The Irish were dominant on St Patrick’s Day at the Cheltenham Festival, as they took the lead in the BetBright Cup (11-10).
Thistlecrack – for how long could he dominate the staying hurdling division? He lived up to his billing by scooting clear to claim the World Hurdle.
If that was Vautour at 90% then he would be immense fully fit. He was hardly asked the question by Ruby Walsh, as he reached the 50-winner mark at the Festival.
There were two other winners for Willie Mullins and Walsh with Limini proving her worth in the inaugural running of the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. Black Hercules opened the day with delight, as he held of the rallying Bristol De Mai.
The Kim Muir went the way of Cause Of Causes, who looked to have joined in on the turn by how he motored up the hill. Mall Dini gave his trainer Patrick Kelly his first Festival winner from his first runner. That was a cavalry charge with plenty in contention at the final flight.
Empire Of Dirt gave Gigginstown their first winner of the week in the Stable Plate and that was a commanding performance. Tango De Juilley was second keeping up Venetia Williams good record in that race.
13:30 JCB Triumph Hurdle
Horses towards the fore of the betting tend to go well in this race and there have been a couple of talking horses in this race.
Zubayr was highly touted before he made a winning debut at Kempton in the Grade 2 Adonis Hurdle. He powered clear when asked showing he has true ability. This is a different style of track from Kempton, so he’ll have to handle that. He had two starts on the flat in France finishing a close third and fourth – both of those came on good ground, so he won’t mind the drying conditions.
Ivanovich Gorbatov disappointed on heavy ground at Leopardstown when beaten by nearly 10l after previously handling it. That defeat came in a Grade 1 Juvenile hurdle when he made a few jumping errors and when you think these could go off a bit too quickly one mistake could be costly. This has been a talking horse with the fact it is likely to have been trained by Aidan O’Brien.
Footpad is one of two representing owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. He has won his last two, including beating Ivanovich Gorbatov last time. All of his racing has been on heavy or soft ground but he has a sire that has good early statistics on better ground. Plus he is a half-brother to Organisateur, who was useful on quicker conditions. For me he can keep the Mullins and Walsh juggernaut rolling.
The other one to mention is Sceau Royal, who has won his last three, including one over course and distance. That form stands up well after the horse he beat, Adrien Du Pont, has since come out to win a Grade 1 himself. He comes into consideration.
Advice: Footpad (9/1 Each-Way)
14:10 County Hurdle
This is another 26-runner lottery where you can give many chances. Sternrubin and Wait For Me both were initially on the shortlist but Philip Hobbs runners at the Festival have ran a touch disappointingly. The latter is the most favourable of the pair but he hasn’t looked the most fluent at times.
Superb Story is towards the head of the market after a win at Wetherby two starts ago. In the Grade 3 Greatwood Hurdle ran here he was second to Old Guard. He’s been off the track 124-days to keep him fresh for this and sneaks into this off bottom weight, so may have been targeted for this race. In the Greatwood Waxies Dargle was third and he wasn’t beaten far in the Coral Cup, so is likely to run a big race.
Great Field is still unexposed for Willie Mullins after only one start on these shores. He won two from three in France before easily taking his debut for the stable after a long absence. The Leopardstown win came over further, so a strong pace could play to his strengths. If he doesn’t bounce he has strong claims.
The two I’m taking are Starchitect and a chance is been taken on Zamdy Man. The former blundered at the last in the Betfair Hurdle and would have challenged Agrapart. That run came in ground that looked less than ideal and after his summer break. He was ahead of the subsequent Imperial Cup winner that day, so the form is working out nicely. Back on better ground he could be overpriced if his jumping is tidied up.
Venetia Williams Zamdy Man hasn’t taken to fences on his last two starts and looking back he has some very tidy Novice Hurdle form. In January 2014 he beat Ultima winner Un Temps Pour Tout in the Grade 2 Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle and followed that up with a second behind The New One at Haydock. His mark is on the same as that run at Haydock and if taking to the smaller obstacles again he could be capable of outrunning his huge odds. The only concern is the ground with the majority of his form coming on wetter ground.
