cheltenham races odds will without a doubt make them tempting selections ahead of the two Grade 1 outings.
Imperial Aura was the joint favourite for the Novices’ Handicap Chase at last year’s Festival, and he went on to beat his fellow market leader Galvin by over three lengths. He went on to build upon that victory with further wins at Carlisle in an Intermediate Chase and at Ascot in the Grade 2 1965 Chase.
The eight-year-old’s win streak was ended at Kempton in January. Imperial Aura was heavily expected to win the Grade 2 Silviniaco Conti Chase. But a mistake at the second fence resulted in jockey David Bass being unseated.
Still, Imperial Aura is the third favourite at 7/1 behind Willie Mullins’ duo Min and Allaho to win the Ryanair Chase, and Bailey is brimming with confidence despite the mistake earlier this year.
“It’s all systems go. He (Imperial Aura) did his first serious piece of work after a break on Monday. I’m very happy with him,” the trainer said. “We decided that we were never going to run after Kempton, no matter what happened. We thought it was good to give him a bit of a break when we had the opportunity and then build him back up for Cheltenham.”
Unlike his stablemate, First Flow has no recent blemishes on his record and at 12/1 his name will certainly be doing the rounds in the Cheltenham horse racing tips ahead of the Queen Mother. The nine-year-old has won his last six races in a row, with his most recent outing the most notable.
First Flow was a 14/1 shot to win the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January. However, he upset the odds, beating favourite and last year’s Queen Mother champion Politologue by an impressive seven lengths. It was a first Grade 1-level victory for Bailey in a whopping 26 years, but he is sceptical ahead of the day two feature race, admitting it will take a huge effort from First Flow to get one over the likes of Chacun Pour Soi and Altior.
“He (First Flow) would be a horse who would certainly like it to be quite soft at Cheltenham,” Bailey added. “The great thing about (clerk of the course) Simon Claisse is that he always makes sure it’s pretty soft for the first day, whatever happens. It’s a big ask for him but he deserves to be there.”
Of course, winning any race at the Cheltenham Festival is a tough task. But, if Imperial Aura can bounce back from his mistake earlier this year and find the form which led to him winning at Prestbury Park last year and First Flow can continue in fine form, then there’s no reason why the duo can’t nab shock victories.