2011 Champion Bumper winner Cheltenian made an excellent return to the track at Doncaster yesterday just in time with the Cheltenham Festival on the horizon. Cheltenian stormed clear of the field to win the Bumper in 2011 but he picked up an injury in the process and has been off track ever since. The Philip Hobbs horse finally made his belated debut over hurdles in the SIG Insulation National Hunt Novices Hurdle over two miles half a furlong and he appeared to have retained much of his class.
There was no doubt that the horse looked a little green at Doncaster but he showed plenty of speed only to be collared on the line by the very good Minella Forfitness. It was a highly encouraging display from a horse who could well be on his way back to Cheltenham next month for a tilt at the Supreme Novices Hurdle. It is fair to say that his jumping over the last couple of fences left a lot to be desired and Cheltenian will need to improve plenty on that if he is to feature at the Festival next month.
The Supreme Novices Hurdle is already looking like a hot race this year and the re-emergence of Cheltenian adds another fascinating angle to the race. It was clear that after almost two years off track that Cheltenian retains much of his class but it will be interesting to see how he fares in such a hot race next month. The bookmakers were divided following his second place at Doncaster with prices on offer from anywhere between 16/1 to 33/1 about Cheltenian winning the Supreme. Any punter lucky enough to get a nice bit of 33/1 each-way about such a classy horse will be more than happy with their selection ahead of Cheltenham as it currently stands.
The betting for the first race of the Festival is already one of the hottest of the season with the likes of My Tent Or Yours and Jezki currently being well backed ante-post. Others attracting money at this stage include Un Atout who is highly thought of by Willie Mullins and Dodging Bullets who looks like the main contender for Champion Trainer, Paul Nicholls. The addition of a fit and well Cheltenian adds an extra bit of spice to a race that hardly needed it and assuming that the horse improves for his first run, he could just be a major player at a big price.