Two others that are notable are Blue Hell, who beat Diamond King last time out and we saw that Gordon Elliot horse take the Coral Cup. He has gone up 22lb for that win but will handle the big field with that win coming against 15 rivals. John Constable hasn’t been seen for 113-days but this ground is a big plus for his chances.
Advice: Starchitect (14/1 Each-Way)
Zamdy Man (80/1 Each-Way)
14:50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
Barters Hill made it seven from seven at Doncaster in the Grade 2 River Don where he showed a good attitude of ‘thou shalt not pass.’ However when it comes to tracks Doncaster is far removed from Cheltenham leaving me questioning if he’ll actually get up the hill. We know he is likely to go out from the front to try and make all but he could be taken on meaning they could set it up for a closer.
Neil Mullholland’s Shantou Village moved into favouritism and he does have course form to his name. He beat Champers On Ice here in November on decent ground before being turned over by Yanworth in January on heavy ground. He could resume the winning habit. Richard Johnson booked to take the ride will be hoping to record his first winner at the Festival.
One horse I do like is Long Dog. He is unproven over this longer trip but stayed well over 2m5f at Limerick when winning a Grade 3. The way he stayed on suggested he would be able to see out the extra distance. We know Mullins is some sort of a magician and has a strong battalion of horses under his stewardship, so no one would be surprised if he were to win. He has only fell to one defeat in his career and so far his best performances have come on quicker ground, which boosts my enthusiasm. So Rich Ricci expected him in the Neptune rather than here but Mullins knows what he’s doing!
Unowhatimeanharry has improved hand over fist this season and claimed the Pertemps Hurdle Qualifier at Exeter last time. The way he won that on heavy ground suggested he could continue to his improvement since joining Harry Fry. Champers On Ice produced a superb weight carrying performance to win here on New Year’s Day. He followed that up with a third behind Yanworth and Shantou Village, so has to find a bit more to reverse that form but has place claims.
Advice: Long Dog (8/1 Each-Way)
15:30 Gold Cup
It has been a superb week of racing and this could be a cracking Gold Cup to top it off. It is a shame last year’s winner Coneygree is unable to defend his crown but we still have a high-class field.
Cue Card has the strongest form coming into this race and is on a few ante-post multiples. He stayed on stoutly in the King George to beat Vautour, who we saw win supremely yesterday. If he wins here he would take the new £1m jumps bonus after he also won the Betfair Chase at Haydock beating Silviniaco Conti, who also has won since. His form stacks up nicely plus he has plenty of course form having won the Ryanair in 2013 and a Novices’ hurdle in 2010. On the way he stayed on in the King George would suggest the extra couple of furlongs is well within his range. If on top form on the day could give Colin Tizzard a second big-race success at the Festival.
Don Cossack is the first choice for Gigginstown after Bryan Cooper chose to ride the nine-year-old over Don Poli. In the 2014 RSA Chase Don Cossack fell just as he did in the King George. He was third in the Ryanair beaten by a good fronting running ride, which could be similar here. He does have ability if remaining upright by the way he beat Djakadam in April. Of the pair I’d prefer last year’s RSA Chase winner Don Poli. He saw off Many Clouds on both of their returns to action and went on to win the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown on ground that might have been less than ideal showing his quality. Davy Russell rode Lord Windermere to victory in this race in 2014 and to be honest there is no better second choice. Better ground and proven here makes him the pick of that pair.
One from an each-way angle has to be Smad Place. If given a free reign up front he could do a Coneygree and make all of the running. He was beaten by Cue Card in the King George but he didn’t get out in front like he did in the Hennessy when putting in a bold showing from the front. There isn’t a better sight than seeing a grey horse setting the fractions and having enough to kick on, putting his rivals to the sword. The Hennessy form got a boost when the second Theatre Guide won the Grade 3 BetBright Chase. He has course form when beating Many Clouds last time and he can hit the frame.
