13:30 JCB Triumph Hurdle
And so we come to the fourth and final day of this years Cheltenham Festival and a long 361 day wait until the next but what a festival it has been and lets hope we can start the day off with a bang.
Current favourite in the first is Nicky Henderson’s Peace And Co. A horse that has done very little wrong winning it’s three starts pretty convincingly. That being said however jockey Barry Geraghty is having what can only be described as a shocker, considering the arsenal at his disposal and at a price around 5/2 with most bookies I hate to rain on his parade but I feel Barry might not find a winner in this one either.
The horse that was the talking horse in Ireland at the start of the season was Willie Mullins’ Kalkir. A horse that owner Rich Ricci was quoted as saying as one of his best horses in training and considering the wealth of talent he has it was certainly saying something. However the horse has flattered to deceive and top jockey Ruby Walsh opts out of the ride. If the horse can produce what connections feels it has then 22/1 may seem very overpriced but I have to trust that the top jockey at this years festival knows what he’s doing and as with Ruby I’m opting out.
Ruby saddles Dicosimo who has won its last two starts and with the trainer absolutely flying, especially with his novices 12/1 looks a scandalous price and I couldn’t put you off the horse for each way money. It will probably need to step up on what it’s done before but just because of the connections alone it’s worth a small punt.
All this being said however I’m sticking with my ante post selection and a horse I liked as one of my best bets for the festival. A horse that owner JP McManus also stated as his best chance this year. Trainer Nicky Henderson hasn’t had the best of festivals but did manage to bag a winner yesterday so you’d like to think his yard isn’t as markedly out of form as the first two days may have suggested. Both Hargam and Peace And Co ran live on Channel 4 back in the middle of December and the talk after was all about how brilliant Peace And Co looked. I was quick to nail my colours to the mast and went on record to say I was far more taken with Hargam’s run that day and I’m sticking to my guns.
AP finally got his winner yesterday and that should put his mind at ease a little, the owner is confident, the jockey is confident and so am I. Hargam at a price that gives prophet even for a place is an absolute steal.
Hargam (E/W if 9/2+)
14:05 Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle
The second race of the final day of what has been an excellent meeting is the ultra competitive County Hurdle. In a race of this nature you could easily give a good chance to a dozen or more horses. I have narrowed it down to two selections at decent odds from the all conquering Willie Mullins stable, but we will talk about the favourite first.
Quick Jack was targeted for this race last season but connections decided to give the race a miss as I think connections were not happy with the assessment of the UK handicapper who rated him much higher than he was in Ireland. I think they probably missed the boat as there is some heavy rain forecast for tonight/tomorrow and he looks a horse who is so much more at home on a sounder surface. He does have a good third on soft ground in the 2014 Boylesports Hurdle, so he may just handle the softer conditions here if they materialize. A mark of 136 looks relativaly lenient as he does look value for at least another eight pounds, on the best of his form. That has to put him relatively high on the shortlist as a likely winner but is short enough given the competitive nature of this contest.
One horse who I have been keeping an eye out for this race is the Willie Mullins trained Analifet. The mare suffered a pelvic injury just before last years Cheltenham meeting, but she was at the head of the Triumph market before that. While she has not showed the same sort of exuberance since she came back, she has at least showed that does retain most of her ability. She was also entered in the mares hurdle during the week, but I was hoping that they were going to take up her engagement in this contest as she looks capable of improving a good bit on her current mark. While she would not want it bottomless, she should be ok on soft ground, if the going changes.
My second selection in this contest and is also a runner from the Mullins stable in the shape of Wicklow Brave. Unlike Analifet, he will not be inconvenienced by any change in the going as he looks fairly ground versatile. While there is a chance that he has gone a bit sour as he did fluff the start on his last two starts, the skeptic in me says that this was intentional. A good sixth in last years Supreme behind Vautour where he was beaten just over nine lengths, looks even better now as his stablemate produced one of the performances of the week in the JLT. A current mark of 138 looks fairly lenient too as I think he could be value for at least a stone on that mark and he could well at a decent price.
