It was a day for the Irish and Davy Russell in particularly as the jockey rode a treble, which included Balko Des Flos lowering the colours of Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair Chase.
His other winners came with the exciting The Storyteller in the Stable Plate but his day started in the second race when guiding Delta Work to victory.
The day started with a well-backed Shattered Love get the better of Terrefort for Jack Kennedy and Gordon Elliott in the JLT Novices Chase.
The championship race of the day went the way of Willie Mullins, as Paul Townend steered last year’s Albert Bartlett winner Penhill to his second Festival win.
There was a British trained winner on the day but it didn’t come until the final race of the day – the Kim Muir – with a game and gutsy Missed Approach making all before holding off the late attentions of favourite Mall Dini.
Friday is the big day with the blue riband event – the Gold Cup.
13:30 – Triumph Hurdle
Nicky Henderson has won this race three times in the last ten years and Barry Geraghty has partnered that trio of winners.
That potent pair team up with the unbeaten Apple’s Shakira who has done all her British winning around here since her move from France.
So far, she’s been relatively untroubled in her three wins, with two of them coming in Grade 2 races. She handles conditions, jumps slickly and will stay well up the hill.
Stormy Ireland won easily on Irish debut but didn’t beat a lot in that victory. This is much tougher but she comes from a top yard, who we’ve seen land the two Mares’ races at the Festival.
With her having just one start in Ireland she’s a bit of an unknown quantity still yet she falls into a negative trend. When running on the Flat in France her longest trip was 1m2f, which is shorter than the trend suggests.
Stablemate Mr Adjudicator is going somewhat under the radar after making an unbeaten start (2-2) over hurdles and his last outing came in the Grade 1 Juvenile Hurdle when keeping on well showing a likeable attitude.
He has Grade 1 winning form, was rated over 80 on the Flat and raced over 1m4f on the Flat, so there are a few ticks in the trends boxes for this son of Camacho.
He beat Farclas at Leopardstown on the last day and given how the Gigginstown silks have been carried to win after win this week he will be backed, especially with being a Gordon Elliott runner.
He wears a first-time tongue-tie and has made a satisfactory start to life over hurdles having placed in a Grade 1 and a Grade 2. He won a 1m4f handicap in France on good ground but has seemingly handled the Irish conditions.
Redicean has done nothing wrong for Alan King and is 3-3 over hurdles with all those wins coming at Kempton.
This is a different type of test but he was very impressive in the Adonis Juvenile hurdle last time with the way he put the race to bed quite quickly and he ran strongly through the line.
Apple’s Shakira is the one that sets a good standard with her course form but at the prices, I’m taking a chance with Mr Adjudicator to give Mullins another winner.
Mr Adjudicator e/w – 8/1
14:10 – County Hurdle
A right tricky puzzle to solve and last year Arctic Fire broke all trends when winning this off top weight as an eight-year-old but they still are a useful tool to narrow the field down.
Spiritofthegames is one that I want to be siding with despite how some of Dan Skelton’s have been running.
This six-year-old holds his best form over 2m3f and I reckon with this being an end-to-end gallop that it’ll suit him and we should get a strong finishing effort from him.
The son of Darsi was third in the Betfair Hurdle behind Kalashnikov, who we saw finish second in the Supreme. That was a good run and with testing ground plus a strong gallop, things could pan out nicely for him to make his presence felt.
Smaoineamh Alainn has won all three starts since joining the Robert Walford yard with the latest coming over this track and trip. The mare has been put up 8lb for her two lengths success here in December when looking like a well-treated type with the way she finished that race. She makes the shortlist.
Duca De Thaix will be one for the Gordon Elliott backers given he fits the usual profile for the winner of this race.
The five-year-old sneaks into this carrying 10st 8lb off a mark of 136. He won a Grade 3 on his penultimate start on heavy ground at Limerick before finishing down the field in another Grade 3 won by Sandsend.
Elliott’s handicap debutant wears a first-time tongue-tie and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him going in here.
