1:30 – JCB Triumph Hurdle
Far West (5/1) will be hoping to give the Nicholls yard something to cheer about after the opener on Gold Cup day. He comes into this race off the back of four solid victories, picking up two at this course, and three over similar distances in the process. The most recent of which can be argued to be the most impressive as he saw off an 8 runner field at Ascot in February which consisted of the impressive River Maigue. Another performance along those lines would more than likely put him right in the mix for a fifth straight win. Our Conor (10/3) has claims to prevent that however, the current favourite has managed 3 wins from 3 himself, taking down a couple of his challengers here (Diakali & Stocktons Wing) in doing so. Rolling Star (7/2) is the other main contender here, he has won on his last two outings, one of which was here back in January over an 8 runner field, but the argument against him could be that both of those wins since switching from the Flat have come on Heavy ground, and as the going is expected to be slightly firmer, it is not known whether he will be able to handle a different going.
Selection – Our Conor (WIN) has done well on his previous starts and it is hard to not consider him arguably the strongest entrant from this field, but Far West (EACH WAY) could have something to say about that if he continues to perform as well as his last 4 outings have shown he can do.
2:05 – County Handicap Hurdle
The field here for the County Handicap Hurdle is headed by 7/1 shot Cotton Mill, so finding a winner is going to be no easy task with this one, but that means that there are going to be some tasty propositions at decent prices. Punjabi (28/1) is one of those that could get a win under his belt at a decent price, his last two rides have been pretty poor to say the last, finishing 14th at Newbury last month, and 6th at Kempton towards the end of last year hardly consists of decent recent form ahead of this one, but his 7 wins from 21 starts, and 3 at the top grade show that he can perform when at his best. The slightly firmer ground could work very much in his favour here, and given he has 3 wins from 7 under his belt on Softer ground, as well as a past win here, there’s every chance that he could claim the spoils once more. Brampour (50/1) is another with a past record that was at one stage pretty solid, with 2 previous Class 1 wins under his belt, the argument which works more in his favour though is that he is very much a youthful runner being just 6 years old. The Nicholls horse has a win at this course, decent form on the likely going, and judging by an upturn in fortune over his last 4 outings it would also seem that a return to his best could be right around the corner, definite each way claims at least.
Clerk’s Choice (66/1) is an even bigger price than the previous two, and another with a past victory at this course, he has a strong enough record on the better ground, but he is yet to win a Class 1 race and was well beaten by Rock on Ruby and Countrywide Flame last time out at Doncaster last month, but with 3 wins from 9 over the distance he is definitely one that can stay the pace and may very well be there or thereabouts having dropped 3 furlongs in trip from that poor performance at Kempton.
Tanerko Emery (16/1) – is the shortest priced runner probably worth backing, he comes here having finished no worse than third on his last 6 outings, having won 1 of his 2 starts on Good to Soft ground and with 2 wins and 2 places from 6 starts over this distance. He is clearly one that is currently in decent form and if he can maintain that level then there’s no reason why he cannot give trainer David Pipe something to cheer about.
Selection – Given that he is the only one I am tipping up under 25/1 it is probably no surprise that the win selection here belongs to Tanerko Emery (WIN) whilst Brampour (EACH WAY) looks like he could be due another good run of form with youth very much on his side
2:40 – Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle
At Fishers Cross (11/4) has been installed as the favourite for this 16 runner Novices Hurdle, and I actually feel this is a well justified decision by the Bookies, only I think he is better than they are letting on to. He has claimed 4 straight victories, albeit by the narrowest of margins last time out when bettering The New One here in January, yet he has shown that he can handle the course and the distance well enough on the back of a success here in December in a 14 runner affair, and so he looks well set to build on that success once more. Inish Island (14/1) finished second to him in that race back in December, and will be bidding to overturn the length and a half defeat from that day. His trouble does come with the fact that he is yet to make an impact on ground that isn’t pretty bogged down and it could prove to be costly here if the course is able to hold up well.
