Cheltenham 2017: Day 4 Preview
Paul Jones, former author of the Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide, gives you the latest news on all the Grade 1 races on Gold Cup Day of the Cheltenham Festival.
THE VERY LATEST (Updated Friday 17th March 10am)
JCB Triumph Hurdle
Defi Du Seuil keeps winning and deserves his place at the head of the market but has the value gone and is the quickening ground a slight worry?
There is a feeling that for whatever reason we didn’t see the real Charli Parcs in the Adonis and his supporters have to be encouraged by the form of the Henderson stable this week with three winners (including two 1-2s) and Divin Bere narrowly beaten in the Fred Winter off top weight.
Mega Fortune also represents an in-form yard and Davy Russell stated on Monday that the going wouldn’t be a big issue to him but moving up in trip on a stiffer course would be a big help. He should confirm places with Bapaume from last time out and prove best of the Irish. Landofhopeandglory will appreciate this better ground but Mega Fortune looks a stronger stayer to me and will be ridden to ensure that this is a stamina test.
That might put some Master Blueyes who looks more of a Flat-course, speed horse and before the Adonis it should be remembered that Charli Parcs cruised all over him beating him by 8l. Dinaria Des Obeaux could hit the frame as she looks a stayer from an in-form yard receiving 7lb so can improve for this stamina test.
Randox Health County Hurdle
J P McManus has a strong hand including Winter Escape who has a fighting chance if is over whatever was ailing him when punted off the boards for the Greatwood but then disappointed (was reported to be a sick horse still some six weeks later) as he looked a real, potential class act last season.
North Hill Harvey won that Greatwood and has been kept fresh since for last season’s winning stable who also kept Superb Story off the track after he was second in the Greatwood before winning here. But don’t go ruling out Skelton’s bottom weight and novice Mohaayed either who, having finished fifth in the Irish 2000 Guineas, should appreciate this ground.
Ivanovich Gorbatov is back on good ground and to the same C/D over which he won the Triumph having run him in small-field conditions hurdles on soft ground. Luckily for his chances Arctic Fire has stood his ground or otherwise he would be carrying 11st 10lb but he’s a player off 11st 4lb with conditions in his favour for sure.
Mick Jazz’s second to Labaik in the autumn looks much better now and he has long appealed as a horse to win a big handicap hurdle. Clearly he is another with a leading chance with the Elliott yard going so well who also run Tell Us More.
Diego Du Charmil has the right kind of profile being a 5yo rated in the 130s and, moreover, won at the Festival last season and represents Paul Nicholls who has won the race three times. He was also impressive on decent ground when winning the Scottish Triumph Hurdle last time out.
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
The Irish banker of the week for many is Death Duty and those who have a bigger price than the current 2/1 are sitting pretty, especially with the yard in such brilliant form. He looked like beating Augusta Kate when the mare was upsides but fell at the final flight given the way he was ridden out and ran right through the line. The niggle at the price with Death Duty is that the class act of the Albert Bartlett often gets outstayed by a grinder and he is moving up in trip.
It is interesting that Monalee’s connections want to take on Death Duty again when they could have dodged him by running in the Neptune. The reason being they expect to see a better model that the one that finished second to the favourite at Navan before Christmas over this longer trip which they expect to suit him and also better ground in line with his breeding.
The World’s End’s odds have been nibbled away at in the last fortnight and staying is unquestionably the name of the game with him having won the Prestige Novices’ Hurdle in a similar fashion to Brindisi Breeze who then won this race and his stable have witnessed their horses run well here this week.
Wholestone is a second-season novice like 6 of the 12 winners and has been winning the right races at Cheltenham but there is a doubt over the quality of his hurdling.
Timico Gold Cup
Cue Card will be an exceptionally popular winner if successful but the age stats are heavily against him, the stable form is a bit of a worry and the is question over whether he had too hard a race in his prep at Ascot as he and Royal Regatta got racing from some way out and he pulled up quickly after passing the line.
The stable form therefore also has to be slight concern with Native River but he’s the progressive second-season of the race (won 13 of the last 27 runnings) having won the Hennessy, Welsh National and Denman Chase.
