Yesterday was as hard as I thought to find winners. There was one winner and a few bigger priced places for me while 20-time Champion Jockey AP McCoy rode his first winner this week on Uxizandre. Could he end with a spectacular Carlingford Lough (Gold Cup) and Ned Buntline (Grand Annual) double?
Vautour (9/4) won the JLT in style, arguably the best performance of the week, also in that race Apache Stronghold (11/2) each-way finished second.
Elsewhere in the Stable Plate two of the three each-way selections finished 3rd and 4th. Rawnaq (28/1) was third while Buywise (10/1) was fourth with the latter staying on strongly.
In the final race of the day, the Kim Muir Handicap Chase Bless The Wings (25/1) was second keeping up the placing form in that race for Gordon Elliot and Nina Carberry.
Today sadly is the final day of the Festival and will see AP McCoy for a final time and for me he has at least one winner on the day to double his tally for the week.
The forecasted rain arrived overnight when about 5mm fell and more is forecast up until around 3pm.
1:30 Triumph Hurdle
This looks a fascinating renewal and one where you would have to call it a long list rather than a shortlist as many of this have strong arguments on form. I’ve tried to narrow it down but it took quite a bit of time to piece it all together in all honesty.
I was keen on Top Notch for this and even though he remains unbeaten in his three UK races you have to look to see if he has beaten anything of quality. The answer is that he really hasn’t. He has done his work really well on the racecourse and that’s why I backed him ante-post at 25/1 however despite him currently sitting at 8/1 he isn’t in the same class as stablemate Peace And Co.
Peace And Co (11/4) has been really impressive on his two UK starts and he won both beating better opponents. Last time out he won over course and distance beating Karezak, who is a serial second, and on his UK debut he beat Starchitect by 19l, who finished fourth in Wednesday’s Fred Winter. So overall the form is there and much stronger than that of Top Notch. The rain would be a positive too as his two wins have come on soft ground.
Devilment (22/1) is definitely a good each-way bet and a horse I’ve been sweet on after seeing his debut at Plumpton. He was second to Pain Au Chocolat but travelled wide throughout searching for the better ground. Despite travelling wide he finished second by two-and-a-quarter lengths and didn’t really close the eventual winner but on a sounder surface as today I would expect him to reverse that form. Since then he has won both of his races without coming off the bridle against moderate horses and for me he is slightly overpriced. He was also a useful horse on the flat rated at 95 suggesting he has that turn of foot when required, which will help him surge up the hill.
Hargam has also beat the same pair as Peace And Co on his last two starts including a course and distance victory suggesting he could be a similar type and will be close despite the ratings suggesting Peace And Co is better. Any rain would reduce his chances for kick starting the McCoy finale with a bang.
Adonis Hurdle winner Beltor has been impressive in his last two races and put is hat firmly in the ring and the rain would be a positive. Trained by Sir Mark Prescott on the flat he is the stable star for Robert Stephens small operation in Newport. He won a Grade 2 at Kempton quite easily and the runner-up from that franked the form in the Fred Winter.
Gigginstown filly Petite Parisienne won a Grade 1 at Leopardstown beating the well-fancied Kalkir. The 5lb weight allowance for fillies gives her strong claims while Mullins’ Dicosimo is an interesting runner after winning well on his debut. Again a rain dance is probably being performed after his win came on soft/heavy ground and his win in France came on heavy ground.
2:05 County Hurdle
This race doesn’t see any prisoners taken and will be ran at high speeds, so first thoughts are expect a false start first time around.
I’ve got it down to three who have strong claims based on some of the race trends to solid form to be in with a chance.
Firstly Quick Jack (13/2) who is trained by Tony Martin, he trained Ted Veale to success in this race and his only entry into it for this year looks a serious contender. The booking of Shane Shortall, who will claim 5lb, is a shrewd move. He won over course and distance he in November where he beat two Arkle runners in Three Kingdoms and Vibrato Valtat. He followed it up with a third in the Boylesports.com Hurdle at Leopardtown beaten by Gilgamboa and Flaxen Flare; the latter a solid yardstick in Ireland. His last run was on the flat where he was third in the Cesarewitch. He has proven jumping ability and speed, both key attributes for this race.
