13:30 Cheltenham – Triumph Hurdle
Nicky Henderson’s Apples Shakira is unbeaten in four over hurdles, including three at Cheltenham, two of which came over today’s race distance and the other over just a half-furlong shorter. Last seen at the end of January, she won a Grade 2 by eight lengths and with her 7lbs allowance looks a worthy favourite for the Friday opener.
That said, there are a couple of exciting prospects who also line up here. The first is Redicean who also brings excellent recent form in to this race having won three in a row since joining Alan King, winning the Adonis Hurdle in convincing fashion last month. Winning twice on soft ground and once on good, with an average winning margin of nine lengths over his three victories, it is unlikely he will be too far away at the finish.
Mr Adjudicator won the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle last time out, staying on well to beat Farclas by just over a length. He is now two from two over two miles in soft ground and looks a live danger for Willie Mullins. The Irish trainer also saddles Saldier who was a very impressive winner on stable debut at Gowran Park past month and is another open to further improvement having only raced once over hurdles, although this lack of experience could also go against him in a race of this nature.
Apples Shakira (WIN)
Cheltenham 14:10 – County Hurdle
Willie Mullins has an excellent record in this race and sends five in the hope of another victory. Bleu Et Rouge heads the market and has winning form over the trip and in testing conditions. He was a solid second behind Kalashnikov last time out but racing off a mark of 154 with a weight of 11stone 12lbs the stats would suggest he can’t win this race. A similar comment applies to Lagostovegas and Sandsend so of the Mullins quintet it makes sense to concentrate on Meri Devie and Whiskey Sour. Meri Devie began this season with a couple of solid placed efforts over today’s trip in soft and heavy ground and put aside a couple of subsequent lacklustre performances with a commanding five length victory at Listed level last time out.
Whisky Sour was unbeaten in four since joining the Mullins stable before a decent fourth in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle last time out, finishing behind Ballymore winner Samcro, Duc Des Genievres and Supreme fourth Paloma Blue. That form looks pretty strong and racing off a mark of 141 with a weight of 10stone 13lbs he should be in with a decent chance here.
Others in with a chance include last year’s Fred Winter winner Flying Tiger, Smaoineamh Alainn who is unbeaten in three over hurdles, previous course winner Brahms De Clermont and Gordon Elliott’s runner Duca De Thaix, while A Hare Breath won a Listed race when last seen and has winning form both in soft ground and at Cheltenham so is another to consider.
Whiskey Sour (E/W)
Smaoineamh Alainn (E/W)
Cheltenham 14:50 – Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle
Santini won the Classic Novices Hurdle here at Cheltenham, beating Black Op on heavy ground in January. He is unbeaten in two but has yet to tackle a three-mile trip and for me this makes him vulnerable.
Chef Des Obeaux was second to Santini on hurdles debut but has since won three in a row in impressive fashion, including a nineteen length victory over three miles in soft ground at Kempton in January before following up with a fifteen length victory in a Grade 2 race in heavy ground at Haydock last month.
Poetic Rhythm is a second season hurdler who finished third of six in the Hyde Novices Hurdle. He won a listed bumper here at Cheltenham in 2016, has also placed twice here over hurdles, has won two from three including a Grade 2 and a Grade 1 over hurdles this season and made the frame in all four point-to-point runs before joining Fergal O’Brien. Versatile with regards to conditions, having won on ground ranging from good to heavy, he looks to have a decent chance of a top three finish here.
Kilbricken Storm was well beaten by Poetic Rhythm in heavy ground last time out but had previously won in soft ground over course and distance when beating Count Meribel in the Grade 2 Bristol Novices Hurdle. He will find this tougher and has put in the odd shocker but fits many of the stats for the race and therefore looks a decent each way option at the odds if arriving here on a good day.
Chef Des Obeaux (WIN) – NAP
Cheltenham 15:30 – Cheltenham Gold Cup
The marquee race of the whole four day meeting sees the annual renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the name on peoples lips is Might Bite. Fancied for the race since his festival success last year he’s continued to progress with back to back victories this term and claimed success with victory in the King George. He’s clearly the class horse but with long term favourite for this race Thistlecrack no longer entered it’s hard to judge the form of the win he claimed at Kempton. He’s surely going to be in the mix but he’s not the certainty many punters feel he is.
