Cheltenham Festival Day 4 Race Previews & Tips (Friday)

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The final day of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival features the Gold Cup, memorably won by Sizing John last year. Here is our review of every race scheduled to take place, on Friday.

Triumph Hurdle – Grade 1

For 4 year olds

Distance: 2m1f

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Apple’s Shakira is only a 4-year-old, but the filly already knows her way around this course as all of her 3 outings have been at Cheltenham. She made her debut in the Grade 2 JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle and Gumball came unstuck when Nicky Henderson’s charge made her move approaching the final flight (winning by 17 lengths).

She was a little keen on her first return to Cheltenham and her victory over Nube Negra was expected by most to have been by a higher margin than it was. Apple’s Shakira’s defeat of Look My Way, in January, confirmed what a special talent she is though and she looks sure to start this race as the jolly.

Willie Mullins has Stormy Ireland going into this one and it’s not easy to evaluate her, based on the brace of contests she has taken part in. We last saw her at Fairyhouse, winning by almost 60 lengths from North Carolina. Gordon Elliott’s Farclas, on the other hand, does arrive with genuine form – having finished a close runner-up to Mr Adjudicator in the Grade 1 Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown.

With Alan King’s Redicean also looking sure to start, this promises to be an absorbing encounter and one from which genuine superstars are likely to emerge.

Tip: Farclas

Joseph O'Brien

County Hurdle – Grade 3

For 5 year olds and upwards

Distance: 2m1f

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Hurdles races don’t come much more competitive than this year’s renewal of the County Hurdle, so don’t be surprised if the favourite is sent-off at a very big price. Duca De Thaix disappointed in the Grade 3 Limestone Lad Hurdle, but Gordon Elliott’s horse must still be respected as he showed true grit under pressure when seeing-off the challenge from Joseph O’Brien’s Us And Them in the Grade 3 Irish Independent Hurdle.

O’Brien also has a dog in this fight and victory by Ivanovich Gorbatov would go some way towards making-up for the somewhat disappointing performance of Rhinestone in the Champion Bumper. Moon Racer, trained by Nick Williams and the winner of the 2015 Champion Bumper, has been a major disappointment since pulling-up in the Champion Hurdle last year. Can David Pipe get him right for this race?

Bleu Et Rouge, Sandsend and Meri Devie should all line-up for Willie Mullins, while Nick Williams’ Flying Tiger is another with sound claims.

Tip: Ivanovich Gorbatov

Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle – Grade 1

For 4 year olds and upwards

Distance: 3m

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It wouldn’t be a total shock if Nicky Henderson achieves a 1-2-3, in the Albert Bartlett, as Chef Des Obeaux, OK Corral and Santini are all expected to run for the English trainer. Santini looks the pick of the trio, having beaten Black op in the Grade 2 Ballymore Classic Novices’ Hurdle here in January. That form was franked, when Black Op finished runner-up to Samcro, in the Grade 1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on Wednesday.

Henry de Bromhead has a useful entrant that could upset the apple-cart, for Henderson. Chris’s Dream made mincemeat of the opposition, in Grade 3 company at Clonmel last month. The likes of Burren Life and Monkshoot were so far back in the field they would have needed a telescope to watch the 6-year-old go past the winning post.

Poetic Rhythm, trained by Fergal O’Brien, was never likely to figure in last year’s Neptune, but he’s come on leaps and bounds since then. Mulcahys Hill pushed him all the way, in the Grade 1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle, but he remained game under Paddy Brennan and goes into this encounter with a genuine chance.

Tip: Chris’s Dream

Native River head on shot

Cheltenham Gold Cup – Grade 1

For 5 year olds and upwards

Distance: 3m2f110y

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What a shame that the hugely-popular Sizing John won’t be back to defend his title, on Friday, but a fantastic contest remains in store with several horses looking like they have a real shot at landing the Festival’s biggest race of all.

Nicky Henderson’s Might Bite is unbeaten since falling in the 2016 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase and he is of course the winner of the 2017 King George. The 9-year-old has weakened in the market over the previous few days, however, with punters increasingly nibbling at Native River. Colin Tizzard’s inmate reminded us what a force he can be on soft ground, when humiliating both Cloudy Dream and Saphir Du Rheu in the Denman Chase last month.

