Champion Bumper packed with possibilities

Champion Bumper packed with possibilities

As always, the Cheltenham Festival Champion Bumper is set to present punters with a stern test of their puzzle-solving credentials.
There are some lofty reputations ready to go on the line, with big things expected from horses representing razor-sharp connections.
David Pipe struck a blow for the British team last March, Moon Racer returning off a long break to execute a perfectly timed run and end a run of three straight wins for Ireland in the Champion Bumper.
Almost remarkably given his routine domination of these contests in Ireland, Willie Mullins is on the verge of going three years without victory in this race.
After his record-breaking haul of eight winners at the festival last March, Mullins is coming back for more this year.
One of the most talked-about Bumper contenders in 2016 has been Mullins' Augusta Kate.
The daughter of Yeats has won both starts in effortless style in Ireland and, like Moon Racer last year, has been off the track for some time.
Owned by a syndicate that includes Alan Shearer, Lee Westwood and Ant & Dec, Augusta Kate's presence in the Bumper would likely result in strong support.
Ballydoyle's interest in jumps racing seems set to increase when Joseph O'Brien takes out his license but, for now, their jumpers are running under Aidan O'Brien's name.
Two-times a winner in Irish Bumpers since the turn of the year, the JP McManus-owned Aspen Colorado has Cheltenham in his sights for the O'Brien team.
The victory of Moon Racer last March was a timely reminder that the Champion Bumper is not merely a benefit for the Irish.
Nigel Twiston-Davies arguably has a horse with the best form in the book in the shape of Ballyandy.
The local trainer has watched the four-year-old win three of his four starts in this sphere already this season.
Like Moon Racer, he has winning form in the book at Cheltenham already and there was a lot to like about his latest success at Newbury in February where he readily justified strong market support.
By association, Ballyandy's claims would also entitle Coeur Blimey to a good deal of respect. He may not represent any of the power-house yards but Sue Gardener's gelding inflicted an impressive reverse on the Twiston-Davies inmate at Ascot just before Christmas and has been put away since.
Should the ground come up soft, Gardener will fancy her chances of upholding that form.
Philip Hobbs landed the Bumper with Cheltenian in 2011 and together with champion jockey-elect Richard Johnson, he could team up with Westend Story this time around.
Owned by the Mick Fitzgerald Racing Club, Westend Story has romped to success in two starts this season, albeit there was plenty of give underfoot on both occasions.
The picture for the Champion Bumper will remain clouded until the final declarations are in. Then the fun and games can really begin.
There are plenty of strong contenders to suggest Britain could land back-to-back successes for the just the second time since the race was introduced in 1992.
The Mullins machine, however, is sure to turn out in full force in a bid to land a ninth win in this race for the record-breaking trainer.

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Cheltenham Countdown

The countdown to the 2016 Cheltenham Festival is on and we’ll be posting big-race previews every week as we build up to the biggest four days in the National Hunt calendar.

Ante-post markets for the Cheltenham Festival are dominated by Willie Mullins-trained runners and the first of the four-day bonanza looks set to be dominated by the Closutton handler, who saddles no less than four red-hot favourites.

Min, Douvan, Faugheen and Annie Power (or Vroum Vroum Mag) could all have the bookies running for cover and the Mullins’ machine can inflict further damage on the layers when Un De Sceaux lines up for the Queen Mother Champion Chase the following day.

Mullins looks likely to launch a three-pronged attack on Friday’s Gold Cup with Djakadam, Don Poli and Vautour all major players for the showpiece event.