Eyes will be firmly fixed upon Cheltenham this week as the great and good of the horse racing world descend upon the premier jump festival of the calendar.
More than 200,000 people will attend 27 races over the next four days, with the event reaching a crescendo as the famous Cheltenham Roar echoes round the course and the Gold Cup contenders gallop down the home straight on Friday.
The Gold Cup is the festival’s centrepiece and its original championship race, and bookmakers currently place last year’s winner Bobs Worth as favourite to win the steeplechase.
Jonathan Phillips, a trainer at Tim Vaughan Racing, Cowbridge, agrees with bookies and believes Bobs Worth will be too strong for the rest of the field, he said: “Bobs Worth is a class horse, no matter what the ground is like I think he will have enough to win.”
However, Mr Phillips attentions next week will be turned elsewhere at the festival.
Tim Vaughan Racing was officially launched on Gold Cup day in 2008. The yard boasts over five hundred winners to date, and Mr Phillips hopes they will add more at Cheltenham. He said: “We have a few runners next week, including Fallox Bridge, Ackertac and a lovely four year old called Le Fin Bois.”
Tim Vaughan Racing’s highest profile runner is High Identity, ridden by Richard Johnson, who lines up in Tuesday’s David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle but faces a stiff task against the brilliant Quevega who is bidding to win the race for a sixth successive season.
Phillips agrees with the bookies that High Identity’s work will be cut out: “It’s always going to be difficult against Quevega, but she has been running well and with Richard (Johnson) you’ve always got a chance.”
Evan Williams, who owns a yard in Llancarfan, believes Cheltenham is a much easier place to go having had a winner in the past.
Mr Williams won with High Chimes in 2008 and is hoping one of his four runners next week can emulate this success: “Cheltenham can be a very daunting and demoralising place to go, especially for smaller yards.
“The media build up the festival a huge amount, and if you haven’t had a winner before it can have a hoodoo effect.
“When you get there you realise just how high the stakes are. It can be brutal and is a horrible place to come second, but it makes having a winner all the more satisfying.”
Cheltenham might be a daunting place for trainers, but Mr Phillips can’t wait for it to start: “Cheltenham is the pinnacle of every season.
“All roads lead there, it’s mecca.”