Our Duke, trained by Jess Harrington, was among the horses we told you to watch out for in this campaign and his victory over Presenting Percy (on heavy ground) in the Grade 2 Red Mills Chase now looks even more impressive – following that horse’s fine win in Wednesday’s RSA Chase over Monalee.

Tom George is having a terrific Festival and it is astonishing to see Double Shuffle, runner-up in the King George, find himself so friendless in the market. Very few horses achieve 2nd-place in that contest by fluke and he was beaten just a length by Might Bite while appearing to be making ground on the winner.

Fans of Willie Mullins could be tempted to dutch Killutagh Vic, Total Recall and serial Cheltenham flop Djakadam, but the great trainer has yet to win a Gold Cup. Whatever you do, don’t miss this race as it looks sure to be an absolute cracker!

Tip: Native River

Foxhunters Chase – Amateurs Race

For 5 year olds and upwards

Distance: 3m2f110y

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10-times Champion Trainer, Paul Nicholls, tends to get overshadowed at the Festival by peers that focus their operations more on winning big races but he will have high-hopes of saddling the victor in this encounter. Virak, Caid Du Berlais and Wonderful Charm are all in with a chance – particularly the latter of this trio who was a very-easy winner of the Scottish Foxhunter Open Hunters’ Chase, at Musselburgh last month.

Pierce Michael Power’s Burning Ambition heads the market right now, however. The 6-year-old was a ready winner on debut at Limerick and was a close runner-up to Gilgamboa, last time out – a JP McManus horse that finished 5th in the 2016 Ryanair Chase and who had previously defeated Foxrock by 10 lengths despite being hampered at the 7th fence.

Balnaslow, trained by Graham Mckeever, finished 5th in this race last year and would surely have got a lot closer had his jumping stayed together as the race neared its climax. Volnay De Thaix, Grand Vision and Kelly Morgan’s Top Wood are others that look at least capable of placing.

Tip: Burning Ambition

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle

For 4 year olds and upwards

Distance: 2m4f110y

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Mr Big Shot will be fired by David Pipe at his race, which honours the memory of his father. He’s yet to win it, but perhaps this will be his year as Mr Big Shot is unbeaten in 3 starts although this will be the horse’s seasonal reappearance so it does seem a big ask.

Gordon Elliott’s Blow By Blow has yet to show what he can do on English turf, but the 7-year-old has been talked-up a lot by Irish pundits since shooting down stablemate Gun Slinger in the Grade 3 Michael Purcell Memorial Novice Hurdle at Thurles last month. Elliott could also have both Sire Du Berlais and Flawless Escape representing his yard in the Martin Pipe and both would be serious contenders.

Alan King’s Coeur De Lion looks a decent outsider to pin dreams upon. He won a valuable handicap under Hollie Doyle at Southwell and was 7th in last season’s Triumph Hurdle. Melrose Boy is another to consider. Harry Fry’s charge might well have won the Heroes Handicap Hurdle, at Sandown, had he not hit the 3rd last.

Tip: Blow By Blow

Grand Annual Handicap Chase – Grade 3

For 5 year olds and upwards

Distance: 2m110y

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We bid farewell to the Festival, with what is the oldest race of the 28 we look forward to in each campaign. Paul Nicholls has saddled 3 winners since 2004 (St Pirran, Andreas and Solar Impulse) and both of his runners should go close.

Dolos didn’t pull up too many trees, in the 2017 Fred Winter, but the 5-year-old just missed out to Gino Trail in a rich handicap chase at Sandown with Top Gamble well-beaten. Bouvreuil came within a whisker of winning last year’s Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase and finished almost 5 lengths ahead of Double Shuffle.

North Hill Harvey has won 4 times at Cheltenham, although not at the Festival and he disappointed backers in the 2017 County Handicap Hurdle. Dan Skelton’s horse finished almost 40 lengths behind Saint Calvados in the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices’ Chase and Henry De Bromhead’s charge was a massive disappointment in the Arkle.

Willie Mullins’ Townshend has endured a wretched campaign, but you wouldn’t put it past the trainer to cause an upset with this horse who makes his English debut in the last race of what has been an incredible Cheltenham Festival.

Tip: Bouvreuil

Good luck, if you are having a bet on Gold Cup Day, at Cheltenham!

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