Native River made his long awaited return to action and made short work of his rivals in pretty impressive fashion. Not the most stacked of races as with the favourite it’s hard to see what he achieved in winning last time out. Unlike Might Bite I feel he’ll definitely progress for his last race and of the main English trained hopes it’s actually Native River I fear most.
The Irish are having a phenomenal week so far and they have an almighty handy in the Gold Cup. Willie Mullins’ second and third string Total Recall and Bachasson could definitely out run their odds with both winning their last three races respectively. Djakadam is also a former favourite for this race and has placed second twice and fourth in this race. At current odds of 33/1 even if he looks to be the least fancied runners of the Mullins quartet he could make odds compilers look mightily silly.
Gigginstown have had their colours held aloft in the winners enclosure on several occasions at the festival so far and both Road To Respect and Outlander have decent chances. The improving seven year old Road To Respect is a former festival winner and is unbeaten here at Cheltenham. He’s only finished outside of the top three on one occasion in his past ten starts, handles the soft going and looks worth backing at around 12/1.
Road To Respect (E/W)
Road To Respect claims victory in last years festival.
Cheltenham 16:10 – Foxhunters Chase
Named the “Amateur’s Gold Cup” as point to point horses and veterans of the game line up to tackle the Gold Cup course and trip. There’s a couple of former course winners in the form of On The Fringe, Unioniste, Pacha Du Polder, Barel Of Laughs, Cousin Pete and Caid Du Berlais who aim for victory here once again and in all honesty I feel the winner comes from this shortlist. Of course the likes of Burning Ambition and Foxrock demand a tonne of respect but a race that tends to be dominated by the Irish looks to potentially staying on home shores.
The aforementioned Caid Du Berlais is still relatively young at the age of nine and is a horse I fancied to go well last season. He didn’t live up to expectations last term but still put in a decent performance when finishing 8th in the Pertemps Network Final. Three back to back victories in point to points shows he still retains ability but this is a whole different task all together. Never the less with one of the best amateur jockeys, William Biddick on board he looks to have a fantastic opportunity.
Caid Du Berlais (E/W)
Cheltenham 16:50 – Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle
The penultimate race of the four day meeting looks ridiculously hard to decipher.
Festival form is hard to have for any horse but right near the bottom of the market you’ll see Flaxen Flare who’s only raced here at Cheltenham on three occasions. He’s not been seen at this venue since the 2014 festival but he finished 5th of 28 in the County Hurdle. Prior to that he finished 4th of 18 in the Greatwood Hurdle and in 2013 he won the Fred Winter. That sort of form is definitely worth noting. He’s not reproduced similar form this season but if he can recapture anything similar to the results he’s produced here before he’s going to have a great chance especially from the top yard of Gordon Elliott.
Nicky Henderson is having a good festival and Lough Derg Spirit looks to have been found a race that he’s more than capable of winning. A sixth behind Kalashnikov in the Grade 3 Betfair Hurdle shows he belongs with some of the best horses and this race looks much less competitive. He’s only had six starts here in the UK and has a tonne of room to improve. Bookmakers offering around 25/1 seem to be ludicrously generous and I can’t fathom a reason not to back Henderson’s charge.
Flaxen Flare (E/W)
Lough Derg Spirit (E/W)
Cheltenham 17:30 – Grand Annual Chase
North Hill Harvey has had a good season with two wins and two placed finishes in all four of his starts. The Skelton yard hasn’t had the best festival but hope to redeem things with their course victor. Sadly I feel he’s probably carrying too much weight to find himself with his head in front come the finish line.
At big prices both Gino Trail and Vaniteux have the ability to out run their odds and are worth noting in the betting however a chance is taken with Paul Nicholls’ Bouvreuil. A great record here at the festival with a 2nd in the Fred Winter followed up by another 2nd in Close Brothers Chase the year after and last year finished 3rd behind Road To Respect in the Brown Advisory Chase. With great festival form he’s primed to go close once again despite a mediocre season to date.