The fourth and feature day of this year’s Cheltenham Festival with the highlight Blue Riband event - the Cheltenham Gold Cup - taking centre stage, and what a mouth-watering renewal it looks.
Before that though, we have the juvenile championship, the Triumph Hurdle, and a host of competitive handicaps to sift through.
What a race this promises to be with a host of exciting juveniles set to line up.
Vauban and PIED PIPER clashed at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve with the latter coming out on top by half a length. Watching the race back, some suggested Vauban was hampered and would have won with a clear run, however I feel Pied Piper, who was green himself, always had matters in hand and travelled the better of the pair into the home straight.
Another positive for Pied Piper is the fact he has been to Cheltenham and impressed on Trials Day, showing the hill holds no fears for him and he has done it on all types of ground.
Willie Mullins has made very positive noises about the chances of Vauban but I will just side with Pied Piper to uphold the form at the bigger price.
The selections stablemate Fil D’Or has work to do to turn the form around on Vauban but is the choice of Davy Russell who has ridden both horses in all their six shared hurdles starts so that is a big positive for him.
Of the British, Knight Salute is five from five and should run well for each way backers, while Doctor Parnassus has impressed in both hurdles starts for Dan Skelton and, like Knight Salute, will appreciate any drying of the ground.
The cavalry charge that is the County Hurdle with 26 runners zipping around the two-mile hurdle course.
It’s a race that Dan Skelton has won three times in six years and his Greatwood winner West Cork will have plenty of supporters. He won that race in November of the back of an eighteen-month absence and wasn’t disgraced at Ascot before Christmas. He has been given a break since and is a player despite the 7lb higher mark.
The Irish challenge is headed by Willie Mullins' State Man, who had entries in all the novice races, and Gordon Elliott’s Top Bandit, who too dips his toe into handicap company for the first time after three successive wins at novice level. They could both have favourable marks but it’s another Irish runner, COLONEL MUSTARD, who takes the eyes.
He will have Cluedo fans purring, but his form has stood up to the tightest scrutiny this week already. He chased home Supreme runner-up Jonbon at Ascot in December before following home the Ballymore 1-2 Sir Gerhard and Three Stripe Life at the Dublin Racing Festival last month. His mark of 140 less jockey Conor Orr’s 3lb claim means he could be very lightly in indeed.
I Like To Move It was just touched off in the Betfair Hurdle by Glory and Fortune, who ran admirable race in the Champion Hurdle, and he too has a clear chance, while Cormier is in line for a £100k bonus if he can follow up his Kelso win from two weeks ago. He won over track and trip earlier in the season and can’t be discounted under his 5lb penalty.
Those looking for second dart though could do worse than JESSE EVANS. Noel Meade has his team in red hot form and this runner was a big gamble in the Greatwood in November, sent off the 11/2 favourite. He was ultimately well beaten but Sean Flanagan takes over in the saddle and is just 3lb higher than when an excellent fourth in the Galway Hurdle in August and prices around 20/1 look more than fair.
The longest of the novice hurdle races which place a premium on stamina. There have been some shocks down the years with recent SPs including 50/1, 33/1 twice and 14/1 twice in the last eight years.
There has been some class rising to the top though in the form of Black Jack Ketchum, At Fishers Cross and Monkfish also winning this contest.
There are two high class runners heading the market in Hillcrest and GINTO.
Hillcrest has been the subject of high praise from trainer Henry Daly who thinks he could be the best he has trained. This is a man who saddled the great Mighty Man and was assistant to Tim Forster in the Martha’s Son days. Hillcrest has won four of his five starts over hurdle (effectively brought down in the other here at Cheltenham) and clearly has stamina reserves as he proved in heavy ground at Haydock. That race was only four weeks ago and despite still seemingly fresh enough at the end of it, it must have taken some sort of toll such was the tiring ground.
For that reason, I will side with GINTO for Gordon Elliott. He won the G1 Lawlor’s of Naas Hurdle in January in comfortable style, with Ballymore third and Whatdeawant eight lengths back in fifth. He cost €470,000 at the sales and has quickly risen up the ladder over hurdles, winning all three starts impressively. There have been positive vibes surrounding his chances and he has been the subject of more support than Hillcrest in recent days and the fresher horse is fancied to come out on top.
