Friday is the 4th and final day of the Festival and includes the biggest race of all – the Gold Cup. It always feels a little sad when Cheltenham comes to an end, but the final day is always tremendously exciting and here are the 7 races we can look forward to…
This race hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for Willie Mullins and his only win came with Scolardy, way back in 2002. Mr Adjudicator looks to be his best hope, this time around and victory in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown at the weekend means he’ll now be taken very seriously.
Paul Townend was on-board and said after the race: “We went a fair gallop and although he’s inexperienced he’s tough, and when his jumping warmed up he was brilliant. We really didn’t hang around so he had to be brave at the last, and from there to the line.”
Willie Mullins was quick to point out that Townend himself deserved much of the credit.
“It was a fantastic ride by Paul. We didn’t think there’d be much pace in the race and he dropped him in lovely at the back of the field and there was actually a lot more pace than we anticipated.”
We Have A Dream, winner of the Scottish Triumph Hurdle Trial Juvenile Hurdle at Musselburgh is another to consider. Nicky Henderson’s charge is now unbeaten in 4 starts and those victories include the Grade One Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow.
Joint-owner, Simon Munir, took to Twitter and made clear that a Festival victory is what connections are now looking for.
“The Dream is still alive as WHAD wins well in not ideal conditions, a sharp track against ex-flat horses – next stop Cheltenham.”
Apple’s Shakira is the current favourite, however. The filly is 3 from 3 and all wins have come at Cheltenham. She went-off at odds of 1/7 in the Grace 2 Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle and was simply too-good for Look My Way (the remainder of the field was strung-out across Gloucestershire). Henderson’s record in this race is enviable, with a trio of victories since 2009 (Zaynar, Soldatino along with Peace And Co).
Punters also like the look of Stormy Island, Redicean, Farclas, Sussex Ranger and Mitchouka.
With 3 of the last 6 winners landing odds of 20/1, or higher, it’s worth taking a look at one of the potential runners that sits near the foot of our current ante-post betting market. Seamus Mullins is easing Chesterfield towards this 2m 1f contest, but due to the cold weather the trainer is handling his inmate with kid-gloves.
“There’s simply no point in running him at this time of year, he can’t go through the ground. He can just about handle soft, but any worse than that and it is a waste of time. He won’t run until the County Hurdle now, that’s his first aim, and then Aintree and Ayr again. Of course, if he manages to win the County Hurdle that might have to change, but that’s what we’re thinking.”
Most Cheltenham horses don’t accumulate a huge amount of air-miles, but that’s certainly not the case with Max Dynamite who recently finished 3rd in the Melbourne Cup and 6th in the Hong Kong Vase.
Owner Rich Ricci gave punters plenty to ponder, when speaking to the press at the end of January.
“I still believe, although I don’t know how everybody else feels, that Max Dynamite is well handicapped over hurdles and his target is the County Hurdle. If you’re looking for a sleeper from me, he should run well if he gets there in one piece.”
Max Dynamite has competed in the County Hurdle before, finishing 4th. Some felt that Ruby Walsh left him with a little too-much to do, as the final flights approached, although the horse did stay-on well without ever truly threatening the winner – stablemate Wicklow Brave.
The race looks wide-open though and the likes of Mick Jazz, Jenkins, Hunters Call, Call Me Lord, Lalor and Ben Pauling’s A Hare Breath are among those attracting bets.
Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle
Emma Lavelle has found her new prince in the shape of Paisley Park, who impressed in a Grade Two contest at Warwick. The Oscar-sired gelding initially found the pace a little too-hot to handle, but he showed true grit and rallied gamely to finish runner-up.
“Paisley Park is a lovely horse. He was just probably slightly too green. They went quick down the back and he has never jumped that fast before in his life. He galloped his little heart out down the home straight. I would love to get another win into him and I would not have an issue with just running him in a novice hurdle with a penalty. I’d like to get a run into him on slightly better ground as we have not had the chance yet and I don’t think he is an out-and-out soft ground horse. If I said what would be the ideal race to run him in, it would be the Albert Bartlett. He has got the pace and the stamina for that.”