Given the doubts over the Tizzard stable form and with Mullins and Walsh firing in a four-timer yesterday, the dual runner-up Djakadam is likely to be sent off favourite, especially with his trainer talking up his ideal preparation unlike last season when second to Don Cossack and there is no horse like last year’s winner in this line up.
The stable form will encourage the Lexus winner Outlander’s supporters but he’s not a certainty to stay and that’s also the concern with Sizing John who won a steadily-run Irish Gold Cup. They are second-season chasers as are Minella Rocco and Bristol De Mai but the first named has fallen on his last two starts and the latter is only a six-year-old coming off a disappointing run.
Aidan Coleman replaces the injured Mark Walsh on More Of That and the vibes are that the Jonjo O’Neill yard think that they have him back following all his physical problems. If they have, the former Stayers’ Hurdle has the latent talent to go close.
St James’s Place Foxhunters’ Chase
On The Fringe won his second Foxhunters’ last season despite not an ideal preparation and not the strongest of gallops so they finished in a heap but it’s all gone swimmingly this year and he looks a rock solid favourite in his bid to become the first ever three-time winner of the race.
Of others towards the head of the market there are doubts whether Wonderful Charm will really want it under pressure, if Pacha Du Polder will stay in a truly-run race (was steadily run when he was a close-up fifth last year) and whether the dual third Paint The Clouds’ best chance has gone. Ask The Weatherman fits the profile as best of the up-and-coming brigade in this race and also respect Black Thunder who disappointed las time out but has claims on his handicap chase form.
Grand Vision has twice placed at the Festival and has cheekpieces re-applied for the first time in two years so has each-way claims.
Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle
No Comment’s form received a boost when the runner-up to him on his last start won the EBF Final and he is now favourite.
Battleford was second in last season’s Champion Bumper and has a similar profile this season to Sir Des Champs the year he won it for the same stable. Mullins has won three renewals of this relatively new race and has done especially well with his novices. His second to Monalee last time out might look a whole lot better after the Albert Bartlett has been run.
Mullins also runs Castello Sforza who was just behind Battleford in fourth in the Champion Bumper and has finished second in three maiden hurdles since and now has his handicap debut.
Runfordave has been switched to this race by Gordon Elliott after the favourite, The Storyteller, for the same owner met with a setback and they were looking at the Neptune with him so he is clearly also thought a lot of.
Having not been declared for the EBF Final it would appear that Nicky Henderson’s novice, Rather Be, s waited for this prize. Ninth in the Champion Bumper last season, he then won a couple of small novice hurdles before narrowly failing to give 9lb including a jockeys’ allowance to the Triumph-bound Coeur De Lion over 2m. Judged by the way that he battled up the Sandown hill, he could improve for the step back up to 2m4f, the trip over which he won at Huntingdon.
Johnny Henderson Grand Annual
Dandridge is 6lb higher than when r/u up last year (made an early mistake and two others later on) and has been laid out for the race ever since and caught the eye in his prep race over hurdles, which was the same handicap hurdle in which Moore ran Tiger Cry before he won this race.
In addition to Moore who has had two winners and two seconds in this race in the not-so-distant past, Paul Nicholls also has a superb record with three winners and he could have run Le Prezien in a few races this week, or rather J P McManus who also has a cracking record in this race and especially with novices could have, so no surprise he is favourite.
Rock The World was third last year and is just 1lb higher having had a wind op and been kept fresh for this race so he’s another with obvious claims and the Irish have been mopping up the handicaps this week. Horses to have run in the Grand Annual before have a good record and another Irish raider in Velvet Maker returns to this race having finished 12th last year behind Solar Impulse. A number of those Grand Annual winners ran worse than in the same race 12 months earlier.
Sticking with the Irish and many can also see a fast-run 2m suiting The Game Changer’s running style for the in-form Gordon Elliott and he has been kept back from winter ground for the last three months.
Upsilon Bleu is an idea of the big priced outsider to consider having returned to form at Doncaster in January beating Double Ws who ran well in the novices’ handicap chase and the ground has come in his favour.
