CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL - DAY 4 (FRIDAY 18TH)

13:30 Cheltenham – Triumph Hurdle


Although the following sentence is now destined to be royally jinxed I’m still going to stick my neck out on the line and profess (similar to Wednesday’s Champion Bumper) it looks a two horse race.


Although a minor case can be made for the likes of the UK contingent Porticello and Knight Salute I imagine the best they can hope for is filling one of the runners up spots.


You also couldn’t be too harsh on Fil Dor who’s done very little wrong but I doubt he’s got enough to reverse the form of his latest performance.


As such it’s whether or not you’re team Mullins with Vauban or team Elliott with Pied Piper.


In their only meeting Pied Piper came out on top and finished half a length ahead of the aforementioned rival. Since then he’s gone on to claim a ridiculously dominant display here at Cheltenham when winning the Grade 2 trial for this race by a massive nine lengths with jockey Davy Russell motionless throughout.


You’d think with a win over his nearest rival and a course and distance win in the bag that Pied Piper should win with ease yet, as we saw on day two, the weather could play a massive part in how this race turns out. Despite Vauban’s French pedigree I think he’s the one of the duo who wouldn’t want it as soft. Pied Piper on the other hand looks to be able to get through tacky ground with greater ease.


I’m hoping with glorious weather expected it has enough time to dry up Prestbury Park enough to play into the hands of Rich Ricci’s charge.


When it comes to a meeting of this nature we hear and read an abundance of hyperbole surrounding numerous horses but since his victory in his previous start I’m genuinely of the belief that Vauban is one of the best novice hurdlers we’ve seen sport the famous pink and green silks of Rich Ricci since the crop of Vautour, Annie Power and Faugheen made their Cheltenham debuts. It’d take a serious horse to emulate even half of that trio’s achievements but if Mother Nature doesn’t intervene any further he’s my bet of the entire festival and hopefully he’s set to deliver.



written by Rory Paddock




14:10 Cheltenham - County Handicap Hurdle


State Man has been on people’s radar for quite a long time and has generated a lot of support in his quest to win this race. He fell on his debut at Leopardstown, when travelling well and looking like the probable winner. He duly obliged at Limerick, a couple of months later, when scooting clear whilst conceding weight. He has a lot of upside but that being said, he’s vastly inexperienced and experience counts for a lot in this race. Additionally, he has the tendency to make mistakes at his fences and you can’t do that in the County Hurdle.


I Like To Move It has won at Cheltenham twice, one of which came in a Grade Two. He was below par against Jonbon the time after but bounced back when going down by a short head in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. He was raised by four pounds for that race but still looks rather well treated. He fits the bill and doesn’t have far to travel as Nigel Twiston-Davies, who thinks a great deal of him, is based in Cheltenham. He doesn’t deserve to be double figures.


Colonel Mustard is dropping a great deal in class, last running in a Grade One at Leopardstown, finishing third behind Sir Gerhard and Three Stripe Life, who respectively finished 1-2 in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Tuesday. Before that, he was beaten three lengths by Jonbon in the aforementioned Ascot race. He has a nice weight which is made more lucrative by Conor Orr’s three pound claim. He seems a safer option at a better price.



written by Kieran McHugh




14:50 Cheltenham - Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle

The Irish have started to dominate this race in recent times, taking each of the last three renewals. Well represented once more, it will take some performance from one of the home team's runners to stop that trend though Hillcrest looks as good as any of the Irish horses on paper and Henry Daly's seven-year-old has been very well backed in the build-up. Impressive when winning at Haydock last time and a course winner previously, his unfortunate unseat two starts ago is easily forgiven (Badly Hampered) and this testing ground looks to be very much in his favour.


Ginto in unbeaten in three starts over timber and he made light work of the step up to Grade One company, when readily brushing aside a quality field at Naas last time. Today's extra yardage is something of an unknown for Gordon Elliott's charge though the form of that Naas race has been franked a couple of times and he is another who should have no issue with the testing ground.


The Nice Guy is impossible to weigh up although he has yet to taste defeat in three races and he absolutely bolted up in a twenty two runner affair last time. Hailing from the formidable yard of Willie Mullins, the trends very much point away from him but he is unlikely to be here for the scenery and a considerable amount of respect is afforded.



Minella Cocooner jumped his rivals into submission at Leopardstown in Grade One company last time, one of four runners for Mullins, he is the pick of stable jockey Paul Townend. Searching through his form, one would have to suggest that he doesn't need to lead though further rain would be a significant concern and he is taken on.


Stag Horn was useful on the level and is one of the better horses from that sphere to go hurdling in recent times, his transition into the National Hunt ranks has gone very well so far and he has won both of his races over obstacles. Quite whether Archie Watson's five year old is up to winning this is open to debate but he warrants serious consideration and will have no issues with the ground.


Falcon Eight, Good Time Jonny and Shantreusse are selected others with claims but Ginto is taken to prove too good and he can hand the Irish a fourth successive victory in the race.



written by Chris Connolly




15:30 Cheltenham – Cheltenham Gold Cup


Minella Indo held off the challenge of stablemate A Plus Tard to gain victory in this race last season and has an excellent record here at Cheltenham with two wins and a second from three runs at Prestbury Park, however it has to be said that his three runs since have all left a little to be desired and as such he looks a little short in the markets for me. It is likely that he has been trained with this race in mind but even so he hasn’t quite shown the same sparkle so far this season so I feel would be a somewhat risky play.