Cheltenian (18/1 each-way) would be a small stakes play. He may not have won since his return from a lay-off but has ran into a place on three of those four occasions including last time out when he was second behind Violet Dancer in the Betfair Hurdle, which tends to be a good trial. A few more from that race re-oppose him here but personally he has the capabilities to go well again. The third in the Betfair Hurdle was also third in the Coral Cup, so a little bit of form franked.
Violet Dancer won the Betfair Hurdle but was given an easy and early lead. In the end he made all and I doubt he’ll be given the same opportunity of that here.
Modem (22/1 each-way) isn’t without chances either. The overnight rain will put the juice in the ground he requires as all his runs in Ireland have been on soft or yielding ground. When he ran on heavy he was well beaten by Douvan, who won the Supreme on Tuesday. Since then he has been in the first three on all four runs and has built up a good partnership with Robbie Power in the saddle.
Imperial Cup winner Ebony Express could go well again after his success at the weekend. Princely Conn sees AP McCoy team with Thomas Mullins and JP McManus and this pair teamed up in this race when Alderwood won three years ago and he will be primed for this race. Commissioned has some good form in the book and could run a big race for John Ferguson and possibly outrun his mark of 140.
Last year’s Fred Winter winner Hawk High has only won once since last March and has struggled for form. Max Dynamite is an interesting contender for Willie Mullins. Won on his hurdles debut at Thurles and has finished second and fourth since. What makes him interesting is his French flat form on softish ground so is one to watch on the markets.
2:40 Albert Bartlett
This Novices Hurdle sees 20 runners going over 3m. Again it isn’t something that I have got a shortlist for it has quite a few of these with chances.
First up is the Yorkshire trained Definitly Red (28/1) who is worth an each-way bet. Seven of the last ten winners of this race had ran at Cheltenham before and this Brian Ellison horse won here in November beating smart progressive five-year-old Arabic History. He ran in the Champion Bumper last year finishing seventh behind some very good Irish horses and finished a place above Modus, who ran in this year’s race and finished second behind Moon Racer. The form looks strong enough winning last time out at Haydock in the Prestige Novices Hurdle on soft ground, so the rain will be welcome.
Blaklion (14/1) will be hoping to save the Festival for the Twiston-Davies yard after The New One disappointed in the Champion Hurdle. He is definitely each-way bet material with his course form of second and first. He has twice been beaten by Parlour Games who finished second in the Neptune Novices Hurdle so there is good form in the book. He was beaten by a head last time out by Caracci Apache and fully expect him to reverse that form in this race. He tends to be prominently ridden and that is what’s required in this race to challenge in the closing stages.
Despite selecting two outsiders the results suggest that horses towards the head of the market tend to go well with eight of the last ten winners coming from the first five in the market. No More Heroes looks the one to beat despite finishing fifth in a Grade 2 at Leopardstown. Outlander won the race with Windsor Park in fourth, however the latter reversed that form when winning the Neptune Novices Hurdle here, so I would expect No More Heroes to reverse the form with Martello Tower. Black Hercules won well at this distance last time out but his from doesn’t look the strongest despite his fourth to Silver Concorde in the Champion Bumper at last year’s Festival.
3:20 GOLD CUP
The showpiece race of the day and arguably the Festival, will Silviniaco Conti prove he has the stamina or will it be a dream Festival finale from AP McCoy on Carlingford Lough?
For me the answer is neither. The forecasted rain arrived and with more expected it gives Many Clouds (8/1) a major boost. This eight-year-old has been impressive this season winning on all three starts. He was unlucky at last year’s Festival after being brought down in the RSA Chase and his previous run to that saw him second behind O’Faolains Boy suggesting he would have been there or thereabouts at the finish. This strong galloper and solid jumper is something that really has caught my eye and has dismissed some solid yardsticks. He beat a number of these when winning the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury when he stayed on really strongly showing that he wouldn’t struggle with the hill. He proved that in January when taking glory in the Betbright Cup Chase again seeing off a couple of his rivals today. In my eyes he is the one to bet.
At a bigger price Smad Place (33/1) would be worth small stakes each-way bet. This lovely looking grey caught my eye when second here to Many Clouds in January where he stayed on well. He was previously fifth in the Hennessy Gold Cup back in November in his only two runs this season, so he could be well rested by the Alan King yard. Second in last year’s RSA Chase proving he has good Cheltenham form and one that I would expect to go well on the rain softened ground.
