In the past few seasons, trainers from the North-East and North Yorkshire have struggled to make their mark at the Cheltenham Festival, the flagship jumps racing meeting of the year. With this year’s Festival due to start next Tuesday, the hope is that things will be different this time around. Scott Wilson profiles the region’s leading Festival fancies


(Brian Ellison, Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, Friday, 3.30pm)

The Northern Echo:

This year’s Gold Cup looks one of the most open renewals for many a year, and while Definitly Red is likely to start at a double-figure price next Friday, he will line up as a live outsider for jump racing’s blue riband.

Brian Ellison’s nine-year-old possesses all the attributes you need in a Gold Cup winner – class, stamina, jumping ability and heart. He might have been seen primarily as a Grand National horse in the past, but his performances this season have put Cheltenham firmly on the agenda. He would have an even stronger chance if the ground was to turn up soft.

He clearly enjoys Cheltenham, with his victory on heavy ground in January’s Cotswold Chase marking him out as a thorough stayer. He beat Bristol De Mai that day, reversing the form from November’s Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, when Ellison freely admits he was not fully tuned up.

“He’s good enough to be in it,” said Ellison, earlier this week. “And he’s not far off the top-rated in the race. It would be great if he’s thereabouts, but as long as he runs his race, he’ll run a big one.”


(Jedd O’Keefe, Sun Bet Stayers’ Hurdle, Thursday, 3.30pm)

The Northern Echo:

Sam Spinner is currently the second favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle, the Championship race on Thursday’s card, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that if he was trained in a more high-profile yard, he would be ahead of Supasundae in the market.

He has the Grade One form in the book, having thrashed a strong field featuring the likes of Unowhatimeanharry, L’Ami Serge and Lil Rockerfeller to land Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle in fine style in December.

He’s been put away for Cheltenham since then, and while he will need to step up again to land the most gruelling hurdle race on the Festival schedule, he has never stopped progressing since he started his career with a bumper win at Catterick in February 2016.

He would be one of the most emotional winners of the week if he was to land his ante-post odds of 5-1, as his trainer, Jedd O’Keefe, survived a gruelling battle against cancer in his throat and neck in order to continue with his racing career.


(Ruth Jefferson, Ryanair Chase, Thursday, 2.50pm)

The Northern Echo:

Waiting Patiently has already provided Ruth Jefferson with one hugely emotional triumph this season – will the progressive chaser serve up another next week? The form book suggests it’s certainly possible, but despite being the second favourite for the Ryanair in most ante-pots markets, it’s far from certain that Waiting Patiently will run. Rarely has a horse’s name been more apt.

Ruth’s father, Malcolm, had been careful not to ask too much of Waiting Patiently prior to his death earlier this year, and his daughter is willing to adopt the same approach with her stable star. “There’s plenty other races bar Cheltenham,” she said last month. “Everyone else is obsessed, except us.”

In part, the reluctance to run Waiting Patiently in the Ryanair reflects concerns about the ground. The seven-year-old needs a fair bit of cut, and for all that there is plenty of rain in the forecast for Cheltenham in the next few days, the ground is still likely to be edging towards good-to-soft by next Thursday.

It will be a shame if Waiting Patiently doesn’t run though, because he looks one of the few horses capable of serving it up to last year’s Ryanair winner, Un De Sceaux, and exposing any flaws in the reigning champion’s jumping. If he lines up, his current odds of 4-1 will almost certainly shrink markedly.


(Ruth Jefferson, Ryanair Chase, Thursday, 2.50pm)

The Northern Echo:

While there are question marks over Waiting Patiently’s participation in the Ryanair, Ruth Jefferson’s other entrant, Cloudy Dream, is a much more certain runner. While he would also prefer the ground to be on the soft side, he could be something of a forgotten horse no matter what the underfoot conditions.

He was second in last year’s Arkle, running Altior to within six lengths, and while he never really looked like getting on terms with the winner, that represents some of the best novice chase form from the whole of last season.

He followed up his Festival run with another second-placed finish behind Flying Angel at Aintree, and has racked up three more seconds in his three outings this season. Look at the calibre of horses that have beaten him though – Smad Place, Fox Norton, Definitly Red – and those results start to look appealing.

A sound jumper who will almost certainly be staying on at the finish, he looks an attractive each-way proposition at his current odds of 12-1.


(John Quinn, multiple entries)

The Northern Echo:

John Quinn’s Look My Way is the region’s best juvenile hurdler, and is entered in both the Triumph Hurdle, for which he is a 33-1 shot, and the Fred Winter, for which he is a much shorter 14-1.

He’s more likely to run in the latter, which is staged at 4.50pm on Wednesday, and he’d have to have an each-way chance in what is always a hugely competitive race.

He won at Ludlow in January, but his two best pieces of form this winter saw him finish second behind two of the leading juveniles on this side of the Irish Sea – Apple’s Shakira and Act Of Valour. A repeat of either of those runs would put him in the mix for the Fred Winter.


(Brian Ellison, multiple entries)

The Northern Echo:

Forest Bihan, stabled at Brian Ellison’s yard at Malton, is entered in Wednesday’s Queen Mother Champion Chase, but is probably a more likely starter in the Grand Annual, which brings the Festival to a close on Friday afternoon.

He’s currently a 20-1 shot for that race, and while he failed to fire in last year’s Arkle, finishing a distant fifth behind Altior, he boasts pieces of form that could put him into the frame.

He beat Simply Ned at Kelso in October, and while things didn’t really go to plan when he was only fourth at Doncaster in his last chase outing, he proved his well-being with a facile win on the all-weather at Newcastle last weekend.


(Ruth Jefferson, multiple entries)

Mount Mews is entered in four races at Cheltenham, but while there might be a temptation to throw him into the rarefied environs of the JLT or RSA, it is much more likely that he will line up in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase, the final race of the opening day of the Festival.

His most recent outing, when he was third behind leading RSA fancy Black Corton, suggests he is just short of top-class, but he would have strong claims of running into at least a place in novice handicap company.

He swerved Cheltenham last year, but was hugely impressive as he finished second behind Pingshou in the novices’ hurdle at Aintree, with the likes of River Wylde and Moon Racer behind him.

He’s also entered in the Coral Cup, so hurdling remains an option, but he’s taken to fences well this winter and looks an exciting long-term prospect for Ruth Jefferson’s yard.