A Plus Tard could hardly have been more impressive on return this season, winning the Grade 1 Betfair Chase by over twenty lengths from Royal Pagaille in November, however was then outbattled by Galvin at Leopardstown in December and in all honesty I’ve found it quite difficult to get away from the Gordon Elliott runner as the most likely winner of this race given he has an excellent record over fences at the course, posting two wins and a second from three runs including the National Hunt Chase at last years’ Festival, and arrives here having won seven of his last eight over trips ranging from twenty to thirty furlongs. He’s also flexible with regards to ground conditions, has plenty of stamina and has shown himself to have true battling qualities so to me looks to have a great chance of victory here.


Al Boum Photo won this race in 2019 & 2020 so shouldn’t be dismissed, however could only manage a third placed finish last season and has only been seen once this season, winning a four-runner affair at Tramore on New Years’ Day. He’s been campaigned lightly in the hope of being fighting fit and raring to go for the chance for a third Gold Cup success and although I feel there are stronger options for win purposes, at the prices he looks to hold a decent each way chance.



written by Dean Kilbryde




16:10 Cheltenham - Festival Challenge Cup


Willie Mullins will be hoping it’s third time lucky for Billaway here. The Well Chosen gelding has finished runner-up in this contest for the past two seasons but the likely soft ground and addition of cheekpieces may eke out further improvement and he’s definitely the one to beat. It’d be an unbelievable result if Bob And Co could give enthusiastic owner/jockey David Maxwell a Cheltenham win. The classy type beat Billaway by a nose at Punchestown last April but was beaten by twice since.


Cousin Pascal won the Foxhunters at Aintree in April and beat Bob And Co at Haydock last month. Since moving to Britain he’s got form figures of “21121” which would suggest he’s improving but has yet to run at Prestbury Park so has to prove he handles the course.


Winged Leader has won his last five starts and put in a career-best effort to beat Billaway at Thurles. David Christie’s charge is only an eight-year-old, so there’s every reason to believe he’s improving and I think he can win under leading amateur Barry O’Neill.


The previous winner It Came To Pass is now a 12-year-old and even though he won a point-to-point in January but was beaten when falling later that month. This will have been the plan but he may struggle to regain his crown.



written by Peter Keogh




16:50 Cheltenham - Mares’ Chase


This is a very competitive renewal of the Mares’ Chase, headed in the betting by the ever alluring Elimay. The grey mare was just narrowly denied by Colreevy in this race last year. She hated every second of the Mares’ Chase at Aintree and just went down to Mount Ida at Fairyhouse. She duly obliged at Naas in February and despite her shaky season, she still has to be given consideration.


Mount Ida came from a mile back to win last year’s renewal of the Kim Muir and has taken rather well to chasing. She stands a very good chance on her form but with such fine margins between them all, her tendency to jump out to her right could prove to be her undoing today.


Concertista has raced three times at the Cheltenham Festival, placing twice and winning the other. She has won both her starts over fences and has been lightly campaigned. She is the main danger today as she has no chinks in her armour. She probably deserves to just edge the favouritism in the betting, ahead of the aforementioned two.


Zambella does not deserve to be double figures. She started the season off well, finishing fourth in a Mares’ Hurdle, behind subsequent Cheltenham Mares’ Hurdle victor, Marie’s Rock. She went to Aintree and absolutely relished every yard of the race, leaving Elimay well behind. She might have found the two miles a tad fast at Leicester but won her third Mares’ Chase, last time out, in striking fashion. Moreover, she was travelling very well in this race last year, when she fell three fences from home. She could be value against the three Irish favourites.



written by Kieran McHugh




17:30 Cheltenham - Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle


Langer Dan has been one of the most spoken of horses at this meeting ever since it became clear he would attempt to go one better than his fine second in last season's renewal. Apparently aimed at the race ever since, he made his comeback at Taunton last month and his performance in that race (Finished Last) and the handicappers decision to drop him three pounds as a result, has sparked controversy. Moving away from all of that debate and back onto the task at hand, a reproduction of his effort from last year puts him bang in the firing line and it is very easy to forget he also won last season's Imperial Cup in devastating fashion. Genuine Heavy ground would pose something of a question mark for Dan Skelton's six-year-old though there is no horse as obviously talented as Galopin Des Champs this time around and compensation may well await.


Hollow Games has placed in Grade One company the last twice and has rock solid form claims, his ability to handle taxing conditions is a serious positive and Gordon Elliott has a good recent record in the race.


Adamantly Chosen looks highly progressive and he is bred to be suited by this step up in trip, hailing from the same yard as last seasons winner, he looks sure to go well although he can be a bit free in his races.


Freedom To Dream has something to find with Hollow Games on the pair's running last time, however, his rider didn't appear overly hard on him and his trainer is very shrewd with his runners. Allowed to race off a mark of one hundred and thirty five here, there is a suspicion that this race has always been the plan and he appears likely to have this run to suit.


Banbridge is three from five over timber and is another to consider for a yard that has won the race before, his form definitely needs improving upon though he is likely to appreciate the step up in trip and is likely to go well. Cobblers Dream arrives here on the back of winning the Lanzarote at Kempton and is chasing the hat-trick after winning at Doncaster the time before, dismissing his chances out of hand would be foolish though he needs yet more today.


Plenty of the rest can have cases made and significant market moves would make a whole number of them interesting, all that being said, Langer Dan is taken to punish the handicappers decision to drop him three pounds and Freedom To Dream can reach the frame at a price.



written by Chris Connolly




Watch pundit Rory Paddock's 'Two Minute Tips' video for his best bets

of the final day of the festival.