THE Olympics of National Hunt racing are upon us, the Cheltenham Festival, this year stretched to four days from Tuesday to Friday, and with our area as strong as it has ever been.

Howard Johnson and owners Andrea and Graham Wylie have the nap hand for DST land. Inglis Drever, who had been bound for the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday, is still entered for that race, but since Royal Rosa was injured last week, the Crook-based team are more likely to run him in the World Hurdle two days later.

Johnson's form continued this week, but Mephisto, winner under Warren Marston at Kelso, although entered at the Festival, is more likely to take his chance at Aintree's meeting.

Best of all, Johnson's jockey, Graham Lee, returned to the saddle with a winner at Catterick in the Wylies' well-known black and beige colours, partnering Motive to win and augur well for the week ahead.

Tuesday's first, the Supreme Novices, has a clutch of entries from hereabouts: Aleron (John Quinn), Arcalis and Astronomic (Johnson), Roman Ark (Malcolm Jefferson), Stan (Richard Guest) and three from Brian Ellison's yard, Tizzy May, Carte Diamond and Hue - but Arcalis and Carte Diamond are both likely to run later in the week.

Ellison has Zibeline in the Arkle, along with Ferdy Murphy's Supreme Developer, a strong possible. Murphy's yard came back to form this week with Haut De Gamme at Kelso.

The William Hill Trophy could be a possible for Johnson's Ballybough Rasher, second on Saturday at Doncaster in a good handicap hurdle. Also entered is one of our old favourites, Hussard Collonges (Peter Beaumont), but he will have to be back to his Cheltenham best for this.

On Thursday, Joe's Edge (Ferdy Murphy) has a live each-way hope in the Jewsons Novice Chase and Richard Fahey's Ball O Malt has caught our eye in recent runs. Johnson's Backbeat holds an entry in this, too.

The Mildmay of Flete has Valley Henry among the entrants, and how we would cheer if Turgeonev pulled it off for Tim Easterby, but we don't think so. Ferdy Murphy has Europa entered and this has a good each-way hope.

Now that Grey Abbey is over the mystery swelling of a few weeks back, the Johnson-Wylie team have a live contender for the Gold Cup on Friday, ante post best at 10-1 as we go to press. And for an outsider, Truckers Tavern (Ferdy Murphy) might reward each-way backers for a tiny stake (currently between 40-1 and 100-1).

For several weeks now the Patrick Haslam team have been telling us both Yankeedoodledandy and King Revo have outstanding chances this Festival.

The first is in the Triumph Hurdle on Friday, biggest danger is of course Akilak from the Johnson team. This is also the race that Ellison thinks Carte Diamond will win.


Friday. - Doncaster: Totally Scottish (trained by K Reveley, at Lingdale; owned by The Phoenix Racing Club), ridden by R McGrath.

Saturday. - Doncaster: Classic Event (T Easterby, Great Habton; C H Stevens), R Garritty.

Kelso: Stormy Lord (J Wade, Mordon; permit holder), B Harding; Haut De Gamme (F Murphy, West Witton; The Haut de Gamme Partnership), K Mercer (claiming 3lb); Malek (K Reveley; Mrs J W Furness & Lord Zetland), R McGrath; Mephisto (H Johnson, Crook; A & G Wylie), W Marston.

Sunday. - Market Rasen: Polar Gunner (M Jefferson, Norton; Mrs M E Dixon), T Dobbin.

Monday. - Wolverhampton AW: Rasseem (M Hammond, Middleham; I B Ender), P Hanagan; Simply The Guest (D Enrico Incisa, Coverham; trainer), K Tinkler.

Tuesday. - Southwell AW: Dower House (A Turnell, Norton; Mrs C Hollowood), D Corby (3); Penwell House (D Barron, Maunby; Mrs L Jones), D Mernagh.

Wednesday. - Catterick: I Got Rhythm (K Reveley; G Thompson), R McGrath; Dumadic (R Barr, Seamer; P Willis), P Robson; Motive (H Johnson; A & G Wylie), G Lee; Sir Alf (M Myco, Sedgefield), Mr C Dawson (7).