RTÉ Sport’s Jonathan Mullin previews each race on day three of the Cheltenham Festival, with seven selections to consider backing.
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1.30 JLT Novices’ Chase
Top Notch is the solid one here, but lacks scope, and this race needs slick jumping as well as gears on the flat.
Yorkhill has loads of gears - too many, perhaps. He has enough ability to have gone off the market leader in the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday and connections will hope they don’t regret not staying over the smaller obstacles if things go wrong here. The reason they could is that - for all his ability - Yorkhill does himself few favours sometimes and uses up energy at the point of a race when you should be preserving it.
It has been a pretty horrible festival so far for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh. Could Thursday be their moving day? At the prices, Yorkhill makes no real appeal, and Walsh will need to be at his best, but they could just pull through.
2.10 Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle
Probably the weakest race of the festival given it’s limited to horses who have competed in a number of qualifiers in Ireland and Britain, but it’s no less competitive for that.
There was much gnashing of teeth after Presenting Percy’s mark got touched up by BHA handicapper Phil Smith. However, he could be proven right this afternoon, especially - and it’s not a given on form - if Pat Kelly’s horse fully stays the three-mile trip. The pedigree hints are strong though, and he could be the one class horse among these.
Barney Dwan, luckless over fences, is interesting back over hurdles as long as the ground isn’t too quick.
Selection: Presenting Percy
2.50 Ryanair Chase
Un De Sceaux is surely vulnerable unless rain comes from somewhere, and the potential pace burn-up with him and the 2015 winner Uxizandre makes this a race to relish.
Empire Of Dirt looks the one to travel and jump in behind, and his trainer Gordon Elliott could scarcely be in better form. His run in the Irish Gold Cup last month confirmed the impression that, despite his age, he is very much on the upgrade.
Selection: Empire Of Dirt
3.30 Stayers Hurdle
This race has revolved around Uknowwhatimeanharry for some time, and while he hasn’t taken a wrong step this season, it is hard to get away from the impression that he has been beating all of the same home-based horses all of the time.
If that turns out to be the case, we’ll be kicking ourselves not to be with Jezki. The 2014 Champion Hurdle winner has won over trips ranging from 2m to 3m. If the lid can be kept on that acceleration for long enough, nothing will come home faster - including the favourite.
4.10 Brown Advisory Plate
A better-looking renewal of this race than normal with some big operations parading horses with enticing-looking handicap marks.
Plenty of good judges think Diamond King fits the bill but a rating of 150 means he could have to be a Grade 1 horse to win this.
Supporters of Sizing Sodelco will have taken heart from Fox Norton’s fine run in the Champion Chase, but both may not have enough in hand to match Starchitect. Cleverly campaigned this term, he was unlucky in last year’s County Hurdle and rates as confident a bet as one could have in a handicap traditionally as tough as this.
4.50 Mares Novices’ Hurdle
Willie Mullins won the first running of this last year with Limini and holds a very strong hand in this too.
It’s clear he thinks plenty of Let’s Dance, who will start favourite for this, and is the pick of Ruby Walsh despite the clear sense this 2m trip will be on the sharp side for her.
But Thursday’s action takes place on the New Course, with a long run from the second last to the last hurdle, and places an extra premium on stamina. That might be enough to tilt it her way, though Airlie Beach, also saddled by Mullins, and the Jessica Harrington-trained Forge Meadows, present clear dangers.
Selection: Let’s Dance
5.30 Kim Muir Handicap Chase
A classier than usual look to this race, which is confined to amateur riders.
The best of those right now is Jamie Codd and, fresh from a double on day two, he rides the Gordon Elliott-trained Squouateur.
He was well backed to win the Martin Pipe at the festival last year but didn’t perform. Nevertheless, the ante-post market confidence behind him has been eye-catching and clearly he has been laid out for a chase handicap at this meeting. There are others, but Codd and Elliott form a formidable team this week and shouldn’t be passed over.
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