1.30 JCB TRIUMPH HURDLE
Peace And Co – Very impressive in winning both starts for Nicky Henderson and nineteen length victory over Starchitect on debut looks even better after that horse ran really well when 4th in Fred Winter. Worthy favourite.
Hargam – Stablemate of favourite and won both starts since promising second on debut when possibly unsuited by soft ground. Respected.
Beltor – Decent Flat form for Sir Mark Prescott and impressive in winning both starts over hurdles particularly latest in Kempton’s Adonis Hurdle, normally a significant trial for this. A stronger pace may see the son of Authorized in even better light and leading player.
Top Notch – Another big player for Nicky Henderson stable and unbeaten in five starts ( 2 in France ) but all in small fields. Impressed with jumping when winning at Haydock and if handling bigger field should not be far away.
Petite Parisienne – One of three runners for Willie Mullins and gets the 7lb mares’ allowance. Improved for debut run when beating better fancied stablemate Kalkir ( also runs ) at Leopardstown and more improvement likely.
Dicosimo – Our 20-1 ante-post selection joined Willie Mullins after winning at Auteuil in October and had little trouble getting off the mark for new trainer at Gowran Park. Runner up there, Prussian Eagle, ran really well in Leopardstown Grade 1 on next start, suggesting that Dicosimo could be a lot better than bare form of only run to date.
Conclusion – With three of the first four horses in the betting Nicky Henderson looks to have a stranglehold on the race, especially with the very impressive Peace And Co, but the Robert Stephens-trained Beltor has been equally eye-catching while the Willie Mullins trio can not be discounted.
1 Point each-way Beltor 7-1 (Coral)
2.05 VINCENT O’BRIEN COUNT HANDICAP HURDLE
Hawk High and Cheltenian head a maximum field of 26 for this two mile one furlong handicap which falls short of the quality normally expected. The latter was sent off the 5-1 favourite 12 months ago when carrying 10st 9lb and was pulled up approaching the final flight. Excellent second in Betfair Hurdle after finishing third in a novice chase but tough task at weights. Last weekend’s Imperial cup winner Ebony Express just creeps into the race courtesy of his 5lb penalty but had a tough race at Sandown. Betfair Hurdle winner Violet Dancer is capable of putting up another good show despite racing off a 9lb higher mark while the Irish hold a strong hand being responsible for almost 50% of the field.
Conclusion – Expect this open handicap to go the way of Ireland. The six-year-old Sort It Out just makes the cut and is improving rapidly having ran out a convincing winner of a competitive Leopardstown handicap last month while The Game Changer has been laid out for this since joining new trainer Gordon Elliott, but off a mark of 136 the selection is Quick Jack from the stable of Tony Martin. Not seen since finishing a creditable third in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket the six-year-old’s last visit to Prestbury Park resulted in an easy win at Cheltenham’s Open meeting in 2013 and the son of Footstepsinthesand can follow up for his shrewd handler who has probably had this race in mind for some time.
1 Point each-way Quick Jack 8-1 (Paddy Power)
2.40 ALBERT BARTLETT NOVICES’ HURDLE
Another race where the market is dominated by Irish challengers, notably Black Hercules and No More Heroes. The former finished fourth in last year’s Champion Bumper and is two from two over hurdles winning a Grade 3 contest over three miles on latest start. No More Heroes won his first two starts over hurdles beating Supreme Novice Hurdle runner up Shaneshill in the second before failing to run his race at Leopardstown on his most recent start. The three mile trip shouldn’t prove a problem and likely to be better suited by decent ground. Martello Tower finished second in that Leopardstown race and while the winner let the form down in the Neptune that race was won by Windsor Park who finished two places back in fourth so another who is likely to play a leading role. Value At Risk heads the British challenge but the horse who beat him at Cheltenham’s Trial’s meeting Ordo Ab Chao could do no better than seventh in Wednesday’s Neptunes. The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Blaklion looked the ideal type for this when winning a trial by eleven lengths back in December but has been beaten twice since but gives the impression he will be better suited by a true run race, which he is virtually certain to get here. Thomas Brown looked as if he would suited by this trip when winning at the course in January while Caracci Apache has won three in a row and is closely matched with Blaklion.
Conclusion – The Irish hold a strong hand here but at the prices Blaklion is the suggestion as the six-year-old should be better suited by the likely conditions as opposed to last run at Doncaster. Newbury third behind Parlour Games and Vyta Du Roc looks much better after those two ran with credit in Wednesday’s Neptune.
1 Point each-way Blaklion 14-1 (Coral)
3.20 BETFRED CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP
Silviniaco Conti – The form horse of the race following comprehensive victories in Haydock’s Betfair Chase and the King George on Boxing Day. Below-par when forth last year and still to get off the mark at Prestbury Park so, despite being the most likely winner, opposable at around 7-2.
Djakadam – Big reputation and strongly fancied for Newbury’s Hennessy gold Cup but appeared not to stay. Back to form when defying top weight in Thyestes Chase but that looked a fairly weak renewal and plenty to still prove in this company.
Holywell – Slow to get off the mark this season but that was also the case before winning at the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals last year when looking a potential Gold Cup winner of the future. Likely to leave last few runs well behind and one for the short list.
Many Clouds – Winner of all three starts this season and may not have stopped improving after justifying step up in class to win over course in January. May just lack the class to win the race but another solid run expected.