One of my favourite horses this year has been Coneygree. However I felt the RSA Chase would have been a better race for his this time around as he has had his injury problems previously. The question looking back at that is would he have beaten Don Poli? That isn’t something I can answer but this front-runner should take up the running and he is one of the most fluent jumpers I can remember seeing. He will be there or thereabouts come the finish but 10/1 maybe a little too short for this novice. Last time out in the Denman Chase he beat Houblon Des Obeaux by 7l in another eye-catching performance. This race will be more difficult and unfortunately don’t think he can win it this year.
Silviniaco Conti was found to have ulcers in his quarters last year after what seemed like to fail getting up the hill. That came a year after falling when travelling really well. Paul Nicholls believes he is better than ever winning the King George Chase at Kempton really well on Boxing Day. Despite the problem last year I still can’t see him being the one especially at that price but I will be happily be proven wrong.
Djakadam is an unknown quality but won the Thyestes by 8l in January where he ran beautifully and if he performs similarly he has a strong claim. Carlingford Lough won the Irish Hennessy but personally don’t think it is the strongest form in this race especially as Foxrock disappointed in the Ryanair after being supplemented. The Giant Bolster knows how to run into a place and I couldn’t put you off him however one I wouldn’t touch is Holywell. Has won around here previously but his jumping concerns me and now the rain has come I think he will struggle. Lord Windermere won this last year but isn’t as good as Best Mate who was the last horse to win consecutive races, even though his trainer Jim Culloty was the winning jockey on Best Mate.
4:00 Foxhunter Steeple Chase
Two each-way selections here. Paint The Clouds (9/2) looks a strong favourite after Warren Greatrex training Cole Harden to World Hurdle success yesterday. He has won nine of his last ten races, in the other he was pulled up. The rain is welcomed and he has won his latest Foxhunter Chases really well and is rightly favourite under Sam Waley-Cohen who is a well-known amateur.
On The Fringe (8/1) under Nina Carberry and Enda Bolger has a strong claim. Carberry was second yesterday on Bless The Wings under a very good ride after not looking to be travelling well. This pair teamed up in the Cross Country with Quantitativeeasing when they were massively unlucky as Toutancarmont carried them through the rails when going well. The from looks solid and third in this last year suggests they could go better.
Don’t be afraid to back a big price in this race as seven of the last fourteen winners have been priced at 14/1 or higher in the betting. Vital Plot could give Jamie Codd a third winner this week at a big price so don’t rule him out as he has solid form in point-to-point races.
4:40 Conditional Jockey Hurdle
A race for conditional jockeys where a couple are allowed to claim but that should play a big part. The top yards tend to go well in this with some top conditionals on their books.
On Tour (18/1) each-way doesn’t come from a big yard but Conor Ring is a good upcoming jockey and currently the horse looks ideally rated in the handicaps so I have no worries on that front. Eighth in the Betfair Hurdle in what was something of an odd race with Violet Dancer making all. Prior to that he had won three of four starts this season and has gone well. He is one at a bigger price that can go really well here.
Jolly’s Cracked It (20/1 each-way) was fifth in the Betfair Hurdle and ran on well late on in that race. Prior to that he was easily dismissed by L’Ami Serge in the Tolworth Hurdle, who since disappointed in the Supreme Novices Hurdle, but the better ground should suit this Harry Fry horse.
Le Mercurey is arguably going to go chasing in the future and looks the class horse in the race with Sean Bowen on-board who has been making a name for himself in recent years.
5:20 Grand Annual
Named in honour of AP McCoy in his final race at the Festival and fittingly he has strong claims with Ned Buntline (5/1) who has solid course and distance form and was second in this race last year. He is lightly raced with this race in mind and looks set to write a fairytale end to McCoy’s Cheltenham Festival rides. He is another JP McManus owned horse and he has a good record in this race with three winners and six runners-up since 2003.
Can AP McCoy carry the JP McManus colours to glory for a final time at Cheltenham?
Grumeti (20/1) each-way isn’t without chances at a bigger price. Rejuvenated of late and he is definitely on for me that can fill a place. Alan King novices go well in this race on previous occasions with Oh Crick winning back in 2009 and he has also had a few placings in this race. Solid course and distance form and for me is one to keep onside at a bigger price.
Ted Veale won the County Hurdle back in 2013 but hasn’t made much of an impact as a chaser. Blood Cotil could be a useful type for Willie Mullins who looks to have some good Irish form while Astracad with Ryan Hatch claiming 5lbs on-board could be another feature of this race.