Five key bloodstock subplots that can shape the 2018 Cheltenham Festival
Big-money buys, British breds and an icon of the jump sire ranks set to star
It was once the case that the Cheltenham Festival was a far more level playing field than the likes of Royal Ascot or Glorious Goodwood, with inexpensively bought horses routinely downing their pricier adversaries. However, there has been a notable shift in recent years, with a growing trend towards deep-pocketed owners such as Rich Ricci, Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud and JP McManus each now boasting substantial festival rolls of honour.
And that trend only looks set to continue this year, particularly with the market for winning Irish point-to-pointers being so buoyant. Heading the list of costly Cheltenham candidates is Samcro, who has done plenty to justify the hype surrounding him with a record that stands at a perfect six-from-six after the son of Germany was picked up by current connections for a cool £335,000 after winning a Monksgrange maiden in April 2016.
But Samcro is far from the only Cheltenham entry that cost an eye-watering amount, with Sky Bet Supreme Novices' favourite Getabird having set Harold Kirk and Willie Mullins back €200,000, while David Pipe parted with £380,000 for Weatherbys Champion Bumper prospect Know The Score, Gordon Elliott splashed £300,000 on Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle possible Poli Roi, and Slate House went the way of Tom Malone for £260,000.
And then, of course, there are the numerous private purchases that undoubtedly cost plenty too.
There will, no doubt, still be a rags to riches story or two throughout the four-day festival, but it would be no surprise if the powerhouse owners get exactly what they paid for.
The Cheltenham Festival hasn't traditionally been a place rich in sibling success. Beyond the notable case of Marshall Parkhill's Champion Hurdle-winning siblings Morley Street, successful in 1991, and Granville Again, who landed the race two years later, examples of siblings winning festival races have been few and far between.
That, however, could be about to change courtesy of French breeder Pierre Coveliers, who stood Saddler Maker at Haras de Cercy until the son of Sadler's Wells' untimely death in 2016.
Coveliers sent the Nikos mare Apple's For Ever to his stallion in 2011 and 2013, and the results of those matings are Apple's Jade and Apple's Shakira. The former has won her last five starts, a run that began in last year's OLBG Mares' Hurdle, and she is now a very short-priced favourite to retain her crown.
Meanwhile her younger sister, Apple's Shakira, has long been favourite for the JCB Triumph Hurdle and is three-from-three and with an aggregate winning distance of 28½ lengths since joining Nicky Henderson.
Moreover, Apple's Jade and Apple's Shakira are not the only siblings with claims of a family double at this year's festival, as the Martin Byrne-bred pair De Plotting Shed and A Hare Breath hold live chances in the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase and the Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle respectively.
Somewhat remarkably, Byrne's hand could have been even stronger had that pair's sibling, the hugely exciting Global Citizen, not bypassed the festival in favour of Aintree.
Present and correct
Few sires have made the impact on the festival that Presenting has. Since 2002 the late son of Mtoto has supplied 12 festival winners, including the likes of Gold Cup heroes Denman and War Of Attrition, and Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle and RSA Chase winner Weapon's Amnesty.
The names bidding to be added to Presenting's festival roll of honour include the Supreme Novices' Hurdle candidate Slate House, Ultima Handicap Chase fancy Gold Present, unbeaten Champion Bumper entry Didtheyleaveuoutto and Movewiththetimes, one of the joint favourites for the Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase.
Presenting has also added another string to his bow in recent years, having emerged as a potent force in the bottom line of a pedigree too.
He could be approaching a major breakthrough in the broodmare sire department, with his daughters set to be represented by the likes of Timico Gold Cup favourite Might Bite, leading RSA Chase prospect Presenting Percy and National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders' Novices' Chase hopeful Rathvinden.
Beware the British breds
We have become accustomed to Irish point-to-pointers and French imports dominating proceedings at the festival, and while they will undoubtedly make their mark again this year, the British-bred opposition looks rather more formidable than it has at in recent times.
Among the leading fancies bearing the GB suffix are the Preston Lodge Stud-bred Presenting Percy, favourite for the RSA Novices' Chase and many people's idea of a festival banker.
The first four in the betting for the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle were also bred in Britain, with high-end nursery Newsells Park Stud responsible for Supasundae and Penhill - the latter bred in partnership with Equity Bloodstock - while Wriggle Valley Thoroughbreds and Bob Eccleshall bred the progressive Sam Spinner, and Wood Farm Stud bred the redoubtable Yanworth.
Later in the week Redicean, who was bred by - and recently bought back by - Patricia and David Thompson's Cheveley Park Stud looks to hold leading claims in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, while Richard Kelvin-Hughes's homebred Santini puts his unbeaten record on the line in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle on Friday.
Ferguson's festival finds
A number of past festival winners began their careers under the guidance of, or were pinhooked by, County Antrim trainer Ian Ferguson, including the likes of Simonsig and Yorkhill.
And with an exciting squad of talent due to represent Ferguson at this year's renewal, yet more glory could be coming his way.
There is, of course, the returning Yorkhill, who has been declared for the Unibet Champion Hurdle on Tuesday, where he will be joined by another of Ferguson's former residents, Identity Thief.
And there is also the likes of Stayers' Hurdle entry Wholestone, RSA Chase runner Ballyoptic, Supreme Novices' candidate Slate House, Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase fancy Ballyhill and Grand Annual challenger Robinshill, to name but a few.
Having so many runners at the festival clearly marks Ferguson down as an extremely astute judge, but to make matters all the more impressive, each of those mentioned was acquired through the Tattersalls Ireland sales ring for between €44,000 and €9,000, far from excessive sums in today's marketplace.
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