CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL – DAY 4. (FRIDAY)
It’s been another amazing festival so far but the Prestbury Park unfortunately comes to an end here on day four. Lest hope it’ll be another day to remember.
The opening race the JCB Triumph hurdle (Grade 1) see’s fifteen currently going to post in what looks a thrilling race on paper with many of these Posting great runs last time out.
Nicky Henderson has a great record in this race and won with Peace And Co twelve months ago and tries his luck here today with Consul De Thaix; he finished third in the trial race back in January in very boggy conditions and should relish this better ground here today; he finished second on his debut in France and is easily one to watch.
Paul Nicholls won this in 2008 & 2011 and looks to have a very fine four year old in Zubayr; he was very impressive when winning the Adonis Juvenile hurdle on his first run for Paul and that form stands very strong here. Paul also fields four others in this with Connetable looking the strongest; he should be able to reverse the form with Gibralfaro this time out and take one of the places. Frodon is another of his to take note of and i don’t think it be a huge surprise seeing a one two three finish here for Paul.
The huge Mullins yard send three here and Footpad is probably the stand out one especially with Ruby Walsh on-board; he comes here seeking a hat-trick but all his wins have come in soft/heavy conditions so this good ground may test his speed here.
Consul De Thaix (E/W)
Ante-Post favourite Desoto County missed the cut leaving Great Field and Blue Hell as the early market leaders in the first of todays’ handicap races and both would have to be considered.
Blue Hell won his first race in six attempts when beating Diamond King by three lengths (with Henry Higgins back in fifth) last time out, form franked earlier this week when Diamond King won the Coral Cup.
Great Field has won two from two, with the first coming in September 2014 and the second coming just last month. After such a long period away from the racecourse another race in such quick succession is an obvious concern but based on his last run he deserves the chance to have a crack at this.
I couldn’t help but be impressed with Henry Higgins last time out when breezing in to the lead before the final hurdle and staying on to win by almost four lengths. If he was to run as well as that again here then he would have to be considered, however this was a much improved performance from other runs this season and the handicapper has had his say too.
Starchitect is an ultra consistent horse who has two wins and three seconds to his name from seven runs over hurdles and finished fourth in last years’ Fred Winter. His only run so far this season was a decent second to Agrapart in the Betfair Hurdle, beating the likes of Kalkir (who finished second in the Coral.ie Hurdle) and Affaire D’Honneur who looks likely to re-oppose here.
Blue Hell (E/W)
Our third race of the day see’s the second Grade 1 event with the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
This has been the race i have been looking forward to the most over the past for days to finally see which Novice is currently the best between Barters Hill and Shantou Village, the latter was unbeaten until he came up against another strong Novice in Yanworth where he finished seven lengths behind, you could provably forgive him for that due to the heavy conditions and is surely better suited to the conditions today. The former is 7 from 7 so far and conditions will not be an issue as he doesn’t seem to mind whats put in front of him he just never gives up; he tends to try and make all and if he has a clear run here he’s the one to beat.
Long Dog is another with great credentials having not lost since 2014; he though takes a huge step up in trip from his previous two races but has won over slightly less than this so is probably best watched.
Uknowwhatimeanharry gets better and better with every race and could be a real danger to the two market leaders and even though this looks his stiffest task to date he should still give another good account here today and can capitalize if the front two make a mistake.
Gangster is another getting better with every race; he absolutely destroyed the field in a novice race at Fairyhouse back in December that said the conditions were once again heavy so it’ll one to watch on this faster ground today.
Fagan is another to note especially at his current price after Finishing second behind O O Seven last time out.
Barters Hill (WIN)
The Gold Cup has had its fair share of the headlines on the lead up to the final, most prestigious Championship race of the festival. With Coneygree unable to defend his crown and the defection of Vautour to the Ryanair we are still left with a hugely exciting and talented field to dissect.
We begin with Cue Card who has been in sensational form this season, winning all three races including the Betfair Chase and the King George and will win the triple crown £1million bonus if successful here. This will be his first run at Prestbury Park since winning the Ryanair in 2013 but with three career wins along with two placed efforts from seven runs here there is no denying he knows his way around.
Next up is current favourite Don Cossack who has won nine of his last eleven and was just beginning to mount a serious challenge to Vautour and Cue Card in the King George when falling at the second-last fence. He made amends with a nine length victory in a four runner affair in January and has to be a big player in this race. The only concern I would have when comparing him against his rivals is his lack of a Cheltenham win, which leads me on to Don Poli.
