We have reached the final day of the Cheltenham Festival where the headline act is the Gold Cup. We have already previewed that race in its own special preview, but there is a fantastic support card at Prestbury Park on Friday.
We have two Grade 1 races away from the Gold Cup and some extremely competitive handicaps but despite the big fields we have selections in all but one race as we look to end what has been a frustrating Festival with a few winners.
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1.30 Cheltenham: Triumph Hurdle
The opener is the Triumph, a 2 mile race for the 4 year olds with a field of 13 this year.
French breds have a superb record in this as does the BHA high rated with 5 of the last 13 heading the ratings going in. Until last year’s shock 20/1 winner Pentland Hills, it had paid to stick with the market leaders and it’s worth noting that it’s a race for the boys so ignore the mares. A recent spin on the track is a prerequisite too with all of the last 10 winners having raced in the last 7 weeks.
There are only 3 French breds from the male ranks in this field with one being the rank outsider, 100/1 shot Yellow Tiger. The other 2 are actually the front 2 in the market, with the first being the favourite Goshen. He’s won all 3 hurdle starts to date in much lesser company so there are question marks over the stronger opposition. He also likes to go from the front but it’s worth noting there are at least 3 other confirmed pace pushers in this field.
The 2nd favourite is where our bet comes from in the shape of recent Adonis winner, Solo. He’s the highest rated in the field by 5lbs off the back of that run just 3 weeks ago where he ripped apart the Grade 2 field in that Kempton race. He went off favourite despite giving weight all round but just over 2 out, he sprinted clear coming home with loads in hand. There’s no better form on offer and with normal improvement, he’ll be tough to beat especially as the pace angle will suit his style perfectly.
Two of the other front runners are the next 2 in the market in Allmankind and Aspire Tower. The first named is 3 from 3 and looks a real talent but I’m worried by the strong hold he takes in his races whilst Aspire Tower was 2 from 2 before falling at the last when in with a shout of winning a Grade 1 last time out. That race was won by A Wave Of The Sea with Cerberus not far back in 3rd and it’s those 2 I think could run into a place at bigger odds.
Back Solo (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 5.00 Betfair Sportsbook BOG (⅕ odds 1-4)
Back it here:
2.10 Cheltenham: County Handicap Hurdle
On the face of it, this is a minefield. A handicap hurdle run over 2 miles with 25 in what is a final day cavalry charge. Without doubt the best trial for this is the Ladbroke at Leopardstown with 5 of the last 8 Irish winners of this race having raced in that. It’s the Irish we should focus on here as they provide 7 of the front 10 in the market which covers all runners under 20/1.
They are plenty in with chances, none more so that previous winner Mohaayed, not least because he’s the sole runner from the Skelton yard who has provided 3 of the last 4 winners of this race. He’s been laid out for the race and should go well again.
However, I can’t get away from 2 of the well fancied Willie Mullins runners and they form our bets in this. The first is Aramon who was 6th in the Supreme Novices Hurdle here at last year’s Festival. He travelled well into contention that day but I feel was beaten by the ground. He’s only been seen twice the season, the first of which can be ignored as Mullins’ runners have needed their first start back. It’s his last run that appeals so much where he was 5th in the Irish Champion Hurdle, just 8 lengths behind Honeysuckle who won here on Tuesday. The winner (who received 5lbs) is rated 158 whilst the other horses to finish ahead of him were Darver Star, 2nd in the Champion Hurdle & rated 158, Petit Mouchoir rated 158 & Supasundae 160. He also finished 2 lengths in front of Sharjah who’s rated 163. Our selection is racing off just 149 so looks very well handicapped. He also likes to be held up which in a race of this nature, is a big plus.
The second selection is Ciel De Neige who also ran at the Festival last year when 3rd in the Boodles. He’s still winless after failing to get his head in front in 3 starts this season but it’s hard to overlook his run last time out when 2nd in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. He travelled well and led over the last before being collared late on despite staying on all the way to the line. A rise of 4lbs could underestimate his chances and today might be the day he finally gets what’s owed.
PLACED – Back Aramon (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 8.00 Skybet BOG (⅕ odds 1-6)
Back Ciel De Neige (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 8.00 Betway BOG (⅕ odds 1-6)
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2.50 Cheltenham: Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle
19 runners line up for this stamina sapping 3 mile hurdle for novices. Course form is a huge plus but, of more importance is a guaranteed stayer so we’re looking for a horse that’s been over the trip before. There are shocks aplenty with the last 6 winners all starting at double figures including a 50/1 and two 33/1 winners in that time. Of those 6, 4 had won at least 3 races in the current season.