Djakadam fell in the race Smad Place won here at the end of January and was reported to have a flesh wound as a consequence. The question is whether if that will have scarred him psychologically plus he fell here in the 2014 Festival meaning from three starts he has only completed once. He did stay on for second in this race last year and could easily bounce back to his best here. The fact connections switched Vautour to the Ryanair could mean he has been showing good form in his work and they fancy their chances here, not just Vautour not being 100%. The better ground is likely to help his jumping.
Advice: Cue Card (4/1 Win)
Smad Place (9/1 Each-Way)
16:10 Foxhunter Chase
I’m not all clued up on this sort of race in honesty but On The Fringe won this race last year after placing in 2014 and he represents top connections. He disappointed at Leopardstown when seen at the start of February under Jamie Codd when the ground was probably against him. The return to better ground is a positive but would have to return to last year’s form to win.
Warren Greatrex’s Festival has been a disappointing one and he’ll be hoping for Paint The Clouds to put the record straight. He gets the ground he wants and was a distant third in this contest last year. He won on his prep run at Doncaster, so should be fully ready to go.
If I have a bet on this race I’d be having a small each-way play on Marito. He was second last time to Aupcharlie when beaten as 2/5 favourite. That day he did only go down by a narrow margin after being headed close home. He should handle better ground is more likely to stay meaning he can reverse form with the Henry De Bromhead runner, who may not see out the trip. The hood is put back on this ten-year-old, so if he gets to the front he shouldn’t idle in case he gets to the front near the finish.
The media hype will be in full swing come this race with the circus surround Victoria Pendleton. The former Olympian takes the ride on Pacha Du Polder and she looked tidy enough in the saddle when winning at Wincanton last time out. In his career under rules saw him win a Grade 2 Novices’ Chase and the Grade 3 Greatwood Gold Cup in good style. Obviously he retains ability and could actually be a player if staying up the hill. The attention surrounding the race will be good for the sport.
Tentative advice: Marito (10/1 Each-Way)
16:50 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle
Squouateur is seeking the hat-trick after wins at Leopardstown and Fairyhouse on his last two starts. He looks a worthy favourite on the basis of those two success’ but both have come on heavy ground, so will he be suited in these quicker conditions. The latest win saw him raised 13lb by the handicapper who hasn’t taken any chances with him. Jack Kennedy has established himself as a good up and coming jockey since being given the opportunity in the saddle. His stablemate Westend Star is interesting on the basis he stays further and if they go off to quickly then he could come through the field late.
Ibis Du Rheu is a half-brother to Saphir Du Rheu and if he runs close to his form when third in the Lanzarote Hurdle he comes into reckoning. He is another that has been tried over further but may not have fully seen out the 3m trip at Sandown, so reverting back to this trip could suit. Qualando won the Fred Winter at last year’s Festival but hadn’t shown much since last time out when second in a weak race at Taunton. Harry Cobden took the ride that day, as he does here but he is unable to claim his 7lb in this contest. First-time cheekpieces could bring about some improvement.
Tom Bellamy showed great horsemanship yesterday at Towcester when steering Sainte Ladylime to victory after the saddle slipped up her neck, as they were going out for the final circuit. He clung on and despite being headed managed to rally on the favourite to win. He rides Label Des Obeaux here, who looks a straightforward enough horse to ride but trainer Alan King believes soft ground is likely to help his chances – that’s something he won’t get here.
Flying Angel is penalised for his win six-days ago in the Grade 3 Imperial Cup at Sandown. Despite carrying the 5lb penalty the grey could be well-in after he stayed on strongly to win by a 5l margin to suggest he’d stay further. He was third in the Betfair Hurdle and that form is working might get strengthened earlier on in the day. Nigel Twiston-Davies and Ryan Hatch teamed up for success in the RSA Chase with Blaklion on Wednesday and he could go well at a price here.