Mr Whipped was the eventual winner at Warwick and he’s significantly shorter in the market, for the Albert Bartlett.
“I was very impressed with him because he’s still a big, raw baby. After he jumped the last he thought that was the job done and started to ease up a bit, but if something had come to me I think he would have gone on again. He had plenty left in the tank. He definitely deserves to (go to Cheltenham). His form is rock solid now.” said jockey Nico De Boinville after the race.
Mr Whipped is trained by Nicky Henderson, who has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal for this 3-mile contest. The lightly-raced Santini is perhaps the most-exciting prospect. The 6-year-old won on debut at Newbury and then fought-off the challenge of Black Op in the Grade 2 Ballymore Classic Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. The likes of Mulcahys Hill, Tikkanbar and stablemate Pacific De Baune were absolutely trounced and everyone at Seven Barrows will have high-hopes for his future.
Henderson’s other potential runners include Chef Des Obeaux and Terrefort, but Gordon Elliott’s Samcro is the clear market-leader. This is perhaps surprising as the trainer has made clear that the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle is the target for Samcro.
“He’s good. He’ll go straight to Cheltenham now anyway. Everybody probably knows that the Ballymore is where I’d say he’s going to go at the moment. We’ll let the horse do the talking and Cheltenham is the plan now.”
Should Elliott put Samcro in the Ballymore, he could still be ably represented in the Albert Bartlett by Cracking Smart. He finished a close runner-up behind Next Destination, in the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle, although the Gigginstown horse has yet to race outside of Ireland.
Others to run the rule over include Duc Des Genievres, Real Steel and Kim Bailey’s Red River.
Many had hoped to see race-favourite Might Bite in action, at Newbury this weekend, but part-owner David Minton has said that we will not see the King George winner on the track before the Festival now.
“As far as I was concerned he was never really going to run this weekend, it was just at the back of our minds in case Nicky felt he needed another run. Nicky has basically always been happy to go straight there with him. We’ve seen several potential rivals fail to boost their claims and he’s shortened up a bit without running. I suppose Sizing John is the main danger. It depends whether Jessie (Harrington) can get him back to his best or not, but we’re heading there on the back of a win. There’s no one better than Nicky to produce a horse right for the big day.”
Supporters of Sizing John might take heart from the questionable form of that King George win, in which outsiders Double Shuffle and Tea For Two finished ahead of the likes of Thistlecrack, Whisper and Bristol De Mai. Last year’s champion was extremely disappointing in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase though, finishing 7th and looking a shadow of the horse that Robbie Power had under him in a brace of Grade 1 successes at Punchestown following his Gold Cup win. Was it just a bad day at the office, for the brilliant 8-year-old? We will have to wait until the big day to find out, as Harrington has no plans to run him before Cheltenham.
“He’s going to go straight to the Gold Cup. I’d rather go there fresh and well. He’s in good form”
One horse we can take a look at is Native River, who will be among a small contingent of runners in Saturday’s Denman Chase at Newbury. He makes a very-late seasonal reappearance, following what was an extremely demanding campaign in 2016/2017.
Owner Garth Broom (wife Ann is co-owner) says: “He’s as ready as you can get him at home without having a race. All the reports are that Colin [Tizzard] and his team are very happy with him. In the past he’s always wanted one race as a warm-up and this is what the idea is. If he got beat, as long as he ran a good race, it wouldn’t be a complete disaster. It’s the means to an end to get him to the Gold Cup.”
JP McManus was the winning owner in 2012 with Synchronised and the Edward Harty-trained Coney Island looks his best hope this time around. Adrien Du Pont paid the price for racing too keenly, in the Graduation Chase at Ascot and Barry Geraghty enjoyed an easy success on-board the 2nd-favourite. Coney Island is a Grade 1 winner (Drinmore Novice Chase), but one outing since December 2016 is hardly ideal preparation and trainer Eddie Harty has stated that the Ryanair Chase remains an option.