Coneygree – Novices have a poor record in previous Gold Cup’s and a brave decision by connections to go here rather than Wednesday’s RSA Chase. Unlikely to get the same easy lead as at Newbury last time and may be caught out by lack of chasing experience. Difficult to rule out if able to dominate however.
Road To Riches – Has the best form of the strong Irish contingent based on wins at Down Royal and Leopardstown and no surprise if he confirms form with equally fancied Carlingford Lough, Lord Windermere and Bobs Worth.
Carlingford Lough – Would be a popular final Gold cup victory for soon to be retired champion Tony McCoy but despite winning Irish Hennessy on latest start overall balance of form comes up short of what is usually required to win the race.
Lord Windermere – Defending champion and season has been geared towards back-to-back victories and lot to like about latest run in Irish Hennessy but many better horses have attempted to win a second Gold Cup and failed so unlikely to follow up.
Bobs Worth – Was sent off 6-4 last year after winning in 2013 but hung badly after looking likely winner jumping last. Well beaten on only start this season but dangerous to write off with the horse having an outstanding record at the course.
Smad Place – Third in two World Hurdles and plenty of promise since going chasing notably when just touched off in last year’s RSA Chase. Possibly needed first run of season in Hennessy Gold Cup and could well turn tables on Many Clouds who has finished in front of the grey the last twice.
Boston Bob – Would probably have won 2013 RSA but for falling at the last and form since has been very mixed but this race could see the horse at his very best with ground, distance and pace to suit. A lively outsider.
Sam Winner – Showed much improved form this season winning Cheltenham handicap before following up at Aintree and not disgraced behind Road To Riches in Lexus. Tough stayer who could easily finish in the money.
The Giant Bolster - Excellent record in the race but has had plenty of chances and likely to find a few too good once again.
On His Own – Beaten a short head 12 months ago and unlikely to reproduce that form on several disappointing efforts this season.
Houblon Des Obeaux – In the form of his life this season and no surprise to see him run another big race as was the case when second in Newbury’s Hennessy Gold Cup. Could be underestimated at a huge price.
Conclusion – Having already selected Smad Place and Houblon Des Obeaux in the ante-post market the race looks ripe for another shock result as was the case 12 months ago and it could be time for Boston Bob to finally show his true ability in a contest that could be run to suit.
1 Point each-way Boston Bob 33-1 (Ladbrokes)
4.00 ST JAMES’S PLACE FOXHUNTERS CHASE
Salsify won this race in 2012 and 2013 but faces a stiff task in trying to make it three after missing last year’s contest and little encouragement in a couple of moderate recent efforts. Leading hunter Paint The Clouds is unbeaten under rules since being pulled up in the 2013 Martin Pipe over hurdles and posts the strongest form on offer. Fourth in 2011 and third last year the JP McManus-owned On The Fringe is ultra consistent but generally finds a least one too good on the big occasion while the ex Paul Nicholls-trained Current Event has been winning plenty of point to points and proved too good for opposition in Musselburgh hunter chase last month. Muirhead achieved a rating of 158 over hurdles in 2010 and while never as good over fences could make his mark in this grade with top amateur booked.
Conclusion - Not one of the strongest renewals of this race and the form of Paint The Clouds looks easily the best on offer as dual winner Salsify’s best days are probably behind him while On The Fringe has had his chances in the past without delivering.
2 Points win Paint The Clouds 5-1 (BetVictor)
4.40 MARTIN PIPE CONDITIONAL JOCKEYS’ HANDICAP HURDLE
Named in honour of the great trainer Martin Pipe and son David has been trying to win this extended two mile four furlong handicap since It’s inception without any luck and is represented on this occasion by Vieux Lion Rouge (our ante-post selection) and Balgarry towards the bottom of the weights. The former ran well when third behind Shelford and Aubusson at Chepstow two starts ago and could finally end the hoodoo for Pond House. Irish challenger Roi Des Francs has similar profile to previous winners Sir Des Champs and Don Poli and could easily go off at a short price.
Conclusion - Hopefully Vieux Lion Rouge can do the business at last for Pond House but Irish raider Roi Des Francs should take plenty of beating for the Willie Mullins stable who have won the race twice in the last four years.
2 Points win Roi Des Francs 9-2 (BetVictor)
5.15 AP MCCOY GRAND ANNUAL CHASE
Likely to be the final ride at the Cheltenham Festival for national hunt racing’s greatest jockey Tony McCoy, after which this year’s renewal is named, and the soon to be 20-time champion’s mount Ned Buntline is sure to be well supported for the finale. Advised at 7-1 in the ante-post market, last year’s runner up could easily go off as short as 3-1 as trainer Noel Meade has made no secret of the fact the horse has been trained with this race in mind all season. Last year’s renewal is sure to have a bearing on the result 12 months later as four of the first six horses home renew rivalry and all feature prominently in the betting along with the lightly-raced Blood Cotil from the Willie Mullins stable.
Conclusion – Just about everyone within the sport (except bookmakers) will be willing AP a successful finale and the combination have a great chance of doing just that. If one horse is to spoil the party it could well be his boss JP McManus’s second-string Eastlake who looked to be coming back to form at Ascot last time and has been dropped 2lb since finishing sixth last year.
1 Point each-way Eastlake 14-1 (Paddy Power)