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It’s almost over for another year. Yes, the Cheltenham Festival finishes up for another year, but the great news for the punters is that it’s definitely 2-1 in their favour, with Thistlecrack and Vautour proving the highlights, while Limini did not disappoint either. Thistlecrack proved just how weak last year’s World Hurdle form truly was, with a resounding victory, pulling away from his rivals. Vautour, well, some people, including myself, were put away with Mullins and Walsh claiming he wasn’t working well. In fact, Walsh is still claiming this, even though Vautour was imperious in winning the Ryanair Chase. And Limini just proves how unfair it is for the other trainers that Willie Mullins has this scary stable of high-class horses at his disposal. Add in Black Hercules, and Thursday was almost a perfect day for the top Irish trainer.
The fourth and final day of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival does, of course, feature the Cheltenham Gold Cup at its feature piece, but we’ve also got some other interesting races, starting with the Triumph Hurdle at 1:30, featuring the best four-year-old hurdlers. The County Hurdle is next at 2:10, and then the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at 2:50. We finally get to the chasing at 3:30, with the Gold Cup, which is followed by the Foxhunter Chase, which has its own interesting story, with former Olympian Victoria Pendleton taking her ride on Pacha Du Polder, which takes place at 4:10. At 4:50, we have the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockey’s Handicap Hurdle, and we round things off for another year with the Grand Annual at 5:30. So another jam-packed day to get through.
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The Triumph Hurdle, the traditional way to start the final day of the Cheltenham Festival, and we’ve got 15 runners going to post, making this just that little bit trickier.
The interesting thing here is that Ruby Walsh isn’t riding for Ricci Rich, and is instead riding Footpad, one of three Mullins runners in the race. Paul Townsend gets the ride on Rich’s Let’s Dance.
A lot of the runners are trading wins with each other here, and many of them aren’t really standing out. Clan Des Obeaux has a good second at Cheltenham, and will hopefully prefer the better ground. But there’s a question mark there. Footpad looks like he’ll need a lot of rain to come overnight, and might just fancy a bit further. He’s sired by Sadler’s Wells, however, which does bode well for a speedster, which is needed in the Triumph.
However, Zubayr won a hot race at Kempton, and reopposes Gibralfaro on level weights, after getting 7lbs last time and winning over 9 lengths. That was his first run, and he should come on a lot from that. Paul Nicholls is very high on his juveniles, and he’s already struck with them this week.
The traditional cavalry charge on the final day of the Cheltenham Festival, the County Hurdle, has a field of 26 going to post, they’re going to be travelling the same 2m trip that the juveniles did in the Triumph Hurdle, and this looks even trickier, purely down to the size of the field.
Dicosimo, the Mullins/Walsh/Rich option in this race, will attract a lot of attention, for obvious reasons. However, he only finished 8th in last year’s Triumph Hurdle, and the form from that race has been shown to be pretty poor, with the horses that finished in front of him struggling for any great form this season and then disappointing in the Champion Hurdle. Yes, the County Hurdle isn’t in the same class, but he’s on what could be a bit of a false rating.
Great Field could be a bit of a blip on the handicappers book here, and it’s yet another Mullins charge, this time for Jonjo O’Neill, with Barry Geraghty doing the job for his employer. He won really well as Leopardstown in his first outing for Mullins, and was never really pushed. Yes, he could be well handicapped, but then there’s another one that a catches the eye, even further down the weights.
Wait For Me won well at Kempton, even after fluffing his lines several times. He was giving the second placed horse 16lbs, and still beat him by 2 lengths. Prior to that, he easily beat Potters Legend, who went on to finish second in a big Group 2 at Sandown, earning him a rating of 138. With Wait For Me beating him by 7 lengths, his mark of 139 might just be a bit of a blip. With Hobbs and Johnson looking to get things back on track, this might be their best chance.
The Albert Bartlett, 20 runners going to post for this 3 mile novice hurdle. It’s a seriously good-looking race on paper, and yet another tough one to work out.
Bachasson is rated at 151, which is quite a bit ahead of most of the field, but he’s been put in his place by Long Dog twice in a row now. His 151 rating looks good on paper, and gets him close to Long Dog, but it’s not that simple.
