It’s a fittingly brilliant card on Friday to end the Festival, the Gold Cup being the obvious highlight at 3.30 and we have a great value selection for the big one who should confirm today that he is the real deal.
1.30 (JCB Triumph Hurdle – Grade 1) – SIR ERIC
Joseph O’Brien once more holds a strong hand in the opening race, his Gardens Of Babylon making the shortlist for this at a very pleasing each-way price but really they should all be chasing home Sir Eric.
His standout run was last time when he took a Grade 1 easily, and while that was on a flatter track and on good ground, we don’t have to go back too far to find him staying on well over 2 miles at Ascot on soft ground on the flat behind none other than Stradivarius so if anything he’ll relish this and should put in a huge performance.
2.10 (County Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – CROOKS PEAK
Given that he beat Danny Kirwan when giving him 6lbs before that horse went on to run a great second to Angel’s Breath, now rated 150, this Crook’s Peak looks potentially very well handicapped for this and he has been progressing nicely between races.
Willie Mullins has a terrific recent record in this race also and his Whiskey Sour is our next best, though it looks as though his price may be a little skinny come race time.
2.50 (Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – DINONS
Gordon Elliott could be on for a very good afternoon on the final day of the festival and this Dinons has an outstanding chance of landing the Albert Bartlett.
Off the track since November after a poor run at Navan, he will have improved some since then giving the passing of time and before all that he was showing an aptitude for a trip and for softer going which means he should handle conditions just fine.
He gets the nod at a big price ahead of Birchdale for JP McManus and Nicky Henderson while Philip Dempsey’s Derrinross may also make his presence felt.
3.30 (Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase – Grade 1) – CLAN DES OBEAUX
This is a fantastic renewal on paper, highly competitive and full of quality. We could mention even more horses, but beginning with Kemboy there are a number in contention and this chap jumped extremely well back in December when taking the Grade 1 Savills Chase.
He has been put away for this and can improve again, whether Cheltenham is his forte though remains to be seen. Ruby Walsh has instead chosen to ride Bellshill and he is finally becoming the horse Willie Mullins knew he could be after battling to an Irish Gold Cup win February.
He’ll be even better this time and is a great each-way shout, though whether even now he is a true top notch Gold Cup horse is open to doubt.
Presenting Percy has been favourite for this for some time after his impressive RSA win at last year’s festival. He’s undoubtedly good, but his extreme wrapping in cotton wool and his one race over hurdles since may not work to his advantage though as this race requires a horse to be battle-hardened and not just classy.
That brings Thistlecrack into things after his good second in the King George back in December. Some say this test will suit more, but arguably both of his two highlight runs over fences have come at Kempton and as an 11-year-old now we can’t be confident he’ll take the step or two forward needed to land this race.
Last year’s winner Native River will have welcomed the rain and he has to be our second best here, but despite conditions being reasonably in his favour it may not be as testing as last year and you could debate that he went into last year’s renewal in slightly better form although he wasn’t ideally suited by Haydock and Kempton this season.
The one who seems to have everything now that he has fully matured is Paul Nicholls’ Clan Des Obeaux though and he is the definite selection for the Gold Cup.
Previous seconds in the Dipper and the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, as well as his effortless staying performance at Ascot in advance of this race point to the fact that neither underfoot conditions or the track will be of any hindrance, while he has easily the best recent form on offer after a stunning display to take a good King George on Boxing Day.
When there are many contenders for a big race, it’s so seldom the case that they are all top notch so while it’s a competitive field and he will have many comers to beat off, he is the standout right now and should be able to confirm his current superiority in this division with a big win under Harry Cobden.
4.10 (Foxhunter Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase) – HAZEL HILL
Philip Rowley’s 11yo has remarkable form figures and has been improving while doing things ever so easily. He should have no trouble getting around here under Alex Edwards and is liable to have too much for challengers Stand Up And Fight and Ucello Conti.
4.50 (Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – MAGIC SAINT
If we’re right then Paul Nicholls will have already had a fantastic Friday by the time this race is run, but his Magic Saint can make it even better.
A comfortable winner last time at Wincanton, the French-bred will prefer these conditions and with higher rated horses now doing well in this race he should give a very good account of himself.
5.30 (Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle) – DALLAS DES PICTONS
Gordon Elliott has a very strong hand in the last race of this year’s festival and he should end things on a bright note. His Dallas Des Pictons has plenty in the locker and should pull out some more improvement in this, possibly at the expense of team mates Cartwright and Defi Bleu.