Six of the best: small yards with a big chance of a first winner
Gavin Cromwell has yet to saddle a festival winner but he brings several live chances to this year's meeting - with his team headed by stable star Jer's Girl. The JP McManus-owned five-year-old is a best-priced 8-1 for the Grade 1 OLBG Mares' Hurdle, while she also has entries in the Coral Cup and County Hurdle. Cromwell's other big chance comes in the form of Prospectus, who is in the Fred Winter. He is a best-priced 20-1 but Cromwell has booked the festival's winningmost jockey Ruby Walsh for the ride.
Sandra Hughes took over from her legendary father Dessie, who saddled six festival winners - most recently with Our Conor in the 2013 Triumph, in 2014/15 but is yet to have a festival winner in her own name.
She brings a small but select team over this year headlined by 32-length Navan Grade 2 winner Acapella Bourgeois who is a best-priced 8-1. Hughes believes he should be favourite for the RSA - and has said as much.
Peter Fahey is another Irish trainer seeking his first success at the meeting and he has his stable star Peregrine Run in the Coral Cup and the Albert Bartlett. At Cheltenham in November he whacked Wholestone and West Approach and that pair, now rated 145 and 157, are 6-1 shots for the Grade 1 on Friday whereas Peregrine Run, who needs good ground to be seen at his best, is a 25-1 shot. That is in part because given that piece of form - over the Coral Cup course and distance no less - he is arguably extremely well treated off a mark of 142 and consequently is just 12-1 joint third favourite for the day two handicap.
Emmanuel Clayeux is yet to saddle a festival winner but his nine-year-old does have a course and distance victory over Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase favourite Cantlow as his most recent piece of form. He was meant to be in receipt of over a stone that day and the pair meet again here off levels, but Urgent De Gregaine's jockey Felix de Giles put up 3lb overweight on Trials Day meaning the pair were getting just 12lb that day for a comfortable 3lb success. There was 21 lengths back to the third so Cantlow more than ran his race, and the manner in which the winner powered away from him gives him every chance on revised terms.
Whatever happens in the Pertemps, Debra Hamer will at least realise 16-year dream by saddling a runner at the festival. But she will also be saddling the ante-post favourite, a horse who has not been beaten in two years and has won all seven starts since joining her yard.
In that time Tobefair has risen from a mark of 81 to 143, and because he has won each of his last five races by a length and a half or less it is hard to be certain the handicapper has finally got hold of him. If he could make it eight it would be one of the stories of the week. This is a race in which smaller yards dominate the market, Patrick Kelly - who saddled his first festival winner last year in this race with Mall Dini - saddles second favourite Presenting Percy, while Tim Vaughan, another yet to have a festival winner, has the third favourite Dadsintrouble.
If you thought Hamer was the embodiment of the David versus Goliath analogy, think again. Such is the thirst for festival winners these days the big yards now also target the hunter chase -previously the domain of farmers who trained the odd pointer. Step forward Jack Barber, son of point-to-point legend Richard - who won the St James's Place Foxhunter four times as a trainer between 1992 and 1998. Barber jnr is yet to saddle a festival winner but in Ask The Weatherman he has an 11-2 third favourite with which to take on the big guns.