Cloudy Copper (12/1) is definitely not one to ignore having won on his last 3 outings. He got the better of the outsider here, Virginia Ash, at Exeter two outings ago, and having claimed both of those wins on Soft ground it looks hard to oppose the only remaining Jonjo O’Neill representative in this race. African Gold (13/2) is very much a threat having won on his last 4 outings. He has yet to show any weakness on any of the grounds which he has tackled, which is a bonus, but the step up in class is still an unproven quantity for him. Ballybough Pat (66/1) may be one to watch out for in terms of an outsider, he has won on both Heavy and Good ground previously, and may be able to sneak a place on his best day, whilst another outsider in Superior Quality (33/1) comes into this sitting on a potential hat trick after 2 wins from 2 on Good to Soft ground, but with both of those wins coming at a much lower grade it remains to be seen whether he can replicate that form whilst in the company of much stronger competition.
Selection – At Fishers Cross (WIN) is easily my NAP of the day, he has shown that he can do whatever it takes to win and will not give up too easily, whilst Superior Quality (EACH WAY) actually looks worth a punt based on those successes and although an unknown quantity at this level, he has shown decent enough form on similar ground in order to bolster his claims to end up in the winners enclosure
3:20 – Cheltenham Gold Cup
The feature race of the four day Festival promises to be one with plenty of opinions and talking points, Nicky Henderson trained Long Run (6/1) will be looking to follow in the footsteps of Kauto Star and become only the second horse to reclaim the Gold Cup crown after losing it to the late Synchronised last year, and that would be even more likely should the ground end up being slightly softer than usual, if prize money were to be a deciding factor in who was likeliest to win then Long Run would get the nod every time, being the only runner in the field to have notched up over £1m in prize money over his 8 year life span, including the cool quarter of a million pounds he picked up for owner Robert Waley-Cohen under the ride of his son Sam Waley-Cohen who will take charge once again here. Standing in his way are plenty of other challengers who are all vying for their maiden Gold Cup success, none more so than Henderson’s other runner in the Gold Cup, favourite Bobs Worth (3/1). Having gotten the better of rival First Lieutenant the last two times he has been on the field, and also finishing ahead of Silviniaco Conti (5/1) at Ascot before the festival last year it is clear to see why there’s faith in him to land the big one this year after his success in last year’s RSA Chase. His victory over First Lieutenant in the Hennessy should put him in good stead here, but it should also be noted that Denman in 2008 is the only horse since Bregawn in 1983 who has gone on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup after winning the Hennessy the previous year.
As for Silviniaco Conti, Paul Nicholls will be keen to land the spoils here for the first time in 4 years, a result which would make him the joint most successful Gold Cup trainer alongside Tom Dreaper on five victories. He has managed to find victories over at least on of his Gold Cup rivals on his last three outings. Beating The Giant Bolster on both occasions on Soft ground at both Newbury (February) and Haydock (November), as well as winning 11 lengths ahead of Wayward Prince on Good-Soft ground at Wetherby at the start of November. That Haydock victory also saw him triumph over Long Run, and the ground is definitely looking set to suit him more than others.
One last note should be for Captain Chris (14/1) who would likely benefit more than others should the ground end up being slightly heavier towards the end of this year’s festival, having only been beaten on the line by a neck by Long Run at Kempton in December, the margin is so fine that a similar finish could lead to a different result this time around making him pretty hard to ignore.
Selection – Long Run (WIN) has defintely got all the makings of a repeat Gold Cup winner and finished either first or second in all 12 of his Class 1 outings it is sure to be a there or thereabouts investment on him for the big race. CAPTAIN CHRIS (EACH WAY) could be one to surprise a few people given his effort in chasing down Long Run at Kempton, and could very well take advantage of a Cheltenham course which is likely to be well trodden over before the Gold Cup comes around.
4:00 – Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup
Chapoturgeon (5/1) looks set for another big ride in the Foxhunters. The 9 year old handles good to soft ground very well and also has a past victory here to go off as well. He should be fancied to continue where he left off when winning an 11 runner affair at Newbury last month but should he fail that then I fully expect Salsify (11/4) to take advantage having won both previous outings amongst class 2 company, and also shown that when the ground isn’t torn up that he can put in a huge effort.
Faasel (40/1) is one of the big outsiders for this one, but the 12 year old hasn’t finished his career quite yet. The much travelled stalwart has yet to win at the famous course, but has come to some sort of form recently having failed to capitalise on a chance of a hat trick when pulled up in a point to point race back in February. Victory here would make for a fairytale ending to an unfortunate Cheltenham career.
