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13:30 Triumph Hurdle
On paper, this looks to be a vintage renewal of the juvenile championship, and I’d side with Paul Nicholls’ runaway Adonis winner Solo.
He never had to step out of first gear on his British debut at Kempton last month, looking a consummate professional for a horse of his inexperience.
The Adonis to Triumph route was used successfully by Nicholls with Zarkandar in 2011, and Solo should possess both the talent and temperament to bring the trophy back to Ditcheat.
Bold front-running duo Goshen and Allmankind both evidently have huge engines and it will be fascinating to see how these livewires cope with each other, given their apparent need to lead.
If the two are drawn into an early battle, the race could develop into a real stamina test, and it will be interesting to see whether Jamie Moore or Harry Skelton decide that not engaging in such a pace contest will play to their mounts or act as an inconvenience.
Of the two, I prefer Allmankind, who despite his unorthodox running style, has proven he has attitude as well as ability and has impressed with him jumping more than Goshen.
Nevertheless, the three market leaders could all be monstrous racehorses for ones so young.
A Wave Of The Sea, who shapes like a strong stayer at the trip, is not ruled out of running into a place, whilst better should also be expected of Aspire Tower, who hadn’t put the race to bed as he was expected to have done when falling at the DRF last time out, but would be better judged on his clear-cut at Leopardstown over Christmas, whilst softer ground could see Sir Psycho come into the equation.
14:10 COUNTY HURDLE
The class horse in this race could be Aramon, who won the Royal Bond early last season as a novice and held his own in better company later that campaign, including when sixth in the Supreme and runner-up to Felix Desjy in the Aintree Top Novices’ Hurdle.
He remains on a mark of 149 after finishing a never nearer fifth in the Irish Champion Hurdle last time out, and looks to have been given a huge chance at the weights.
The other horse I had on my shortlist is another close to the top of the weights, Embittered.
He showed useful form in novice hurdles early in the season- the pick of which was probably his fifth to Envoi Allen in the Royal Bond.
He still managed to finish sixth despite being squeezed out and short of room at a crucial time in the Ladbrokes Hurdle last time out on his handicap debut, but, with a 6lb rise from the UK handicapper and JJ Slevin replacing 7lb-claimer Hugh Morgan on board, this rise in the weights could just swing the balance in the favour of the Mullins horse.
14:50 ALBERT BARTLETT NOVICES’ HURDLE
A strong renewal of the premier staying novice hurdle event, with Grade 1 winners Thyme Hill and Latest Exhibition both looking incredibly hard to knock on the form so far.
Thyme Hill showed enough speed over two miles to finish third behind Envoi Allen in the Champion Bumper last season, but always gave the impression that he was going to be an improved horse over a trip and is unbeaten in three starts since going hurdling.
He isn’t the type to win by particularly far, but it’s very hard to find flaws in what he’s done so far this season and is probably the right favourite.
Latest Exhibition also has shown smart form over the minimum trip and is the exact sort of uncomplicated stayer that traditionally goes well in the Albert Bartlett.
Paul Nolan’s charge doesn’t do things fanciful, but the steady build-up to three miles is a route I quite like the see in the preparation for horse running in this and he’s probably overpriced, especially as I rate his hurdles form a notch higher than I do Thyme Hill’s.
The unknown quantity is Monkfish, who has been unchallenged in two facile victories over hurdle since stepping up to staying distances.
Exactly what he achieved in those victories is unknown, but he looked to had the measure of Grade 3 winner Run Wild Fred when that horse came down last time out and the visual impression he’s made has been remarkably impressive.
Granted, a lack of form in Graded races is not a traditional Albert Bartlett profile, and whether Monkfish possesses the necessary experience and street-smarts for such a tough race will be have to be taken on faith, but this horse could be ridiculously good and is well respected for the Mullins team.
Harry Senior also enters consideration after winning here on Trials Day, though whether the manner of victory was accentuated by the non-staying of the runner up is a point for debate.
15:30 CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP
A wide-open edition of National Hunt racing’s centrepiece event.
The place to start is last year’s winner Al Boum Photo, who was a somewhat surprise victor of last season’s renewal and looks to hold an outstanding to become the first horse since Best Mate to retain his Gold Cup crown.
Admittedly, the stats are against him, and he did exactly what he was entitled to do when winning on his only start this year at Tramore, but he has no questions to answer regarding the trip or his talent, and is the one everyone has to improve past.
Santini is 2/2 from this season and on paper, looks as if the test the Gold Cup provides should see him should run his best race of the season. He looks all about stamina, and he’ll undoubtedly be going forward rather than backwards up the Cheltenham hill, but his potential major pitfall is his lack of pace.
If the taps are turned on quickly, Santini may be caught on out on his feet, but it should be no worry if he’s one of the first behind the bridle- he’s guaranteed to be hitting the line running.
The opposite concern is true of Clan Des Obeaux, who gained his second consecutive victory in the King George at Kempton last time out.
Though the race somewhat fell apart in behind, it was impossible not to be impressed by Clan Des Obeaux, who travelled and jumped like a dream under Sam Twiston-Davies.
Whilst an easy 3m at Kempton is tailor-made for Clan Des Obeaux, the extra two furlongs and undulations of Cheltenham provide a different test entirely, and the eight-year-old needs to see the race out better than he did last season, where he travelled well for a long way before tiring into fifth when push came to shove.
I’d expect the Nicholls team will have learnt plenty from that performance and, if ridden conservatively, he could go closer than last season.
The other domestic Grade 1 staying chase this season was won by Lostintranslation, who denied Haydock specialist Bristol De Mai a hat-trick when turning him over in the Betfair Chase two starts ago.
For a horse who evidently stays very well, he has a ridiculous number of gears and I think a repeat of Betfair win would mark him out as the one to beat here.
