Sir Eric looks the standout horse here for Joseph O’Brien who unofficially trained Ivanovich Gorbatov to win this race in 2016. He was Grade 2 placed on the flat for Aidan last summer and has won both his starts over hurdles in taking fashion including a Grade 1 on the second of these starts.
Stablemate Gardens Of Babylon may prove his biggest danger with Barry Gerathy in the saddle, he finished six lengths behind Sir Eric in that Grade 1 and with the addition of cheekpieces he could go close.
Another horse that has finished runner-up to Sir Eric is the Willie Mullins trained Tiger Tap Tap. He went close to taking the favourites scalp at Leopardstown over Christmas and although he was slightly disappointing last time, he could run into the places.
Quel Destin is one of the most experienced in the field and has won five of his six starts over timber for Paul Nicholls. There may be better horses in the race but he’ll put that experience to good use and may trouble the principals.
Selection: Sir Eric
Mr Adjudicator is very interesting in this contest, he was one of last seasons best juveniles and only came up short behind Farclas in the Triumph Hurdle His only run this season looked disappointing at the time but now it looks very good as Espoir D’Allen won the Champion on Tuesday. Willie hasn’t run him since and he could potentially be well handicapped.
Colin Tizzard runs Pingshou and I think he’s overpriced. He was a Grade 1 winner at Aintree two season back and has very few miles on the clock. This is going to be his first run in a handicap and I think he’s got a fair mark. Colin has reached for a tongue strap and first-time blinkers which may spark further improvement too.
There are countless horses with chances but the only other horse that interest me is Eclair De Beaufeu who represents the Gordon Elliott operation. It took him five runs to shed his maiden tag over hurdles but showed marked improvement to finish fourth behind Off You Go at Leopardstown. If he continues to progress then he could just win this.
Albert Bartlett Hurdle
Rebecca Curtis may have another taste of the big time here with Lisnagar Oscar. The ex-Irish point-to-pointer has progressed steadily in novice company and was better than ever when winning a Grade 2 at Haydock in February. I don’t think he’d want the ground too soft but will be fine with a little dig. If he continues to improve then he’s a danger to all concerned.
A lot of the Irish form is intertwined with Commander Of Fleet who won the Goffs Land Rover bumper on his first racecourse start last season. He was disappointing in the Royal Bond but made amends when beating Rhinestone in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown. It was great to see Goron have some winners after a bad start to the festival and he looks sure to run a big race.
The unbeaten Birchdale is the choice of Barry Geraghty and I liked the attitude he showed when taking a Grade 2 on just his second racecourse start. Much like Commander Of Fleet, he’s a former point to pointer winner and he should fill the placings.
Others to note include Derrinross, Allaho and Rockpoint.
Selection: Lisnagar Oscar
If you ask any jockey, trainer or owner which race they most want to win? Most will say the Grand National or the Gold Cup. In truth, it’s probably easier to claim racing’s blue riband event rather than Grand National, considering the unique demands of Aintree.
Defending The Crown
Native River took this twelve months ago and is a good starting point when trying to pick this year’s victor. Colin Tizzards gelding has only run twice since last season’s victory and has been disappointing on both occasions. Native River never really travelled in the King George but in his customary style he stayed on towards the finish. The step back up in trip and the Cheltenham hill will bring out improvement and he has a major chance of retaining his crown.
It was the Nicky Henderson trained Might Bite that came up short behind Native River last year. That run came on the back of a win in the King George but the same can’t be said this time around. He weakened badly late on that day and it was revealed later that he burst blood vessels. Nicky has been nursing back to health since but with more question marks rather than positives, I’d be taking him on.
Is Percy The Pick?
Top of must punters lists is the popular Presenting Percy who we’ve only seen once this season thus far. That run came over hurdles in the Galmoy Hurdle, a race he also won en-route to winning at the festival last season. It’s slightly worrying that he hasn’t run over fences this season but he reportedly schooled well at Galway last weekend where the fences were turned to replicate Prestbury Park.