Selection – Chapoturgeon (WIN) should be able to draw on past form at this course to grab victory, but for an interesting each way proposition, Faasel (EACH WAY) could bow out of Cheltenham on a high note if he can find his staying form.
4:40 – Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle
There are a lot of runners going to post for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle, and like so many other races over the festival, finding the winner is not going to be an easy feat at all, Gevrey Chamberlain (11/2) heads the market as a worthy favourite. He is 2/2 on Soft ground, and also 2 from 2 over the distance, the David Pipe horse has managed to win on his last three outings, and it would be fitting for David to train the winner of a race named in honour of his father back in 2009. Toner D’Oudairies (10/1) will be hoping to put a dampener in the works, Gordon Elliot’s trained horse has 2 wins under his belt on Soft ground and was placed on his only previous appearance here. His downfall is that he has struggled over the distance, having only placed once from 4 attempts. Salubrious (12/1) has the form on Good to Soft ground, having won twice from 4 starts, he has also won over the distance and was a 4 1/2 length victor at Musselburgh last time out on good to soft ground. Double Ross (20/1) & Bourne (20/1) are the last two at 20/1 or lower worth considering, the former last won 4 starts ago, but has got previous success at this course and has scored twice in seven outings on soft ground, the latter has slightly stronger claims as the McCain horse has shown that he can handle Good to Soft ground pretty well indeed and is a previous Class 2 winner.
Solix (66/1) shouldn’t be taken lightly at all, he has 2 wins from 5 starts over the distance, has won before at this course and has also tasted victory amongst Class 2 company. The large nature of his price could be put down to the fact that most of his successes have come on Heavy ground, but he has previously won twice from 5 starts on Good ground and should take to some parts of this course better than most. First Avenue (22/1) could be well worth watching, his last outing saw him claim a victory in a class 1 affair at Sandown, although that was on heavy ground, his good to soft form is ok, but despite that class 1 victory, he is yet to taste success from 4 starts in class 2 company.
Kells Belle (33/1) is another tasty looking outsider, she hasn’t won in her last 3 outings, and was very poor on her last two outings, although both of those performances were on Heavy ground. She has won twice from 4 starts on Soft ground and is 2 from 6 with two further places on Good ground, as far as places go she is one of those who cannot be ignored at a price. Whereas Bridgets Pet (25/1) has been out of sorts of late, this is a big step up for her as well, but a decent third when last seen at Fairyhouse shows that she does have potential to spring some form of surprise over the pack here.
Selection – There’s no real reason that Gevrey Chamberlain (WIN) can be ignored for this one based on his solid performances, but it could be more worthwhile to try and find one at a larger price to claim a place, and based on her decent record on the going, Kells Belle (EACH WAY) fits the bill perfectly
5:15 – Grand Annual Chase Challenge Cup
Petit Robin (20/1) Petit Robin is the other Henderson charge in this race and like French Opera he has some handy looking form. 5 wins from 18 over the distance, with 6 places, 3 wins and 3 places on good to soft ground like his stable mate, and 3 wins from 6 on soft ground. He managed a fantastic 2nd at Ascot back in December in a class 1 race with a 21 strong field and a similar performance again today would once again see him go close home if not one better
French Opera (16/1) goes out for the Henderson yard in reasonable form. The 10 year old has 3 wins from 15 starts in class 1 company, as well as 3 wins and 3 places from 6 starts on good to soft ground. He has picked up 2 wins from 6 on this course and placed on two of those occasions as well, his only downside is that he has only won once in his last 9 starts but should he return to form then things could work out brilliantly for him.
Oiseau De Nuit (25/1) is now 11 and has two previous wins at this course, he has 7 wins over this distance, albeit from 39 starts, and 9 places to go with it. His form on good to soft ground is pretty decent but there is a downside in that it has been a long time since he last claimed the spoils. Oh Crick (33/1) goes for Alan King and also has two past wins here and 7 over the distance, although in 10 outings less than Oiseau De Nuit, his form would suggest that Soft ground would be most suited to him here and he shouldn’t be overlooked despite going 8 without crossing the line first.
Selection – Petit Robin (WIN) is a fantastic price for a horse that has recently put in a big performance and has shown that he can handle both the distance and the ground. Whilst Oh Crick (33/1) has strong claims for at least a place here and is definitely one that could provide the shock to end the festival.