Just like that, it’s nearly over for another year. This is Gold Cup Day however, the most important of the entire jumps season.
The £600,000 feature race is due off at 3.30 but there are two more Grade 1’s to take care of before that, beginning with the Triumph Hurdle.
1.30 (Triumph Hurdle – Grade 1) – LOSSIEMOUTH
Three of the four best-fancied horses in this race are fillies and their weight allowances could be crucial. It probably doesn’t matter a whole lot to the trainer, singular, as Willie Mullins trains all four of these leading juveniles!
Zenta is the outsider of the quarter and rightly so based on what we know, while Gala Marceau was at her best to beat Lossiemouth last time but that was somewhat of a surprise.
At the weights, Bloody Destiny put in a performance stronger than that one and very easily back in January so is second choice, but the aforementioned filly Lossiemouth was so impressive as far back as December and should be a much better horse now. She gets the vote to regain the winning thread.
2.10 (County Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – PEMBROKE
Hunters Yarn (Willie Mullins) has been steadily backed to challenge Filey Bay (Emmet Mullins) for favouritism, but we rather like the look of Dan Skelton’s Pembroke.
The Skelton team know exactly how to win such races as the County Hurdle and their representative is a major improver over this sort of trip.
3.30 (Cheltenham Gold Cup – Grade 1) – BRAVEMANSGAME
Another cracker of a Cheltenham Gold Cup is upon us. Minella Indo is back for another crack, while Stattler, Conflated and Sounds Russian may be popular with some each-way backers.
Better off on our books are Ahoy Senor and Noble Yeats, first and third in the Cotswold Chase here on Trials Day. It’s unsure how much more there is to come from the pair but that is solid form.
Galopin Des Champ is the short(ish) priced favourite and has been since winning at Fairyhouse last April. Since then, he’s added two more easy wins and he would be easily unbeaten in chases but for an unlucky fall when well clear at the festival last year.
He is a brilliant chaser, there’s no doubt about that, but this is also the best company he’s ever found himself in and there isn’t much value in backing him.
A good form line is November’s Betfair Chase in which Protektorat was excellent. He beat A Plus Tard there, last year’s impressive Gold Cup winner, and both are in this line up.
A Plus Tard has been freshened up and should be better now, but winning back-to-back Gold Cups is notoriously difficult.
Protektorat was behind Ahoy Senor and Noble Yeats in the Cotswold but he is far better than that and was perhaps not 100% tuned up that day. He was also third in the Gold Cup last year and would have been much closer but for a final fence blunder.
Among the main candidates, that leaves us with Paul Nicholls’ Bravemansgame and he is the one we think has the most quality.
Even as a novice hurdler, his trainer told us that he was very much the real deal and this from a man who trained Kauto Star and Denman.
As a chaser he has some very reliable and classy form to advertise his claims. On his third start as a novice, he was seven lengths and around 10lbs better than Ahoy Senor.
This season he began in imperious fashion when winning the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby before producing a demolition job in the King George Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
He is ready to put in the performance of his life so far in this, that from a horse who on current ability already has a big shout. Harry Cobden rides.
4.10 (Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase – Class 2) – FAMOUS CLERMONT
This is a difficult race for many punters as the form lines are not as solid, or even known, as many others during the festival. In fact, as it comes after the Gold Cup, it’s the signal for many people to leave or to hit the bar.
Not that many people like to even see big-time trainers even involved in this race, we do have a mix of names involved.
Our big three are Billaway, last year’s winner trained by master Willie Mullins, Famous Clermont trained by Chris Barber in Dorset, and Ireland’s Vaucelet trained by David Christie.
Chris Barber’s grandfather in fact trained four winners of this race when it was known as the Foxhunter. He has got his Famous Clermont to the point that he is the leading point-to-point horse in the country and he is good value to hold off the Irish challenge.
4.50 (Mares’ Chase – Grade 2) – ALLEGORIE DE VASSY
The Mares’ Chase is a somewhat controversial race, only on the schedule since 2021 and won both times by Willie Mullins.
Three of the big four in this are quite close on recent form. Magic Daze (Henry De Bromhead), Impervious (Colm Murphy) and Jeremys Flame (Gavin Cromwell) will all have their supporters, with Impervious the best of that small bunch according the odds.
In fact, Impervious could challenge Willie Mullins’ Allegorie De Vassy for favouritism which we think is a tad strange.
At the weights, Allegorie De Vassy has already put in a performance to match or better what the others have achieved, though she did it on only her second chase start and very easily indeed.
There is a ton of improvement still to come from her, of that there is no doubt, and it’s a slight surprise to use to see that she’s not odds-on for this race, especially given who the trainer is. Paul Townend rides.
5.30 (Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – IROKO
With a few non-runners announced there are 21 due to line up for finale, a chance for the conditions jockeys to shine in the Martin Pipe.
An extended 2½ miles is the trip with a perfect profile for the race according to most results since the race began in 2009, Iroko is fancied score.
Representing owner JP McManus, trainers Oliver Greenall and Josh Guerriero and rider Caoilin Quinn, Iroko is an improving type who may get the better of Haxo and Irish Hill.
That’s all for another Festival folks! We’ll be back for the April Meeting in five weeks’ time.