Northern trainer, David Christie, is putting his Cheltenham hopefuls through their final preparations as the Festival looms large. Christie has many previous experiences at the showpiece of the National Hunt racing season and will be hoping to bring a big prize back across the Irish Sea in March.
The County Fermanagh-based trainer came as close as you can to winning at Cheltenham last year, with Winged Leader going down by just a neck in the St James’s Place Hunters’ Chase.
Incredibly, for a relatively small set-up, David Christie is responsible for the first three in the betting in the big Hunters’ Chase this year. All three horses are hugely popular amongst the 2023 Cheltenham Festival betting tips, particularly Winged Leader who can be backed at 5/1.
Winged Leader was the horse that was dramatically reeled in on the line last year, and he will be returning for another crack at the race.
Despite having not been seen on the racetrack since that agonizing defeat, the 9-year-old is currently the second favourite for the race, and there is nothing to say he can’t go one better if arriving at Cheltenham fit and ready.
If Winged Leader is to go one better in the race this season, he will likely have to get the better of his stablemate, Vaucelet. The current ante-post favourite is a prolific Point to Point and Hunters’ Chase winner and is a horse still very much on the rise.
The relatively lightly raced 8-year-old was last seen winning a Hunters’ Chase at Down Royal, and although that performance was a little bit workmanlike, he has the potential to improve again before Cheltenham comes around.
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When you talk about a horse having the potential to improve, Ferns Lock has it in abundance. Possibly the most interesting of David Christie’s three runners, Ferns Lock has only made two racetrack appearances thus far but was last seen thrashing last year’s Cheltenham winner, Billaway by 20 lengths.
Still just a 6-year-old, he is far less experienced than his stablemates, but he is likely to progress at a rate of knots with more racing. He could prove to have a little more class than his rivals at the Festival, and he has a good chance of stepping up into a higher class of race next season.
Christie’s Best Hope
To have three live chances heading to the Cheltenham Festival is no mean feat, and it would be a well-deserved victory if one of them was to cross the line in front. Vaucelet is probably the horse with the best profile at this stage of his career to win, but Winged Leader has been there and done it and was desperately unlucky last year.
Ferns Lock has to be of huge interest if his inexperience doesn’t count against him. His victory over Billaway last time was hugely impressive and he has strong claims of giving his trainer a victory in a race he has coveted for his whole career.