It’s Gold Cup day finally, and we think there may be heartbreak for hat-trick seeking Willie Mullins.
1.20 (Triumph Hurdle – Grade 1) – TRITONIC
It goes without saying that there is always precious little form to go on in a juvenile race such as this, but this year’s race has turned into a long-awaited dual between Alan King’s Tritonic and Zanahiyr, formerly trained by Gordon Elliott.
Now under the care of Denise Foster, Zanahiyr has looked brilliant so far in this three-race unbeaten hurdle career but hasn’t been seen since Boxing Day. He may well have improved a lot further since then and that would make him hard to beat, however it’s also difficult for us to know.
Tritonic has had just the two outings over hurdles; a very nice win at Ascot in January and a runaway win in a Grade 2 at Kempton last month.
His speed between flights has been outstanding and he is most definitely race fit, and given that there’s at least as much improvement to come from him as there is from his rival, he is the smart bet here. Quilixios also makes the shortlist.
1.55 (County Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – THYME WHITE
The County Hurdle is traditionally a huge betting race and this year’s will be no different, but with that comes a very tricky puzzle to solve!
When there is a standout horse, we would never be afraid to put it up but at the higher end of the market nothing really jumps out as particularly well handicapped and so we look instead for some value.
That value may come from Paul Nicholls’ Thyme Hill. He was midfield recently in the Betfair Hurdle, but was looking very good in that race for most of the way before tiring late on and he will definitely be fitter this time.
He gets the nod then but the challengers come from every conceivable angle, including Ganapathi, Third Time Lucki and the overpriced Strong Glance.
2.30 (Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – BARBADOS BUCK’S
This week has been mostly about the two extremes of one-sided races featuring odds-on jollies, and races that on the face of it look impossible to solve.
This one shifts almost into the latter category, with five or six major contenders all within a few pounds of each other on ratings.
Even when digging deeper, we still found at least three of them to hold almost identical chances on paper, with Barbados Buck’s, Adrimel and Alaphilippe being our favoured trio.
The first-named is the one we recommend to small stakes, with Paul Nicholls perhaps belatedly coming to the Cheltenham party courtesy of two Stewart Family-owned horses in Thyme White and now Barbados Buck’s.
This chap comes into the race on a four-timer, is improving in leaps and bounds, is a proper stayer and should cope easily with the step up to Grade 1 level.
3.05 (Cheltenham Gold Cup – Grade 1) – CHAMP
This is a fantastic renewal of National Hunt racing’s biggest and best race. Willie Mullins is looking to enter Gold Cup legend, his Al Boum Photo chasing a third win which would make him the first triple winner since Best Mate in 2004.
There’s no doubt that, having followed the same path as before, Al Boum Photo is considered to be in top form. After an impressive 2019 win, he just about got home last year ahead of Santini, who reopposes, and this is a hotter renewal for sure.
As for Santini, he doesn’t seem to be in the same nick. He does little but stay though and so in such a competitive race with potentially a fast pace, he may be staying on towards the end once again.
Even if Santini does stay on, he’ll be doing so no better than old-timer Native River. The winner of this back in 2018, Native River is 11 now but is remarkably in the form of his life and jockey Richard Johnson has been extremely bullish of late.
Royal Pagaille had various engagements this week but connections have chosen to throw him “in at the deep end”, and while he was impressive last time the bottom line is that it was still a handicap win and he’ll need to produce plenty more to be involved here.
2019 Ryanair winner Frodon stepped up to three miles to great effect when winning the King George at Kempton, but if he’s once again up with the pace in the hottest race he’s ever been involved in it is easy to envisage him being swamped late on.
A Plus Tard has promised plenty. Improvement is needed from Henry De Bromhead’s runner, but he’s been in wicked form this week and that progression may well come.
The one we like this year however is Champ. Nicky Henderson’s horse has the perfect background for this race, being the winner of last year’s RSA Chase here over three miles. He made a belated return to the track last month in the Game Spirit Chase, the two-mile trip being way too short for him and yet he put in a terrific display to finish second behind Sceau Royal.
His form is superb, he is bound to improve, and if the yard thinks Santini still has a chance then it is pertinent that this is easily their first choice with Nico de Boinville on board.
3.40 (St. James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase – Class 2) – BOB AND CO
It may yet be a great day for Paul Nicholls, his Bob And Co looking ahead of his competition in the Hunters’ Chase.
His form entitles him to hold a major chance in this race, with Willie Mullins’ Billaway, Red Indian and Hazel Hill next on the list.
4.15 (Mares’ Chase – Grade 2) – ELIMAY
Elimay has been on many a punter’s lips for a long time in the run-up to the Festival, and now she gets to prove why.
Representing Willie Mullins and JP McManus, she has the form in the bag, possesses enough speed and stamina and looks set to show us a career best. Stablemate Colreevy may provide her biggest opposition.
4.50 (Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – LANGER DAN
There has been a move for the unknown quantity that is Gentleman De Ree, but seeking a big bonus after his Imperial Cup win is Langer Dan and he has everything needed to go ahead and land it for the Skelton’s.