Imperial Alcazar leads Fergal O’Brien quest for first Cheltenham Festival winner

Fergal O’Brien bids for first Festival winner

Fergal O’Brien broke through the 100 winner barrier in his first full season at Ravenswell Farm near Cheltenham. He continues to progress through the training ranks and is well on course to beat last season’s tally but would dearly love a breakthrough Cheltenham Festival winner.

He has saddled 38 losers at the meeting in his career to date, including Imperial Alcazar who disappointed in last season’s Pertemps Final after being struck into. The gelding is now making a name for himself over fences and looks O’Brien’s most likely festival winner. He also has a leading contender for this year’s Pertemps Final in Alaphilippe who finished an eye-catching fifth at Warwick on his only start this season.

Imperial Alcazar has several Cheltenham Festival options

Imperial Alcazar was rated 147 over hurdles and was most impressive when winning the Pertemps Qualifier at Warwick. He started a well-backed 11-2 shot at Cheltenham but picked up a knock and trailed home in sixteenth place. He was put over fences at Newbury in March when beaten in a match race by Silver Forever.

O’Brien elected to run him in a handicap next time where he was runner-up to the well-weighted Pats Fancy. He made amends with a fluent 10 lengths victory at Cheltenham at the end of January, racing off a mark of 144. Options for the gelding include the Ultima Handicap Chase, the Turners Novices’ Chase and the Paddy Power Plate. The latter is probably his best chance of a victory for which is quoted at 10-1 with a run.

Another horse that O’Brien has plenty of faith in is Alaphilippe who qualified for the Pertemps Final when fifth at Warwick in January. That was his first run since finishing fifth in the Albert Bartlett at last season’s festival. Paddy Brennan looked confident when he cruised into contention with three to jump at Warwick but lack of fitness told in the closing stages. The Pertemps looks to have been his target all season and he is also priced at 10-1 with a run.

O’Brien bumper winners worth noting for the future

Whether or not O’Brien decides to run any of his young bumper horses at Cheltenham, they offer plenty of promise for the future. Bonttay is a daughter of Westerner and has already won twice at the track. She looked to have more in hand than the winning margin of a length and a quarter when beating Leading Theatre in November.

There were options for her at Sandown, Market Rasen and Aintree but O’Brien did not want her to carry a penalty in those races. Bonttay was put away with the Champion Bumper in mind (33-1 NRNB William Hill).

Poetic Music won at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, showing an impressive turn of foot inside the final furlong to win going away. Crambo won on his racecourse debut at Huntingdon in good style, a gelding by Saddler Maker. That earned him a 33-1 quote for the Champion Bumper.

Peking Rose showed himself to be a promising sort when runner-up to Knappers Hill in a Grade 2 bumper at Aintree last season. He was runner-up at Ascot on his hurdling bow before winning by 11 lengths at Newbury at the end of December. The seven-year-old has some ambitious Cheltenham Festival entries including the Supreme and Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.