One week to go. The look ahead:
“After Master Blueyes had dotted up in the Adonis Hurdle, his trainer then commented that it would be likely that Coeur De Lion will switch to the Fred Winter. However, after some thought Alan King has had a u-turn and it now looks like he will be double handed in the Triumph with both representing the stable in their bid to win the race for a third time after Penzance and Katchit. On his 1¼l second to Defi Du Seuil in December, Coeur De Lion is more than entitled to take his chance.
Merie Devie is set to join Bapaume for Willie Mullins and the stable’s Dandy Mag is also likely to run as the owners are keen to have a crack. Mullins felt that Merie Devie probably wasn’t fit enough ahead of the Spring Juvenile Hurdle (and said that Walsh wanted to ride her but he pushed him in favour of Bapaume) so he will be much harder on her in the run up to the Triumph.
Still, the Irish horse to beat is Mega Fortune who beat Bapaume last month aided by first-time headgear, more positive tactics and softer ground. The ground might not be in his favour at Cheltenham but he is all stamina so that could be offset by a more galloping track and an extra furlong.
Leading the home defence is Defi Du Seuil who is 3-3 at Cheltenham this season and who also won a Grade 1 at Chepstow over Christmas. His owner could also run Charli Parcs who fell two out in the Adonis after he had come back on the bridle after looking tapped for toe. He is trained by Nicky Henderson would also has Soldier In Action in the mix as he guns for a sixth win in the race.”
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
“Willie Mullins commented that he feels Augusta Kate could do with a longer trip and is not frightened to take Death Duty on again so it’s looking like a rematch from when she fell at the final flight when upsides Gordon Elliott’s charge in the Grade 1 over 2m4f at Naas in January.
For many punters though, Death Duty will be their Festival Banker having run up a sequence in Ireland in great style with his head bowed low in honest fashion and running all the way through the line. His trainer expects him to improve again on this first step up to 3m.
As such, Bacardys for the Mullins stable very much looks like heading to the Neptune instead, which looked the obvious race for him after he stayed on strongly to win the Deloitte over 2m2f. Mullins’ second-best hope looks to be Penhill who will be better on better ground according to his trainer. He is an ex-Flat horse though and they tend to struggle in this out-and-out stamina test.
Nigel Twiston-Davies was bullish about Wholestone’s chances as you would expect at his media day last week and he fits plenty of the main trends for this race. He and West Approach, who he has beaten twice this season, head the home challenge according to the betting but also save some time for The World’s End and Willoughby Court, if this turns into a real gruelling contest as both look all stamina which has regularly outweighed class in this race.”
“No Thistlecrack, Don Cossack, Coneygree, Vautour or Many Clouds so it’s not an up-to-scratch renewal but it’s very open and will still take some winning.
Djakadam schooled nicely at Leopardstown on Sunday and, last week at his media day, Willie Mullins was very bullish arguing that he had enjoyed the perfect preparation this season unlike before he was runner-up to Don Cossack last year. He has finished runner-up for the last two years but should now be in his prime at the age of eight and has a solid chance of giving Mullins his first Gold Cup having saddled as many as six runners-up.
Cue Card looked like finishing ahead of Djakadam until falling three out in last season’s Gold Cup but has his best chance now gone at the age of 11? The last winner aged over ten was back in 1969.
Second-season chasers have won 13 of the last 27 runnings from much only around 20% representation so that brings in Native River, Outlander, Sizing John, More Of That, Bristol De Mai and Minella Rocco, though many will find the latter-named hard to back off consecutive incompletions. Some will also find it hard to back Bristol De Mai as only one six-year-old has won since 1963.
Outlander beat Don Poli and Djakadam in the Lexus and, as that pair finished in the places in last season’s Gold Cup, he has obvious claims if he stays, and that’s the slight niggle with him. Stamina is the least of Native River’s supporters’ worries though having won the Hennessy, Welsh Grand National and Denman Chase (none of which are Grade 1s so there is a class question mark with him) but potential lack of stamina is the main concern with regards to Sizing John who bids to become the first Irish Gold Cup winner to double here since Imperial Call 21 years ago.
Decent ground would be in favour of More Of That given his wind operations and he looked likely to have gone close in the Irish Gold Cup but for that last-fence exit and he should appreciate and extra 2½f at Cheltenham.”