Road To Respect, Killutagh Vic, Our Duke, Total Recall and Minella Rocco (another McManus horse) are all being backed in our ante-post market.
Paul Nicholls has tended to have been overshadowed by his rivals at recent Festivals and once again his best hopes of success appear to be in the less-celebrated races. The Foxhunters Chase looks one of his top chances to get a winner.
Pacha Du Polder won this race for Nicholls last season, before finishing 4th in the Foxhunters’ Open Hunters’ Chase at Aintree in April. The veteran is now an 11-year-old, but both Cavalero and On The Fringe won the race at that age while Earthmover (a Nicholls inmate) astonishingly went first past the post at 13 years of age! On The Fringe and Salsify have achieved back-to-back Foxhunters Chase victories recently, so Pacha Du Polder may be where the value lies.
Virak finally picked-up a first win since April 2015 last month at Ludlow, although the fact that he went-off as an odds-on favourite should tell you something about the opposition he faced at the Shropshire racecourse. After finishing 6th in the 2014 Martin Pipe, Virak did not appear at any of the last 3 Festivals and he was very disappointing when racing in handicap company at Cheltenham, last April. Nevertheless, he is gaining significant market-support.
Wonderful Charm is surely the one most-likely to put Nicholls in the winners enclosure, though. He was runner-up last year and comfortably saw-off the opposition in the Scottish Foxhunter Open Hunters’ Chase, at Musselburgh on Saturday – despite Sam Waley-Cohen briefly losing an iron.
For those that want to oppose Nicholls, Foxrock, Burning Ambition, Staker Wallace and Caid Du Berlais are all likely to appeal.
Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle
There’s a great deal of uncertainty about which horses will actually start this race, with several also holding entries for other contests such as the County Hurdle. Therefore, it is definitely one to look for value in with our ‘Non Runner No Bet’ offer.
The race was established in 2009 and honours the career of Martin Pipe Senior, who retired in 2006 after a long and glittering career as a trainer. It is restricted to conditional jockeys and is a race that Willie Mullins has had plenty of success in. He’s saddled 3 of the 9 winners – Sir Des Champs (2011), Don Poli (2014) and Killultagh Vic (2015).
Only 5 and 6-year-olds have won the Martin Pipe, so far. In terms of the Festival as a whole, it is definitely one of the lower-key encounters but some very good horses sit at the top of our ante-post market. They include Jenkins, Hunters Call, Maestro Royal, Ben Dundee, Poli Roi, Minella Awards, Coole Cody and Coeur De Lion.
Grand Annual Handicap Chase
Cheltenham’s oldest race brings down the curtain on the Festival and a lot of JP McManus horses are attracting bets. They include Rock The World, Don’t Touch It, Hell’s Kitchen and Winter Escape. Le Prezien and Movewiththetimes can also be added to this list. Both are trained by Paul Nicholls, who has won 3 of the last 14 renewals – St Pirran (2004), Andreas (2007) and Solar Impulse (2016).
The full name of this race is the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase. Nicky Henderson’s father helped found the Racecourse Holdings Trust, which prevented property developers from getting their hands on the venue in the early 1960s. Without his input, the Festival may not have continued to exist in its current form. Nicky’s last win came with Bellvano in 2012 and this race could be William Henry‘s destination, as well as Theinval‘s.
Gordon Elliott has yet to saddle a winner, but both Tombstone and Clarcam are receiving a degree of market support. Last season’s winner was Jessica Harrington’s Rock The World. A beaming Robbie Power was on-board and the win put the icing on what had been an incredible day for both the trainer and jockey. Will this pair be having the last laugh at the Festival, once again?
The odds mentioned were correct at time of publishing on 9th February 12:07 pm and are non-binding and without guarantee.