There are so many more that you could give a chance to but I do think my two selections could run well.
Wicklow Brave (E/W)
14:40 Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle
With 20 runners still in this race overnight and Ruby Walsh having not yet confirmed who he will ride for the all-conquering Mullins team there are a number of puzzles that are very difficult to solve here. There are lots of good contenders in this and it could pay to back a bigger priced animal.
We begin by looking at the likely favourite Black Hercules who has some excellent form at home in Ireland for Willie Mullins and a decent spin around the course for son Patrick back at the festival in The Champion Bumper last year. The horse finished in behind a couple of nice types who have shown the quality of that performance in Shaneshill, who ran a cracker on Tuesday and Silver Concorde. At 3/1 in such a big field I fancy it is a touch too short.
Avant Tout and Arbre De Vie make up the likely types that Walsh will be on board in this race and both are French imports with big chances should they run. The latter is high up on the official ratings and could come here on 2 massive wins (in terms of distance) over at Fairyhouse and domestically at Warwick. The former is 11lb worse off in the ratings and it would have to be some serious work at home that would see Walsh take the mount.
The one I like at a good price is Caracci Apache for the Henderson team. As anyone who reads my tips on a Friday will know I love the jockey that will take the ride, Nico De Boinville. He is not the number 1 jockey on everyone’s lips this week, but in years to come I feel he surely will be. The ride he gave this horse the last day at Doncaster was fantastic and I can see the horse running very well. I know the form isn’t as exciting as some others’ but there is plenty of progression in the animal.
Of the others Blacklion could have a huge chance of rescuing the week for Nigel Twiston-Davies after the poor showing of The New One in the Champion Hurdle. The form of the horse is very good and despite my criticism of Sam Twiston, he has ridden excellently this week. No More Heroes will also play a role in this and it’s worth noting the in-play prices on this horse as it stays well in the softer ground but this may be too fast for it.
Caracci Apache (E/W)
15:20 The Cheltenham Gold Cup
The feature race of the whole meeting is the Cheltenham Gold Cup and this looks a much better renewal than last years festival.
At the head of the market is Silviniaco Conti and if the rain that is forecast materializes, he will encounter the most suitable ground he has ever got for a Gold Cup. While he is the class horse in the lineup, you cannot but help having in the back of your mind that he just doesn’t come up the hill. Paul Nicholls did say that he had ulcers in his stomach and that was the excuse last year, and it would explain the below par effort. He has looked better than ever this year though and rightly holds his place at the head of the market.
I cant’t help but feel that this race has come a year too soon for D’jakadam but he does come here on the back of a bloodless win in the Thyestes Chase. It’s hard to envisage a horse winning a handicap and then coming straight here for Grade 1 glory. Although On His Own nearly did similar last season but did taste victory in a Grade 2 chase in between. If he does manage to win this, Willie Mullins will be coming here with three very good horses.
The each way bet of the race looks to be the Trevor Hemmings owned Many Clouds and he would certainly love to win this race again. He does fit the profile of your typical Gold type and he is a big robust chaser who stays all day. He will most certainly welcome plenty of overnight rain as he is a bit of a mudlark. As things stand he is my selection in this contest.
The novice Coneygree comes here instead of the RSA and it was probably the right choice as he would not have beaten Don Poli on that ground. Given that the Gold Cup is now won by horses who are sub 10yo it was possibly the right move as they might only have two pops at it now. He does fit the profile for winning a race like this as he is as tough as they come and jumps well. I do think his inexperience could cost him here and it would be a worry that Road to Riches and himself could cut each others throats for the lead.
Road to Riches has done very little wrong this season, winning two Grade 1’s since being successful in the Galway plate. The one worry I would have with him is that he has peaked too early in the season. He will also get taken on for the lead by Coneygree here and I think they will both cost each other any chance.
Of the remainder, I had fancied Holywell for this race for most of the season but any significant over night rain will greatly hinder his chances and the same could be said for Lord Windermere. Carlingford Lough would be a poignant winner for Tony McCoy and was a good sixth in last years RSA while Sam Winner and On His Own also have place possibilities.
