It’s been a wonderful week at Cheltenham, as it always is, but now it’s Gold Cup day and a chance perhaps to see another new Blue Riband winner.
1.30 (Triumph Hurdle – Grade 1) – GOSHEN
A cracking renewal of this four-year-old’s event in which Henry De Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore’s Aspire Tower is the overpriced one.
Looking every inch a Triumph Hurdle horse when winning his Grade 2 by 18 lengths at Leopardstown on Boxing Day, he was battling away and may not have won when falling last time out but that was on unsuitable ground and he will be much, much better today.
The unbeaten Allmankind has looked impressive in beating several other contenders en route to here, improving all the time, but he can be headstrong and that may not help him too much.
The solid one, and potentially an absolute monster, is another horse who’s unbeaten in three in the shape of Gary Moore’s Goshen. The style, the form and the times of his wins on soft and heavy ground stand out so with more improvement obviously to come he looks a solid bet to land the opener under Jamie Moore.
2.10 (County Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – ADJALI
26 runners with just 17lbs separating them, this is a hugely competitive affair and not one any serious punter could be 100% confident about.
That said, Nicky Henderson’s Adjali is fresh from a break and a breathing operation having underperformed on his seasonal debut back in November and a lot more is expected of him now.
On past form and with progression expected he looks very well handicapped for this and is good value to score ahead of Stolen Silver and Ciel De Neige.
2.50 (Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – THYME HILL
Earlier in the season trainer Philip Hobbs was out to prove Thyme Hill was the best novice in the country and he is about to get the chance to prove his point.
There is top-class form on show from Latest Exhibition, Monkfish and Ramses De Teillee and any of those could enter the battle, but Richard Johnson’s mount just can’t be ignored.
As well as being three from three this season and crying out for this trip, he was an admirable third in the Champion Bumper last season over in inadequate distance.
There he was just 2½ lengths behind Envoi Allen, still unbeaten and Wednesday’s Ballymore Novices’ winner, and more than 3 lengths ahead of Abacadabras who was beaten just a head in Tuesday’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
3.30 (Cheltenham Gold Cup – Grade 1) – SANTINI
Much has been said of Gold Cup winners not being able to come back and land the race for a second time, but that is simply not true and so with a similar preparation and his form not in doubt many will be banking on a repeat for 2019 hero Al Boum Photo.
He certainly has an obvious chance, however the race broke up last year with fallers and he is not guaranteed to have things open up so easily for him this time, though strictly on form he is the no.1 contender still.
Arguments have raged on social media in recent weeks about the fact that Santini should not be among the favourites as he hasn’t won a Grade 1 chase, but that simply isn’t how form works.
Regardless of what he has or hasn’t beaten or for that matter how slow he apparently is, he is the improver in this pack who is peaking at the right time and who so far has not been asked to produce his very best, until today that is.
His Cotswold Chase win puts him within about 5lbs of what is required and so with more to come from him, much more potentially, he can prove his point for trainer Nicky Henderson and does still strike us as a potential Gold Cup winner.
If putting a disappointing run behind him then Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation could have a say in the finish here given that much like Santini we have not been allowed to see the best of him yet, while former favourite for this race Presenting Percy and many people’s fancy Delta Work may only prove good enough to fight for place money.
4.10 (Foxhunter Challenge Cup) – HAZEL HILL
As an improving eight-year-old trained by Willie Mullins it has been Billaway who has been the subject of most whispers in advance of this race, but it could be argued the form of this yard hasn’t been what people expected thus far and he does need to improve a fair chunk to win.
Ahead of him is Minella Rocco for Jonjo O’Neill who comes into this on a hat-trick, but his Cheltenham form hasn’t always been the best which could leave the door open for last year’s winner Hazel Hill.
Even taking into account the fact he may be 2-3lbs worse than twelve months ago, probably just due to age, he ranks as the best in this race which makes his price seem rather generous.
4.50 (Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – LISP
As expected plenty of these are within a few pounds of each other on adjusted ratings, common for such a big handicap, but the one who could creep out of the pack and prove to be better treated than the rest is Alan King’s Lisp.
Extremely consistent this season and having taken one win on soft ground, he has been crying out for a proper race and the pace of this contest will therefore bring out the very best in him.
Gordon Elliott’s Chosen Mate is interesting as are the Paul Nicholls pair Greaneteen and Capeland.
5.30 (Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle) – THE BOSSES OSCAR
The last race of the whole festival and one final chance to get one over on the bookies! The mare Indefatigable is not out of this at a huge price while Pileon is clearly improving, but the standout contender for us is Gordon Elliott’s The Bosses Oscar and he is backed to round things off perfectly for another year.