No sooner has the curtain fallen on a fantastic 2013 Cheltenham Festival that attention is already turning to next year's meeting. As racing fans get their breath back following a rollercoaster four days at Prestbury Park, talk is beginning to centre around which of the star performers from this year will be back to defend their crowns in 12 months time.
Hurricane Fly, Sprinter Sacre, Solwhit and Bobs Worth were the four champions of Cheltenham 2013 and all feature prominently in the markets to register repeat victories in the same races in 2014. However, a number of exciting novices caught the eye over the four days, many of whom are already jostling for position at the head of the betting for the championship races at Cheltenham 2014.
There's only one place to start when reviewing the most impressive winners at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival and it was without doubt Sprinter Sacre who stole the show with an impressive 19 length win in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, never coming off the bridle to justify his 1/4 price tag. It's no surprise to see the Nicky Henderson stable star lead the way to win back-to-back renewals of the race and is currently a best price 4/7 to do so and at just seven years of age, it could well be a question of just how many Champion Chases he can land over the coming years providing he steers clear of injury.
At this stage, the most likely challenger to Sprinter Sacre according to the odds compilers is his stablemate Simonsig. In landing the Arkle, Simonsig extended his winning streak to six consecutive victories and remains unbeaten over fences. Whilst the two and a quarter length winning margin at Cheltenham wasn't as impressive as his two previous starts this season, it transpired that the seven year old scoped badly after the race and as such, his win was probably a lot more impressive than met the eye. Whether he runs again this season remains to be confirmed but one thing is for sure, Simonsig will no doubt be a threat to all on comers in the future. Whether he will race over two miles outside of novice company is a question that still needs to be answered as is any potentially mouth watering clash with Sprinter Sacre as there's a chance he could be tried over further but only time till tell.
In the Champion Hurdle, Hurricane Fly became the first horse since Comedy Of Errors in 1975 to regain the race after losing the title he won in 2011 to Rock On Ruby in 2012. The Willie Mullins trained runner had to dig deep to see off last year's winner but managed to get up, much to the delight of the thousands of punters who had backed the nine year old on course. Bookmakers are already offering odds of 6/1 that Hurricane Fly can join an elite list of five horse who share the record of three wins in the Champion Hurdle in 2014 but it is a young pretender and fellow Irish trained runner in the form of Our Conor who is rated as the one to beat at this stage.
A 15 length winner of the Triumph Hurdle, Our Conor was one of the eye catching performers of the week, making it four wins from four starts over hurdles in the process. Demolishing several highly regarded rivals was enough for the Dessie Hughes trained four year old to be installed the favourite for next year's Champion Hurdle and with more improvement sure to come, who can argue?
The winner of the Supreme Novices Hurdle is often quoted to win the Champion Hurdle too but with the winner of the Festival's opening race, Champagne Fever, likely to head straight to the novice chasing division, for which he is the favourite to win the 2014 Arkle at 6/1, it is My Tent Or Yours, who was the hot favourite to win the Supreme but could only manage second that merits inclusion in next year's Champion Hurdle discussions as a10/1 shot. The New One, winner of the Neptune Novices Hurdle is also included in the early list at 8/1 but with stamina in his favour, the Nigel Twiston-Davis runner is also considered in the World Hurdle market, for which he is also as short as 8/1.
If The New One was to run in the World Hurdle, he would likely have to beat the returning Big Buck's who missed his bid to win the race for a fifth time due to injury but connections confirmed that the plan is for the 10 year old to return in 2014 for his record attempt and the odds of 4/1 currently available with Ladbrokes and William Hill about him doing just that could look huge come next March.
It was Solwhit from the Charles Byrnes stable in Ireland who capitalised on Big Buck's omission and despite his success, the nine year old can be backed at odds of 12/1 to upset the odds for a second year running. Instead, it is At Fishers Cross who is rated as the number challenger after the Rebecca Curtis trained six year old stayed on strongly to land the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle in the hands of Tony McCoy. It is now five wins on the bounce for the JP McManus owned runner, who last won this race in 2003 with the popular Baracouda.
The Gold Cup was won by Bobs Worth, who put up a typical never say die performance to land the meeting's blue riband event and is just 7/2 to repeat that feat in 12 months time for his trainer Nicky Henderson. Simonsig and Sprinter Sacre are both quoted at 8/1 and 20/1 respectively should they take their chance in the race whilst the Ryanair Chase winner, Cue Card, can be backed at 25/1 but doubts remain over the ability of the Colin Tizzard trained runner to get the 3m 2½ mile trip. One runner who should have no problem staying the distance is Lord Windermere, winner of the RSA Chase, which was won by Bobs Worth 12 months ago. Trained by Jim Culloty, winner of the Gold Cup three times as a jockey on Best Mate, the current odds of 33/1 about Lord Windermere winning the 2014 Gold Cup could prove quite attractive to the old romantics of National Hunt racing!