13:30 Cheltenham – JCB Triumph Hurdle
Any novice race is a tricky thing to decipher and the first race of the final day is no different. Although perhaps not as competitive as some of the earlier races in the week a case could still be made for a handful of these.
The standout favourite Sir Erec has been my NAP of the festival the past week or so but as the race gets closer my bottle may be going a tad. Wether that’s just pre-race nerves I don’t know but I’m extremely frightened of the threat that course winner Quel Destin poses. Five consecutive victories, including three graded races, shows that Nicholl’s charge has been there and done it already and at a current price of around 8/1 looks very good value. For punters looking to have an each way shout I can’t see Harry Cobden’s mount outside of the top three.
At much bigger odds (50/1 as I write this) one of Willie Mullins’ runners French Made also looks drastically generous especially after winning a big 18 runner contest and should relish the softer going.
All the above being said I have to be a man of my convictions and keep the faith with Sir Erec. Mark Walsh may have had winners this week but surely his highlight had to be THAT “look of love” from the lovely Liz Hurley but I’m hoping another win here on Sir Erec may eclipse it. If the four year old can remain unbeaten this week could be well and truly considered a bookie bashing for most punters.
SIR EREC (WIN) – NAP
14:10 Cheltenham – County Hurdle
Willie Mullins has taken four of the last ten renewals of this, mob handed this time around it would be no surprise to see he improve on that today and his Whiskey Sour currently heads the market. Countister represents Henderson and she is a real eye catching challenger for this, useful in bumpers and fifth in the Mares Novices last season, one would have to think this has always been the plan and she is taken to run into a place. Crooks Peak made it three wins from his last four when showing a good attitude last time at Newbury, Richard Johnson will be eager to get his name onto the winners list and respect is afforded. Monsieur Lecoq, Mr Adjudicator and Western Ryder are selected others with chances though the win selection is handed to Whiskey Sour who bids to build on a fair 4th in this last season.
WHISKEY SOUR (WIN)
14:50 Cheltenham – Albert Bartlett
The precursor to the “big one” the Gold Cup we see another set of novices take centre stage and if truth be told I’ve said to anyone that would listen how I expect the Rebecca Curtis trained antepost favourite Lisnagar Oscar to fall short. No doubt the proverbial hoo-doo will mean that Lisnagar Oscar will storm up the hill and make me look a fool but I just can’t side with the six year old.
Birchdale has done nothing wrong with three wins from three races and considering that includes a win around Cheltenham he demands a tonne of respect. I couldn’t put people off him much but he’s perhaps a bit too short and for a race with twenty odd runners you have to look for each way value.
Owners Cheveley Park are far more known for their exploits on the flat but with Envoi Allen winning earlier in the week their foray into the National Hunt game looks to be a wise decision and they have another chance of success with Allaho. Ruby Walsh will wear the synonymous red and white silks (with blue cap) and has a great chance after winning a Grade 3 race at Clonmel a decent each way chance here but I’m going to side for one at a much bigger price.
Trainer Colin Tizzard will probably have his attention firmly set on the next race but he may well have something to cheer in this one. Rockpoint has course winning form, seems to act much better on softer going and already has a victory over Lisnagar Oscar in the bag. His sixth placed effort last time out doesn’t provide a whole heap of confidence but he can be forgiven that run on better ground and prior to that his run over an inadequate trip. Back up to three miles, with cut in the ground and at a venue he’s been successful he can certainly outrun his big price.
15:30 Cheltenham – Cheltenham Gold Cup
The main event of the four day meeting culminates with the illustrious Gold Cup. Two winners earlier in the week Altior and Tiger Roll have subsequently been talked about as potential runners for next years race but for the time being we have this years renewal to take care of.
The Gold Cup picture has changed massively since the start of the season when Might Bite was the long time favourite but two sub-par runs sees him as a potential outsider now. If he returns to his best like trainer Nicky Henderson is alluding to then he could leave us with egg on our face but I can’t side with Henderson’s horse.
As we get closer to the race it could be any one of three horses that go off as favourite with Presenting Percy, Clan Des Obeaux and Native River all filling the favourite spot at various points over the past week.