Latest Exhibition is the favourite and did win a Grade 2 but this is his first step beyond 2 miles 6 furlongs. Another stepping up in distance is Thyme Hill, the leading UK hope, who has won all 3 starts over hurdles including a key trial for this, the Hyde back in November.
But, in a bid to continue the theme of upsets, I’m taking a punt on Redford Road at a massive price. His record this term reads 3 wins and a second from 5 starts and he also won a key trial, the Bristol, over course & distance. Last time, he was only 5th of 6 but was sent off favourite, gave 5lbs to the field and had to make the running over too sharp a trip which evidently didn’t suit. He was still only beaten 8 lengths at the line. Half of the last 6 winners had a break of at least 2 months before this race and our selection is one of only 4 to have been off that long. With the longer trip in his favour, he might just upset the odds at a huge price.
Back Redford Road (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 34.00 Betfair Sportsbook BOG (⅕ odds 1-4)
Back it here:
4.50 Cheltenham: Grand Annual Handicap Chase
This is always a rough race with the maximum field size now cut to 20 for this 2 mile handicap chase. We are looking for a lightly raced chaser and, surprisingly, one who has failed to get its head in front during the current campaign.
The favourite is from the Paul Nicholls yard in the shape of Greaneteen. He’s won all his chase starts and could be special but he races freely and this big field & an ever rising mark would be a definite worry for this generally 4/1 shot.
On the face of it, the next 3 in the market all have claims but fail on a key trend of having won in the current season so have shown their hand. This rules out Chosen Mate, Lisp and Eclair De Beaufeu but it is the race that the latter named won that provides the starting point for our bet in the race.
Paloma Blue was 2nd behind Eclair De Beaufeu last time out and is expected to turn the tables here. Our selection was shorter in the betting that day and lost out by just over 2 lengths but was hampered at the last fence who put an end to his chance of winning. Not just that but he suffered quite a bit of interference all the way round and can be considered very unlucky. He’s 4lbs better off with the winner too. He’s also ran well here before, 4th behind Summerville Boy in the Supreme 2 years ago so the course holds no fears. Whilst being winless, he’s definitely improving and the one thing he’s polished up on a lot is his jumping. His improved form last time out can also be put down to the return to this trip so all in all, conditions are in his favour and he’s got a super each way chance.
Back Paloma Blue (e/w) for a 0.75/10 stake at 12.00 Coral BOG (⅕ odds 1-5)
5.30 Cheltenham: Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle
The final race of what’s been a magnificent Cheltenham and finding winners is just as difficult. Why not finish off with a 2 mile 4 furlong handicap hurdle with just the 24 runners to think about? In the 11 runnings of this, 4 have been owned by the Gigginstown Stud. In fact, they’ve won 2 of the last 3 and finished 2nd in the other, whilst 3 of the last 4 winners have carried 11st7lbs or more with the last 2 being top weight. The Irish have a super record too, saddling the first 3 home in each of the last 2 years.
Front View is the favourite from the same connections that won the race last year and he was 2nd most recently in the Grade 3 novice won by the reopposing Five O’Clock. Front View is 6lbs better off for a 6 lengths beating. His stablemate was close behind in 3rd and reopposes on the same terms at over 3 times the price. It’s hard to pick which one of the 3 will come out on top today.
Ilikedwayurthinkin was 5th in a big field handicap last time out and is back up in trip today. Despite having previously been successful at this distance, I’m not sure he’ll see it out in this bigger field and better company. Pileon is the leading UK challenger but this is much tougher than the last 2 races he’s won.
The selection is the leading Gigginstown representative in Column Of Fire. He’s from the head of the weights, just 2lbs off top weight, and has an excellent progressive profile. This season’s form reads 32F13 and he was bang in contention in the race where he fell. Field sizes ranged from 16 to 28 runners so he’s going to be right at home in this sort of event. On this last run, he was stepped up to 3 miles and was 3rd in a top handicap hurdle. Tout Est Permis was 10 lengths behind our selection in 4th (of 28) and yesterday franked the form by finishing 3rd in the Pertemps. It’s worth noting that, being a conditional jockeys race, they often go off far too quickly so it’s better to look for something coming back in trip rather than one stepping up in trip. His big field form and stamina assurances, along with his top connections, make him a certain contender to land the 28th and last race of the Festival and, most likely, the top trainer award for Gordon Elliott.
Back Column Of Fire (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 7.50 Paddy Power BOG (⅕ odds 1-6)