Scouring the ante-post markets this week for the Cheltenham Festival gave me a sense of déjà vu and had me harping back to 2003 and 2004. At the 2003 Festival, Rooster Booster won the Champion Hurdle, Moscow Flyer the Champion Chase, Best Mate gained a second Gold Cup whilst Baracouda added another Stayers’ Hurdle to his CV.
Fast forward twelve months and all were strongly fancied to retain their crowns. Rooster Booster and Baracouda had prepped for the Festival in handicap company, Rooster Booster going down gallantly off 166 in the Tote Gold Trophy whilst Baracouda defied a mark of 170 at Sandown in February. Best Mate, in a typically light campaign, had won the Ericcson at Leopardstwon over Christmas and Moscow Flyer was still unbeaten on his completed starts over fences, and was still a short-priced favourite despite Azertyuiop having raised the bar with his gallant narrow defeat in the Victor Chandler Chase.
Although not all at such short prices (only Rooster Booster started odds against at 11/8 in 2004), the reigning champions of those contests from 2010 look to hold very strong claims once more. Binocular looked much more like a Champion Hurdler at Kempton than he had at Newbury, Big Zeb is still undefeated for the season, Big Buck’s is, well Big Buck’s and Imperial Commander missing the King George and going to the Festival fresh is surely a blessing in disguise.
Of the reigning champions is 2004, only Best Mate managed to retain his crown, Rooster Booster coming across Hardy Eustace, Baracouda bumping into Iris’s Gift whilst Moscow Flyer took off a stride too soon at the top of the hill and deposited Barry Geraghty into the turf.
So what are the chances of history repeating itself and can we profit from it? The Champion Hurdle is too competitive a race to tempt me into backing Binocular at around the 3/1 mark. But the other three Champions all look appealing enough and in the cases of Big Bucks and Imperial Commander, will surely start shorter than the current 4/7 and 7/2. Non-runner, money back-Trixie anyone?