The bookmakers were running for cover on day three of the Cheltenham Festival after all three of the card’s short-priced favourites did the business for ecstatic punters.
Vautour and Thistlecrack hit the headlines with jaw-dropping performances in the Ryanair Chase and World Hurdle, respectively. The former had been targeted towards the Gold Cup on Friday but instead recorded an exciting victory over Thursday’s 2m4f highlight.
On the fourth and final day…
13:30 – JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1):
Following an exciting victory at Leopardstown over Christmas, Ivanovich Gorbatov was all the rage for the Triumph and was backed accordingly into as short as 11/4 favourite with some bookmakers.
However, he bitterly disappointed in his next start though connections have blamed the ground for the lacklustre display – as well as some difficulties in his preparation. The better ground at Cheltenham is expected to bring out the best in him, but he is still too short at 4/1 to represent betting value.
Instead, WHO DARES WINS is preferred for trainer Alan King and is forgiven for his last start at Cheltenham. He raced keenly throughout that race and tired inside the final few stages on the heavy ground to finish fourth.
His debut over hurdles saw him stay on strongly at Ludlow before annihilating a field on his next start in bad conditions at Doncaster.
A return to better spring conditions tomorrow should see Who Dares Win perform competitively in a wide-open renewal of the Triumph Hurdle. At 10/1 he is chanced each-way.
Advice: Who Dares Wins 12/1 (Bet365)
14:10 – Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3):
It’s easy to see why Great Field and Blue Hell dominate the market for the County Hurdle. The former won with the minimum of fuss at Leopardstown last month and still an unknown quantity for red-hot trainer Willie Mullins.
Blue Hell defeated Wednesday’s Coral Cup victory Diamond King with ease at Punchestown in November, and has been saved since then with this race in mind. However, the handicapper has hammered Barry Connell’s horse, and at 9/1 he is short enough.
Wait For Me finished third in last year’s Champion Bumper and could be very well-handicapped off of 139. Philip Hobbs’ hurdler was put in his place by Buveur D’air on debut, but has since won two maiden and novice events since. His jumping is a real concern though connections claim that the trainer has worked extensively with him at home and are expecting a bold performance.
However, it is STARCHITECT that catches the eye for trainer David Pipe. Fourth in last season’s Fred Winter following a lengthy campaign, Starchitect returned from a lay-off to produce a superb performance in finishing second to Agrapart in the highly-competitive Betfair Hurdle last month.
Still lightly-raced, the five-year old could be nicely handicapped off 141 and should relish this return to better spring ground. The Pipe yard are renowned for their precise preparation in these big handicaps and will have this contender in top condition. The fast-paced nature of the race will suit Starchitect who should be doing his best worth at the death.
Advice: Starchitect 14/1 E/W (SkyBet)
14:50 – Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1):
It looked likely that Barters Hill would start a strong favourite for the Albert Bartlett following a perfect campaign that has seen Ben Pauling’s six-year old win three novice hurdle events in convincing fashion.
The son of Kalanisi is 7/7 in his career and has shown a strong ability to battle in his races. That trait, however, may see him come up short in this three mile contest as I believe you need both stamina and a good change of speed to win.
A horse that fits that profile is SHANTOU VILLAGE for Neil Mulholland who made a striking impression when winning at Cheltenham last November. That Grade Two contest was raced on ‘Good to Soft’, which clearly of convenience to the talented six-year old.
His next start in the Neptune trial on trials day saw him finish second behind Yanworth in very soft conditions. The horse did well to battle inside the home straight but was ultimately outclassed by Alan King’s inmate, and should now relish the demands of tomorrow’s Albert Bartlett.
The spring ground and three miles could see further improvement from Neil Mulholland’s horse who could have the better speed inside the closing stages to secure victory.
Advice: Shantou Village 9/2 (Betway)
15:30 – Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1):
Finally, we are here. The Cheltenham Gold Cup. The Festival’s blue-riband race and one in which looks set to be a fascinating renewal. You can make very strong claims for each of Don Cossack, Cue Card and Djakadam.
However, it is DON POLI that has been targeted for this race all season, and fits the perfect profile of a horse that meets the demands of the 3m2f championship showcase.
Last years RSA Chase winner, Don Poli has gone on to win two races at Aintree and Leopardstown, respectively, this season. He is a horse that races lazily but possesses bundles of stamina and will doing his best work at the end of the Gold Cup trip.
His victory at the Festival 12 months ago showcased his immense engine and he should relish this marathon test. The better ground is likely to bring out further improvement and the booking of masterful jockey Davy Russell is another big positive.
Expect to see Don Poli pushed along early tomorrow afternoon before staying on gamely at the finish. Russell will need to be at his brilliant best though Don Poli could just be the best stayer in the field and outstay this stellar field.
Advice: Don Poli 5/1 (William Hill)
16:10 – St James’s Palace Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup (Class 2):
All eyes will be on Victoria Pendleton as she attempts to complete an incredible challenge that was set 12 months ago in riding in the 2016 Foxhunter’s Chase. She has been remarkable this season and deserves her place in the field, which is a fantastic story for the sport of racing.
It is a race best watched, in my opinion.
Advice: No Bet
16:50 – Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (Class 2):
Gordon Elliott’s SQUOUATEUR has been all the rage for this week’s Martin Pipe, and it’s easy to see why. He won a handicap hurdle quite cosily at Fairyhouse in February in which the third-placed horse Mall Dini won Thursday’s Pertemps Final.
He wasn’t given too harsh of a time by the British handicapper and boasts a very good chance under talented young jockey Jack Kennedy. Connections believe the horse will improve for Cheltenham’s good ground, and it’s clear the horse has been laid out for a race of this nature.
Advice: Squouateur 5/1 (Bet365)
17:30 – Johnny Henderson Grand Annual (Grade 3):
The curtain closer at the Cheltenham Festival is renowned for being a ferocious race over the New Course’s two-miles. Next Sensation is the rightful favourite as he is allowed to race here from a one-pound higher mark than winning this race last season. He is likely to set off at a lethal pace and should take the beating.
However, LOUGH KENT is better than a 16/1 shot here and is Nicky Henderson’s only representative in the race. The contest is named in honour of Nicky’s father and I’m certain his contender Lough Kent has been saved for this in mind since last November.
Lough Kent looked bitterly unlucky when making a race-winning challenge at Cheltenham earlier this season. He cruised upsides the leaders as they turned for home, but made a crushing error at the third-last which saw his rider lose an iron.
The race was ultimately over for Nicky Henderson’s charge but he proved that day that he can be competitive off of his current handicap mark. At 16/1, he is worth chancing each-way for his in-form trainer.
Advice: Lough Kent 16/1 E/W (Paddy Power)