However, he was too bad to be true in the King George last time out, never getting into a rhythm before pulling up after making a dreadful error just as Robbie Power asked him to make his move.
If you’re willing to forgive that run, he probably represents the best value in the race, but there now has to be an element of trust given to the Tizzard team that their star is now back to his best, even with a wind-op hopefully having helped allay the issue that saw him underperform at Kempton.
Delta Work added to his Savills Chase victory when taking the Irish Gold Cup last time out and he’ll look to make it three Grade 1s in a row here.
He’s a chaser of immense ability and is a former Festival winner, but I have a minor question about whether the stamina test of the Gold Cup is going to see him to best effect. I think he’s better suited by an easier three miles, but he has all the other attributes to play a huge role if the trip is not issue.
Kemboy and Presenting Percy were both behind Delta Work in the Irish Gold Cup and would both have chances if producing their best efforts. Kemboy was undoubtedly the leading stayer chaser last season, though he didn’t last very long in this event, unseating David Mullins at the first.
He’s not quite matched the level of his outstanding victories at Aintree or Punchestown though this year, and, though he took a step back in the right direction last time out, he’ll need that spark to return if he is land a blow in his toughest assignment of the season.
Presenting Percy is a tough horse to assess nowadays.
His destructive RSA victory in 2018 is hard to forget and he shaped well on his first two starts this season, but I was not impressed at Leopardstown last time out.
He travelled like the best horse in the race but emptied quickly, though it would be no surprise if he were to return to his best in a race which has long looked absolutely ideal for him.
16:10 FOXHUNTER CHASE
I’m a huge fan of Shantou Flyer here.
Rated as high 156 at his peak, David Maxwell’s gelding was second in this event last year, just as he was in the Ultima the year before, and boasts a brilliant Cheltenham record, never finishing any worse than fourth in seven completed runs at the track.
The fact that he was bested by Hazel Hill, who hasn’t matched his form from last season so far this year, is no cause for concern. Three horses in the past decade have won the Foxhunters after being beaten in the race previously- it would’ve been four if not for Oscar Delta unseating when clear on the run in, whilst a further five have achieved multiple placings in the race, equal with the Cross Country for the Festival race with the best record for horses having repeat attempts.
Shantou Flyer’s preparation has gone much better this year than it had in 2019- after flopping on his debut for Maxwell, he had to rush to get two wins in quick succession in order to qualify, though there’s been no such drama this campaign at Shantou Flyer should arrive at Cheltenham a fresher horse, having ran out an easy 23-length winner from Haymount, who was a useful proposition when trained by Willie Mullins, on his only start under rules this season.
Almost all of Shantou Flyer’s ability appears to remain intact, which sometimes can’t be said for high-profile ex-handicappers who transition into hunter company.
They can often be overbet due to the punter’s familiarity with their past form, but I have no such worries about Shantou Flyer’s current level.
Regarding Mr Maxwell himself, though not everyone’s cup of tea, is undoubtedly better in the saddle than he was this time last year and I think has an outstanding chance of claiming the amateur game’s greatest prize.
Hazel Hill himself is surely being primed to performe at his peak in this event, and could turn the tables from earlier in the season with former Gold Cup Minella Rocco, who has looked like he’s enjoying the game once more after several seasons on the downgrade.
The Irish challenge is led by Billaway and the lightly raced Staker Wallace.
16:50 JOHNNY HENDERSON GRAND ANNUAL
Horses who have already won a handicap during the season have a noticeably poor record in the Grand Annual, with given how compressed the weights are in the race, being a few pounds higher can make a crucial difference.
That stat speaks kindly for Lisp, who held his own in some quite tidy novice events this season.
Based off his top-notch handicap hurdle form, including a fifth in the County Hurdle here last season, the demands of a strongly run, big-field handicap suit him right down to the ground, and the handicapper doesn’t look to have overly harsh by giving him an opening mark of 144.
Greaneteen has heaps of potential and is now on a four-timer after winning at Fakenham last time out, and the fact that Paul Nicholls is speaking tilts at Grade 1s after this goes some way to illustrating the regard in which he’s held, whilst the other one for the shortlist is Eclair De Beaufeu, who also ran well in the County last season and won a similarly competitive handicap at the Dublin Racing Festival last time out.
At a bigger price, it could be foolish to underestimated last year’s Arkle runner-up Us And Them, who hasn’t had his season go to plan so far but looks ideally suited to this.
He’s a fine e/w option if he bounces back.
17:30 MARTIN PIPE CONDITIONAL JOCKEYS’ HANDICAP HURDLE
The key to this race looks by Gordon Elliott, who runs two potentially well handicapped novices in Column Of Fire and The Bosses Oscar.
The former appears to have been a long-term Gigginstown plot for this event.
That operation have a good record in this, with Sir Des Champs, Don Poli and Blow By Blow all winning in maroon and white in the past decade, whilst Dallas Des Pictons, who took a similar route in preparation for this to Column Of Fire, was runner-up last year.
He was third in competitive handicap at the Dublin Racing Festival last time out and looked very talented when breaking his maiden in January, whilst The Bosses Oscar threw the race away last time out by making an error at the final flight, but remains a tidy prospect and is probably better than his mark suggests.
Both have all the mark the hallmarks of a typical Elliott handicap plot.
However I can see the race in favour of Elliott’s great rival Willie Mullins who runs, Five O’Clock, who won a decent Grade 3 novice hurdle last time out, looking well suited by the step up in trip I’d also consider lash The Steel, who impressed at Chepstow earlier in the season and is sensibly back down in trip after not seeing three miles out last time.
JP McManus has been having a great week, and his two Front View and Ilikedwayurthinkin head the betting, and these progressive types also merit respect, though have been well found in the market.
Al Boum Photo