In fact, Long Dog, again, is going to be all the rage with another Mullins/Walsh/Rich combo. He’s six out of seven over hurdles and, yet again, has the profile of another springer from Mullins’ yard. The fact he’s not been tested over this trip is the real worry, but then we’ve seen that Mullins knows what he’s doing. He’ll go on the ground, but the trip is the concern, and given the short price he’ll go off, we’ll give him a swerve.
Unowhatimeanharry has gone from strength to strength this season, and is the oldest swinger in town when it comes to this race. He’s won over course and distance, but that form hasn’t worked out to be truly spectacular.
Instead, we’ll take on the Mullins troop with Barters Hill because he’s won over this trip last time out, and should come on for that run. The small stable of Ben Pauling will have him just right for this, and he already has a Group 1 to his name. Undefeated in bumpers, and undefeated over fences, let’s hope he can make it 4 from 4 over the smaller obstacles.
If you’ve been following my tips for the season, you will know that this race is all about one horse for me, and it has been for 12 months, Don Cossack. To win the Gold Cup, you have to be able to jump with speed, and you have to have genuine class. It’s safe to say that Don Cossack has it in abundance. Sure, he fell at Kempton in the King George, but he was closing all the time on the leader. He got back to winning ways comfortably at Thurles, and he’s going to love the ground. His 3rd in the Ryanair last year was just down to him clattering a fence towards the end, and he was staying on, although never troubling the leading two. But for me, it was how he looked in the King George before he fell that sums it up – if he stands up, he wins.
The Foxhunter Chase has one story going through it, and that is former Olympian Victoria Pendleton making her Cheltenham Festival debut. Does she has a chance? Sure, but that’s more down to the fact most of the field has a chance in this race.
On The Fringe, the winner of this race last year, is going to be popular amongst the Irish nursing their hangovers on Friday. It’s an Enda Bolger and Nina Carberry runner, so what’s not to love? Add in that it’s one of Jonjo’s, and we could see a bit of a coup developing. However, on his first run of the season in February, he disappointed.
Instead, look to the second-placed horse in that race, the six year-old It Came To Pass as the real danger. With youth on his side, and Jim Culloty doing the training, there’s a lot to like about this one.
Pacha Du Polder would be a great story, and this year’s Cheltenham Festival has been full of them, but he is held by On The Fringe on form, and the inexperience of the jockey just goes against him. However, he did win last time out in good fashion, beating the old hand Big Fella Thanks by 29 lengths, which isn’t to be sniffed at.
We go from the amateur riders to the conditional riders in the Martin Pipe handicap hurdle, and things don’t get any easier, as we’ve got 24 horses and 24 conditional jockeys going round Cheltenham. It’s a bit of a nightmare for us bettors.
Whiteout has some good form behind Identity Thief a few races back, and will like this trip and ground. But it doesn’t appear to be the first choice of the Mullins camp.
That goes to Childrens List, and it’s easy to see why. He gave a ton of weight away to Golan Lodge last time out, and got within half a length, and his fourth at Navan the time before has been franked with the winner, Prince of Scars, going on to beat World Hurdle second Alpha Des Obeaux by four lengths. On that form alone, he could be well in here, and he could be a fancy price considering the connections involved.
Squouateur has a lot going for him, but will be plenty of short enough, and the form from his wins doesn’t blow me away to warrant such a short price in what is an open race.
The last race of the day and, indeed, the last race of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival.
The Grand Annual is, like the preceding races, another nightmare to try and work out. The traditional ‘lucky’ last, and you will be incredibly lucky if you can work out the puzzle of another horrible handicap race.
Eastlake, second in this race last year, is actually 2lbs lower than he was last year, but he’s had a torrid time of it, being pulled up in three of his four races since. It’s not looking good for him going one better.
Chris Pea Green was fancied last time out before disappointing, but was going well in this race last year before falling. He’s 4lbs lower than last year, and it’s a very winnable mark. The only downside is how poorly he ran last time out, and it wasn’t great prep for such a tough race here.
Rock The World for Jess Harrington looks very unexposed over fences, with sixx runs and with a 50% strike rate over the obstacles. He’s only gone up 4lbs from his last win at Cheltenham, and although his recent runs has been in smaller fields, he has won in a field of 18 at Balinrobe, so that won’t be an issue.