CHELTENHAM’S four-day racing festival takes centre stage from Tuesday next (March 14) through to St Patrick’s Day.
The obvious highlight will be the Gold Cup on the concluding afternoon, but there is no shortage of local training interest in the Cotswolds including Ballingarry’s Charles Byrnes – with the likes of Run for Oscar in the Coral Cup and Blazing Khal in the Stayer’s Hurdle – and Ballysteen native Patrick Neville, who saddles The Real Whacker, a serious contender in Wednesday’s (2.10pm) £175,000 Grade 1 Novice Chase.
Neville has only been based in North Yorkshire for the past 18 months but has already assembled a decent yard, of which The Real Whacker is its star performer. He is twice a winner at Cheltenham, winning smoothly his chasing debut last November before putting in an impeccable display in the Dipper Novices’ Chase on New Year’s Day.
The Real Whacker is owned by a syndicate headed-up by Rathkeale hotelier Davy Mann.
“To win at the festival would be a dream, the stuff of miracles,” commented Mann.
It was Neville, however, who picked-out The Real Whacker as an unbroken three-year-old at the sales.
Neville, who turns 52 at the weekend, will hope the happenings at Prestbury Park will deliver a belated birthday present.
All-time leading Cheltenham Festival owner JP McManus of Martinstown is virtually guaranteed to be in the winners’ enclosure with his famed green and gold silks of South Liberties GAA next week.
It’s over 40 years ago since McManus tasted his first win of the festival with Mister Donovan in the then Sun Alliance Hurdle (1982). He has since chalked up more than 70 winners at Cheltenham.