Pat Kelly’s stable star stayed on well up the hill when winning the RSA last year and the extra step up in trip looks likely to suit him. Presenting Percy looks to provide a small yard with a big win and he’s my idea of the winner
Paul Nicholls couldn’t have his Ditcheat string in better form leading up to the Cheltenham festival and Clan Des Obeaux looks to give him a 5th Gold Cup. The French-bred gelding will be having his first taste of the festival. However, he has run on the rack twice before and slightly worryingly for his supporters he’s been beaten on both occasions. On the plus side, he’s looked impressive on his two most recent starts landing the King George and the Denman Chase. This represents another step up in class and at the prices, I think he’s opposable.
Surprisingly Willie Mullins has never won racing’s blue riband event although he did some controversially close with On His Own who just lost out to Lord Windermere in 2014. Kemboy is the master of Closuttons main hope this season following two wins from as many starts this season. He had been all the rage for the Ladbrokes Trophy until a cancelled ferry meant he had to stay in Ireland. He was very impressive when accounting for Monalee in the Grade 1 Savills over Christmas. The Supreme Racing Clubs seven-year-old gelding is on a real upward curve and should be feared by all.
Selection: Presenting Percy
Ucello Conti is the real class act in the field having run in the last three renewals of the Grand National. Since being switched to hunter chasing he’s won a point-to-point and two on the track and in truth, he’ll be hard to beat.
Enda Bolger who trained On The Fringe to win this race back in 2015 and 2016 Is represented by Stand Up And Fight. He will be well fancied by many but I can’t see it, as he was beaten in a point-to-point at Kilfeacle when last seen. I know Fennos Storm is a decent yardstick but still, it’s not strong enough form for me.
A preview of this race can’t be done without mentioning Pacha Du Polder who has taken the last two renewals of this race Some might say he should have won the last three as he was flying home under the inexperienced Victoria Pendelton in 2016. He had a pipe-opener in February and I couldn’t put anyone off backing him as he’s a different horse at the festival.
Hazel Hill is well fancied but I don’t think he’s good enough and the only other horse worth mentioning is Shantou Flyer who was bought by David Maxwell to win this race. He’s always been a high-class horse and the addition of first-time blinkers may spark further improvement. The worry is though that he’s had three quick runs leading up to this race and that may leave him vunrebale.
Selection: Ucello Conti
Grand Annual Chase
Paul Nicholls took this twelev months ago with Le Prezien who lines up in a bid for back to back victories. He is rated just on epnd higher this year which must give him a great chance. He beat the Kerry Lee trained pair Gino Trail and Top Gamble last season and booth re-oppose here. However the worry with them is that they rarely seem to win.
Nicky Henderson would onviously like to win this race as it’s named after his father. Whatswrongwithyou is his sole representative and is chasing a hat-trick but I think he may struggle off his current mark.
I quite like the angle of a Graded horse in a handicap and the Henry De Bromhead trained Mind’s Eye fits the bill. He was fifth in a Grade 1 two starts back and ran really well ina handicap at Leopardstown last month. I think he might give Rachel Blackmore another festival victory.
Selection: Mind’s Eye
Martin Pipe Hurdle
The final race of the Cheltenham festival is another very competitive event and it may pay to side with Gordon Elliott who bids for a hat-trick of victories in the race. Dallas Des Pictons looks the pick of his runners having beat all bar Ballymore winner City Island in a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown at Christmas and the landing his two sunsequent arces. This lookslike very strong form in the cintext of this race and with Donagh Meyler booked, he’ll be tough to beat.
Nicky Henderso has always spoken very highly of Pym and he will undoubtedly be wel fancied againg here but he was well beaten by Coolanly here in November and I don’t see why there is such a discrepency in the prices.
Smart ex-flat performer Cartwright could have a big say here as he’s already a listed winner of hurdles. There may not be whole pileof improvement off his current mark but he should runa solid race.
Selection: Dallas Des Pictons