Johnny Ward tells us who might have a memorable afternoon on day four of the racing festival where the Magners Gold Cup is the big draw
1.30 JCB Triumph Hurdle
Joseph O’Brien has run two four-year-olds so far at the Festival, Band Of Outlaws running away with the Fred Winter off a high mark and Fakir D'oudairies an excellent fourth in the Supreme. Everything points to Sir Erec winning this.
Thought of as a bit special, there was a minor late scare when he was lame due to a stone bruise last week, but time was connections’ ally. An exceptionally good Flat horse to go hurdling, he is two from two jumping, destroying the best of the Irish last time. The British look moderate so he should win well.
The battle for second will be intriguing and a case can be made for many. Coeur Sublime had been prominent in the Triumph betting for much of the campaign and he has been somewhat forgotten – yet he worked really well at Navan last week and has place claims.
Runrized is by Authorized, sire of Tiger Roll, a previous winner of this. It seems highly avaricious to be running him here given he was well-beaten at Naas but he is really well-regarded and worth an each-way poke at 100-1 for Willie Mullins, who has a more obvious type in Tiger Tap Tap.
Selection: Sir Erec 11-10, Runrized 100-1
2.10 Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle
Gavin Cromwell has had a week to remember – he resembled Bishop Len Brennan for much of Tuesday after a kick up the behind following the win of Espoir D'allen – and Brex Drago may be less hopeless than the odds imply here.
The positives are his low mark, his trainer, his proven ability and the reapplication of cheekpieces. He was a very good horse on the Flat in Italy, suggesting he could still be well-treated, and we must recall he beat everything bar the thrown-in De Name Escapes Me at Naas off 135 in November, pretty much the rating he has here. He is lazy, so the headgear helps.
Willie Mullins has intriguing runners in Whiskey Sour and Mr Adjudicator. The latter had a minor setback since chasing home the aforementioned Espoir D’allen at Naas earlier this season.
Monsieur Lecoq has been progressing and looks a decent shout for a place for Jane Williams.
Selections: Brex Drago 66-1
2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
Rhinestone is one of the especially strong JP McManus team here and merits an each-way bet after a really likeable second to Commander Of Fleet, who re-opposes, in Leopardstown's Grade 1 contest last time. A really good bumper performer, his jumping has gotten better with experience, and he looks made for this test after his game run at Leopardstown. Both Mark Walsh and Joseph O'Brien are in form.
Derrinross must be respected for Philip Dempsey and son Luke. He was a maiden when going into Graded company at Cork but won well then and showed a good attitude, despite being by Scorpion, to score at Limerick since. This is tougher, but he has been prepped for this.
Birchdale was far from impressive when winning at Cheltenham and is no guaranteed stayer, being by Jeremy. Allaho will stay for sure, though he does need to settle a bit better than he did on his Irish hurdling debut at Clonmel, a race he won with ease despite his inexperience.
Selection: Rhinestone 14-1
3.30 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup
So many of these in with chances – truly a Gold Cup of the ages.
We have last year’s dominant first and second, Native River and Might Bite; three Willie Mullins runners not easy to split up in Al Boum Photo, Kemboy and Belshill; a rapid Paul Nicholls-trained improver in Clan Des Obeaux, so good in the King George; Thistlecrack, one of the most impressive ever Stayers’ Hurdle winners; Anibale Fly, placed in last year’s race; and Shattered Love, getting the mares’ allowance and having routed her rivals in the JLT last year.
Then we have the favourite, Presenting Percy. Pat Kelly’s horse has basically answered every call over the past two years, albeit beaten when he took on Our Duke at Gowran last season, when the drop to two and a half miles was not ideal.
Much has been made of his preparation but Kelly is nothing if not unconventional and this horse is the most beautiful of jumpers; I do not envisage his lack of a chase run being a major issue. He has schooled for this at Galway, where his local track even managed to turn the fences 180 degrees for his convenience.
Likely bookmakers will try to take him on come the morning but do not worry. He will be in peak-shape, has looked the most probable winner of this race for some time and loves Cheltenham. So might you if you back him.
Anibale Fly was the only horse to get into the race to any degree from off the pace in last year's renewal and he excelled himself to finish third. His Gowran preparation was excellent and he is a speculative pick for the forecast.
The pick of the Mullins horses could be Kemboy, who absolutely bolted up at Leopardstown, and it may not have been as flattering a result as people think.
Selection: Presenting Percy 4-1
4.10 St James’s Place Foxhunters Chase
The market has hardly missed him, especially given he suffered defeat in a point when last seen, but Stand Up And Fight fits the bill in many ways now. He is ridden by Derek O'Connor for Enda Bolger and, just seven years of age and having shown smart enough hurdling form, there is obvious scope for better.
Coastal Tiep is interesting at 40-1. He could not match Ucello Conti at Navan but he travelled nicely, that was much better and he was a smart sort for Paul Nicholls at his peak. Stuart Crawford's charge is also only a seven-year-old.
Jamie Codd can do no wrong and the same can be said for Ucello Conti this season. He is getting there as he peaks for Gordon Elliott at Cheltenham and could well yet go off favourite.
Selection: Stand Up And Fight 4-1, Costal Tiep 40-1
4.50 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase
This was the last race of the Festival after the rejigging following added races in recent years, but is now the penultimate race. It is no easier for all of that!
Mind's Eye rates an interesting runner. A strong traveller, he took the eye with fifth at Leopardstown at the Dublin Racing Festival, and is trained by Henry De Bromhead, already among the winners this week.
Paul Nicholls' excellent record in the race was enhanced when Le Prezien won this 12 months ago; remarkably, he is but 1lb higher now. The same connections also have Brelan D'as, who has a poor Cheltenham record.
Perhaps Dan Skelton can strike with Marracudja, who has excellent Cheltenham form when with Paul Nicholls. He has had a wind operation and could be reasonably well in at this stage.
Selection: Marracudja 14-1
5.30 Martin Pipe Conditionals Handicap Hurdle
Given that he used to work for Martin Pipe, this is a race that has been consistently targetted by Gordon Elliott, and that factor – he has won the last two renewals – is significant in Dallas Des Pictons being a short-priced favourite.
He ticks very many of the boxes and looks a rock-solid place bet as he stays well. He may even have enough in hand to win.
Acapella Bourgeois is very difficult to weigh up. He was a smart novice chaser two seasons ago for Sandra Hughes, but never clicked for Willie Mullins, and he probably wants softer terrain.
Early Doors comes into it, as a third in this last year when just a five-year-old and ridden by the excellent Jonjo O'Neill Jr.
Pym is the pick for Nicky Henderson and Richard Patrick. He can be a bit free but was a smart bumper performer, knows how to battle and has time as his ally.
Selection: Pym 16-1
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