Many Clouds (E/W)
16:00 Foxhunters Chase
Next up we have the Foxhunters which is run over the same trip as the Gold Cup, for amateur jockeys and it looks a really good renewal.
At the head of the market is Paint the Clouds who is a very consistent sort who has won twelve of his twenty one races. The biggest concern with him is that any significant overnight could greatly impact his chances. While he should still run his race, with the concerns regarding a change in ground I think it’s best looking for something a bit more versatile ground wise.
A safe each way bet in this is probably the Enda Bolger trained On The Fringe who runs in this race for the third time. He managed to finish 4th in this in 2011, but was beaten twenty eight lengths. The ten year old produced a much better effort last year finishing 3rd behind Tammys Hill, only going down by five lengths. While he is fairly versatile ground wise, he does look more at home on a sounder surface but should run his race
The one I am going to take a chance on is the Adrian Maguire trained Seventh Sign who is a high quality recruit to this division. To me he looks like a horse who has been possibly plotted for this sphere as they never attempted to put him over fences under rules. Some of the form that he showed as a novice over hurdles was top class with a notable second to Southfield Theatre standing out. If he does manage to win this, he could end up a force in this race for many years to come as he is only a six year old.
Of the remainder,there are three ex Paul Nicholls inmates who were all decent enough under rules Current Event, Aerial and No Loose Change were all of a very similar ability under rules acquiring marks in the 140 bracket. All should be capable of running their races.
Seventh Sign (E/W)
16:40 Cheltenham Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap
A field of 24 line up for the penultimate race of the Cheltenham festival, Roi Des Francs come here seeking a hat trick after a solid win at Clonmel last time out; he looks fairly treated on his handicap deut but at such a small price already it may be worth looking elsewhere.
Jolly’s Cracked It was in great form at the end of last year and wasn’t disgraced when finishing fifth in the Betfair hurdle last month; he takes on this distance for the first time but looks one that will relish the step up in trip and could go well here today,
Macnicholson is another interesting one as he only found one too good over hurdles in his last three races; his trainer took him to the polytrack last month where he finished third and was probably a good race for him to blow off any cobwebs before this race back over the hurdles.
On Tour is worth a watch in the market as he completed a hat trick late last year and probably needed his last run; he steps back up to what looks his preferred trip and has positive E/W claims.
Nobel Endeavor looked a good bet for this back in January but the handicapper hasn’t given much of a chance with a nine pound rise but he looks a tough sort and maybe able to shrug that off and get in the mix especially if he can sort his jumping out in the final stages.
Jolly’s Cracked It (E/W)
17:15 Grand Annual Chase
We close the curtains on what has been a wonderful meeting with the slightly renamed AP McCoy Grand Annual Chase and what an end it would be, if AP could sign out with a winner. There are no sentiments in racing but I think every fan of racing would love to see him finish on a winner.
The mount of AP in this race is Ned Buntline who was second in this contest last year off a 4lbs lower mark and only went down by a little over a length. If the rain does manage to materialize, it will most definitely increase his chances of winning and he should most definitely run his race. He will be our win selection in this but we will look for something with a bit of each way value too.
The lightly raced Grumeti has been running with reasonable credit to this season and is even better than he has shown so far. The seven year old currently runs off a mark of 141 but looks value for at least another eleven pounds on his current mark. When running over hurdles he was just short of Grade 1 class and if able to transform a similar level over fences he could be overpriced in this. The blinkers also make an appearance for the first time and given his versatility ground wise, he should not be inconvenienced either way
One other runner of interest is the Tony Martin trained Ted Veale who was well fancied for this contest last season. Connections decided to pull him out of the race when the Uk handicapper gave him a much steeper mark than what he was on in Ireland. It may be worth a small double with the connections other runner in the County Hurdle as they could be planning to hit the bookies with a double whammy here.
All in all it’s been an enjoyable festival with plenty of exciting performances and already looks like we have some mouth watering clashes next season.
Ned Buntline (WIN)
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