Minella Cocooner won at the Dublin Racing Festival and represents Willie Mullins whose Monkfish won this race in 2020 but I fancy Stag Horn to run a big race for Archie Watson and Nick Scholfield. He doesn’t have the usual CV of a winner of this race having come from the flat, but he was a group class stayer on the level and won both his hurdle starts impressively, including at Warwick in January. That is a trial whose form usually stands up when it comes to the festival and could be one for each way players at around 16/1.
3.30pm - CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP – SEE OUR GOLD CUP A-Z
I am not an aficionado of the form of point-to-point and hunter chases so it would be unfair for me to pretend that I am. What I do know is that, after a period of Irish domination, this race has stayed at home in three of the last four seasons.
I did speak to Jamie Codd last week who is looking forward to a good spin on Mighty Stowaway but did allude to this race being Billaway’s race to lose. He was second in last year’s race but can miss the odd fence out and at around 5/2 in a race of this nature where luck can play a part, I’ll look elsewhere.
Winged Leader beat Billaway by twelve lengths at Thurles in January to extend his winning sequence to five. He is only eight years old and has the assistance of experienced amateur Barry O’Neill in the saddle.
Another horse that got a favourable mention was Lord Schnitzel who has won his last five races, beating the useful Space Cadet cosily between the flags three weeks ago. He could be worth chancing each way and could represent a little value at around 20/1.
Bets of the British looks to be Bob And Co under David Maxwell, who also owns the horse. He was beaten by last year’s Aintree Foxhunters winner Cousin Pascal at Haydock last time, but the stronger stamina test of this contest should suit him more than his conqueror there.
Pont Aven has won his last two starts in good style but I’m not sure his stamina will last out up the hill with his best Irish form over 2m-2m 4f.
Eight mares are set to go to post for the festival's newest race.
I am a big fan of MOUNT IDA here who won the Kim Muir at last year’s festival despite almost being pulled up at an early stage. She showed great staying power to win that contest, but she has shown good form this season over this trip too, including beating last year’s runner-up Elimay on New Year’s Day, and now she is 3lb better off.
She is two form two this season, handles all types of ground and I fancy her to win this before potentially heading to a Grand National tilt.
Elimay went down fighting by a half length last year and after disappointing at Aintree in December, she has bounced back to form and warmed up for this assignment with an easy victory at long odds-on five weeks ago.
Concertista is also a former festival winner who has won both her chase starts but I prefer the experience of MOUNT IDA over her.
Best of the British hail from the Nigel Twiston-Davies year yard with Zambella, who won the Aintree race ahead of Elimay in December, and this season’s dual course and distance winner Vienna Court not discounted for each-way purposes.
The 28th and final race (I’m not crying, you’re crying) brings the curtain down on an exciting, entertaining and fascinating festival.
The first place to start here is with Langer Dan, who was runner-up last year to non-other than Gallopin Des Champs and a full nine lengths clear of the remainder. He certainly bumped into one that day and this has been the aim all season for him. The handicapper has dropped him 2lb for his reappearance run at Taunton which wasn’t devoid of promise, and he has every chance of going close again.
Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott have won five of the last eight renewals and between them are responsible for eight of the 24 runners, six from Elliott who values this race as a former jockey and assistant at Pipe’s Pond House yard.
For that reason, I am keen on I A CONNECT who has been off since beating Saturdays Imperial Cup winner, Surprise Package, at Punchestown in November. He runs off just 1lb higher than which the runner-up there dotted up at Sandown off on Saturday and there is every chance of plenty of improvement on just his fourth hurdles, and eighth lifetime start. He has been talked about as a potential graded performer so he should have something in hand off his current mark and Fergus Gregory has been booked to ride for a few days.
Elliott is also represented by Hollow Games who has finished third in a pair of Grade 1 novice contests including behind Albert Bartlett favourite stablemate Ginto at Naas in January and at the Dublin Racing festival last month.
Willie Mullins main hope appears to lie with Adamantly Chosen, who won a Thurles maiden by a huge 27 lengths five weeks ago and is another that may have something in hand of the handicapper.
Of those at prices, Lanzarote Hurdle winner Cobbler’s Dream should go well and has place claims.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change