Willie Mullins has won this race three time in the last five years and for me Childrens List looks his best chance. The better ground is likely to suit this son of Presenting and the six-year-old nearly won over 3m last time out at Leopardstown. He was 8l clear of the third in that race and that has won since, as has the fourth meaning the form looks good on paper. It was only a second but the handicapper has reacted by putting him up 9lb but back on better ground he could find further improvement.
This is another race I wouldn’t be too strong on, so would be small stakes.
Advice: Flying Angel (14/1 Each-Way)
Childrens List (12/1 Each-Way)
17:30 Grand Annual Chase
The usual curtain closer of the Festival and after a few tricky betting races it doesn’t get much easier for us punters.
Next Sensation won this race last year off a 1lb lower mark. He stayed on well and despite making the odd mistake claimed a good victory for Michael and Tom Scudamore. He has been laid out for this race and has disappointed off higher marks of late. The fact this nine-year-old can go forward and set the fractions could make him a good proposition in this race but he has had his problems off the course, so he’ll have to be 100% to have any chance.
This is a race JP McManus targets for some of his horses and Eastlake was second last year off 145. He’s 2lb lower today and Barry Geraghty takes the ride. He is another that hasn’t shown much form coming into this race with three of his last form figures being letters rather than numbers. He has course form and experience, which could prove beneficial.
Rock The World could take Next Sensation on for the lead, so tactically it is an intriguing race. Jessica Harrington’s charge won a Novice Chase here in October over course and distance suggesting that was his trial for a race of this nature despite it only having three-runners. He has handled big fields in the past when winning a 16-runner Maiden Hurdle at Down Royal and a 15-runner Chase at Ballinrobe. He’s had a break after being quite busy and this promising chaser could progress once more.
Gary Moore had no luck in the build-up to the Festival losing his main hopes through injury. Chris Pea Green could give the stable a change of fortune here and was getting into gear when falling four from home in this contest last year. After watching the race back he looked to have been hampered in the early stages and could have made his presence felt if he stayed upright. He runs off a 4lb lower mark than last year and that is a mark he has previously won off before when beating Tango Du Juilley, who ran into second in the Stable Plate. A slight concern would be the fact that Moore has previously stated he prefers softer ground but has placed on good ground at this track.
Oh Crick was the last six-year-old to win the race back in 2009 and there is potentially an improving one this year in the shape of Raven’s Tower. He has been slow to come to hand with connections having had to be patient. He won 129-days ago at Huntingdon in a Novices’ Chase and this is of course a more difficult race but he does look to be on the upgrade. This son of Raven’s Pass carries a low weight and has good form on quick ground. A sixth placed finish when running on in the Fred Winter at the Festival in 2014 but missed it last year. Three starts ago he was beaten by Long House Hall, who reverted back to hurdles and finished second in the Coral Cup. Ben Pauling’s charge could be a lurker and if they go too quickly is likely to pick up the pieces late on.
Velvet Maker has been beaten by Douvan on his last two starts around Leopardstown. He has form ties with Rock The World but the fact the handicapper has put him up 3lb for his last effort does look harsh. Still he has room for improvement and looks very interesting in this race. 2014 winner Savello has switched yards since then and is now in the care of Dan Skleton. He is 3lb higher today than when winning two years ago and isn’t getting any younger. The tongue-tie is added to go with the hood, so it is the first time this equipment has been tried together and it could have a positive impact. He’s ran some good races in defeat of late behind Old Guard, Lil Rockerfeller and Sprinter Sacre. This race is likely to suit him better than those, so could prove overpriced.
Advice: Chris Pea Green (20/1 Each-Way)
Raven’s Tower (22/1 Each-Way)
Good Luck & Enjoy the final day!