Presenting Percy has been victorious at The Festival twice before and has the potential to be a very good horse but it’s fair enough to say that although he has the ability to put this race to bed a very odd preparation this season has left most of us scratching our heads. It could either be a genius master stroke or a preparation that just wasn’t good enough and it’s hard to tell.
Clan Des Obeaux looks a very classy horse after his success in the King George. A few onlookers think it was perhaps a fluke that cannot be replicated at Cheltenham and I seem to find myself agreeing. Clan Des Obeaux reminds me very much of a former Paul Nicholls horse Silviniaco Conti. A multiple King George winner who always found wanting at Cheltenham. Although statistics are there to be broken it’s hard to look past the fact that the horse has ran on left handed courses a total of nine times and never won and has raced at Cheltenham on four occasions without success. I couldn’t see him outside of the top four but this years winner? Afraid not!
This then leaves me with Native River. Last years winner who’s been there, done it and got the t-shirt. He has the most solid form out of the three main protagonists and will relish the softer going. Many people are saying that’s he’s not the same horse as last year and has had a hard season but I don’t understand why. Placed in both of his last two runs and don’t forget he won the Welsh National before going on to finish third in this race back in 2017. Although this will be his third crack at the Gold Cup it’s easy to forget he’s only nine years old and if I had to pick one of the aforementioned trio I couldn’t look past last years winner.
All that being said however and I’m going for a horse that those in the know have been quietly whispering about since winning the Welsh National back in December. Elegant Escape went on to finish second behind Frodon and after yesterday’s success for Bryony Frost that form looks very good indeed. This race is seen as more of a slog than it used to be and it’s opened the race up to horses who relish a stamina test. That in itself plays right into Elegant Escape’s hands and although he may not have the class to find his head in front he certainly has enough to finish in the top four.
The Irish raiders Kemboy and Bellshill can’t be discounted too readily but they have too many questions to answer in a race like this and there won’t be a dry eye in the house if Thistlecrack can claim another festival success but perhaps isn’t the force of old.
ELEGANT ESCAPE (E/W)
16:10 Cheltenham – Foxhunters Chase
Labelled as the Amateur’s Gold Cup. Raced over the same trip and course as the previous race this provides an opportunity for seemingly less experienced jockey’s to experience a glimmer of that Gold Cup feeling. That being said Sam Waley-Cohen has already had the honour of riding in a few Gold Cup’s and winning it onboard Long Run. He’s set to climb aboard Road To Rome who’s won his last seven races. Although that is very impressive in itself he seems to have been winning very poor contests and there seems to be rivals with perhaps a bit more class.
A horse that perhaps looks a tad overpriced and is certainly worth backing has a tonnes of factors in his favour. Shantou Flyer is only nine years old so has age on his side, is a former Grade 3 course winner, finished second behind Frodon last year and finished second at last years festival. Young jockey David Maxwell is one of the most promising young jockeys in the country and at a decent price the Richard Hobson trained runner looks to have a very lively opportunity to add another course success.
SHANTOU FLYER (E/W)
16:50 Cheltenham – Grand Annual
Magic Saint readily beat the re-opposing Gino Trail when the pair met at Wincanton last time, still open to plenty of improvement it is hard to envisage Gino Trail avenging that here although the latter did finish a fine second in this last term. Le Prezien stormed up the hill to win this prize twelve months ago and is no forlorn hope off just a pound higher mark, he hasn’t really convinced this season though a return to form wouldn’t be a huge surprise. Whatswrongwithyou and Not Another Muddle are unexposed and brimming with confidence however, it is hard to get away from the impression created by Magic Saint last time and he is taken to follow up.
MAGIC SAINT (WIN)
17:30 Cheltenham – Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle
Dallas Des Pictons showed a really good attitude when winning at Leopardstown last time and has form of soft ground. Unexposed and clearly open to massive amounts of improvement the form of that last win has already been strongly franked and he is taken to send favourite backers home on a high note. Early Doors is hard to judge on his efforts this season, whatever you make of his second behind Apples Jade, you suspect this lightly raced sort has always been trained with this in mind and respect is afforded. Defi Bleu ought to be running on when plenty have cried enough, Getareason, Mount Mews and Pym are others with chances although discounting any would be folly.
DALLAS DES PICTONS (WIN)