Don Poli is unbeaten here at Cheltenham having won the 2015 RSA and the 2014 Martin Pipe and has a fantastic record of five wins from six over fences. He has often been called lazy and will never win any awards for style but has the heart of a lion and thrives on a true test of stamina, galloping away when most others have reached the bottom of their reserves. A real top class out-and-out stayer, he looks to have everything necessary to emerge victorious.
Adding further spice is another Willie Mullins runner in Djakadam who ran a fantastic race when second here last year. A similar run here would see him right in the mix again however he has fallen twice in his only other visits here, most recently his last run in January. It would be an amazing performance to win the Gold Cup returning from a fall but with this still fresh in the memory he won’t be carrying my money.
Don Poli (WIN)
Last years’ winner On The Fringe is the obvious starting point here, having demolished his rivals by seventeen lengths in the 2015 renewal before going on to win at Aintree and Punchestown to bring up his hat-trick. He has only raced once this season when finishing seventh at Leopardstown last month but you have to think that was just a prep run for an attempt at a similar hat-trick again this year and with Nina Carberry once again in the saddle he should prove tough to beat.
Paint The Clouds is the obvious danger having finished third in this last year. He has a strike rate of seven wins and three placed efforts from ten over fences and with the ground drying nicely he should have perfect conditions to mount a serious challenge.
Both Current Event and Dark Lover have course form and are of interest at decent each way prices, while Pacha Du Polder will no doubt prove popular mainly due to jockey Victoria Pendletons’ first ride here at Prestbury Park.
On The Fringe (WIN)
Paint The Clouds (E/W if 9/2+)
Another huge field of twenty four currently line up for the penultimate race of the festival the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.
Willie Mullins has won this race for two years running now and fields four for this today to try and keep that trophy in his cabinet. Childrens List is probably the pick of the four but this looks a lot tougher than anything he’s been tried at to date.
Squouateur looks more and more a big favorite for this today as he beat Mall Dini who won the Pretemps here yesterday by over five and a half lengths, that form is the biggest standout here and is the obvious one to beat.
Qualando looks the obvious threat after showing he can reproduce his Fred Winter form of last year when he finished second at Taunton last time out where he came very late and just couldn’t catch the winner; he may of just needed that run and goes on the shortlist.
Work In Progress won by over thirty lengths at Fakenham last month but to be fair he didn’t have much to tend with that day but he’s been treated extremely fair by the handicapper and can defiantly sneak into the places here.
Flying Angel is defiantly one for the future, he’s another who impressed last time out in bad conditions, so don’t be too surprised to see him thereabouts in the closing stages.
Work In Progress (E/W)
Next Sensation won this race last year off a mark of 143, going one better than when a close 4th off a mark of 142 in 2014 so is the obvious starting point. Although his form this year doesn’t look the greatest on paper he has benefitted from a drop in the ratings as a consequence and aims to follow up on last years success off a mark of 144. At the age of 9 he isn’t getting any younger but he obviously likes this race and looks to have been primed for this throughout the whole season.
Velvet Maker has been beaten by Douvan the last twice (both over 17f) but this in itself is no disgrace especially when considering his last two runs over 16f have seen him win over fences and hurdles by 10 and 11 lengths respectively.
Based on last years performance it would be no surprise to see runner up Eastlake return with a big run and has to be considered racing off a mark of 143, 1lb lower than last year. However he will need to show some improvement on recent form having been pulled up in 3 from 4 races this season, and his age goes against him according to the key race stats.
Arthurs Oak has already raced 4 times this season, winning three and finishing a close second in the other, all over a 2 mile trip (he has a strike rate of 83% for making the frame over this race distance). In his most recent run, at Chepstow in February, he led from the front and put in an impressive round of jumping to win by 5 lengths so although will be making his Festival debut off a weight of 11stone 5lbs he is arriving here in great form.
Rock The World hasn’t been seen since winning over course and distance in October, although has raced three times this season, winning two and placing once. This will be his first run at the Festival but with a career strike rate of 66% for top two finishes he is worth a look at decent each way odds.
Next Sensation (E/W)
Arthurs Oak (E/W)
(Today’s article comes from Dean Kilbryde & Chris Roke)
Chris Connolly -Modus (E/W) 14:10
Graeme Lafferty – Great Field (E/W) 14:10
Karl Hedley – Rock The World (E/W) 17:10
Matt Kirby – Flying Angel (E/W) 16:40
Rory Paddock – Shantou Village (E/W if 9/2+) 14:50