Stablemate Brelade is of interest off a mark of 141 now returning to hurdling after a spell chasing when he was racing against the likes of Arkle winner Footpad and Arkle runner Petit Mouchoir.
This son of Presenting is a big price but has some good hurdling form as a novice in graded races, so could be one to consider.
Flying Tiger won the Fred Winter and more often than not he gives his running, so the consistent type can’t be ruled out off a mark that may not be beyond him.
Of the Mullins lot, Whiskey Sour would appeal most on the back of his fourth in the Deloitte Hurdle when behind superstar Samcro, Duc Des Genievres and Paloma Blue.
That race has a good form standard and he did well to hold fourth given the mistake he made. If polishing up in that department off this gallop, he could be well poised to challenge.
Spiritofthegame – 20/1
Whiskey Sour – 14/1
14:50 – Albert Bartlett
Santini is an exciting prospect for Nicky Henderson, who has a strong hand in this field.
This son of Milan made it two wins out of two when winning a Grade 2 around here in January. That form looks good with Black Op finishing second in the Ballymore on Wednesday.
He stepping up in trip here but that should bring out more from him after he won a point-to-point by 15 lengths this time last year, however, this is a race where experience counts, so just the two runs over hurdles might put a few off despite his encouraging signs.
One of his stablemates Chef Des Obeaux has that bit more experience having already won twice over this trip, including in horrible conditions at Haydock in the Prestige Novices’ Hurdle.
He was beaten by Santini at Newbury over 2m4f but this trip is more to his liking and having those extra few runs under his belt means he’s more streetwise, so looks to be the one to side with.
Chris’s Dream hacked up in a Grade 3 at Clonmel on heavy ground last month but the strength of that form may be taken with a pinch of salt with how the favourite struggled in conditions and the fact the second horse was a 100/1 shot.
Two at bigger prices that could do something are Mr Whipped and Paisley Park. These two clashed in the Grade 2 Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick with the former coming out on top for Nicky Henderson.
He may have been idling at Warwick in the closing stages but was slightly disappointing at Musselburgh when looking one-paced.
If Paisley Park brushes up on his jumping then he isn’t without a chance. He was untidy a few times at Warwick but did shape like further would suit. He followed that up with a second at Doncaster last time when beaten by Gowiththeflow, who ran well for a long way in the Ballymore on Wednesday.
Emma Lavelle has put the visor on this son of Oscar and if that gets him to concentrate, so he’s more focused on his jumping then he wouldn’t be without claims at around 33/1.
Chef Des Obeaux – 11/2
15:30 – Gold Cup
This could prove to be an excellent renewal of the big race with the headstrong Might Bite well fancied after adding the King George on Boxing Day to his growing list of Grade 1 wins.
He won the RSA Chase at last year’s Festival, so has the course form but Nico de Boinville will be sure keep him from hitting the front too soon given his nature to wander and ideal when in the lead.
The son of Scorpion has been exemplary over fences since his fall in the Kauto Star Novices Chase back in 2016 and he has the gears for this but there is a slight concern about him on this ground.
Native River has been prepped for this race after just one run coming at Newbury when easily winning the Denman Chase against just two rivals.
He won’t mind the ground and stays having finished third last year plus he was second in the four-miler. That said I feel he’s slightly more effective on flatter tracks, so he is one that could run well without winning.
There has been support for Our Duke after Presenting Percy’s win with this eight-year-old defeating him in the Red Mills Chase last year.
Jessica Harrington’s charge missed last year with an injury but has looked good and will stay the trip but once again he can make a few jumping mistakes, which has to be a concern.
A few to rule out would be American, who has to prove himself at this level, plus stable form a worry, Total Recall is targeting the Grand National, so don’t expect him to be too hard ridden if without a chance of winning and there’s Bachasson, who remains unexposed but his jumping has been a bit sketchy and with the speed they run in these races that could be his undoing.
Edwulf is the miracle horse and he won the Irish Gold Cup given a peach of a ride by Derek O’Connor, who retains the ride. Everything points to him running well but will he be suited by Cheltenham?
Killultagh Vic fell at the last in the Iris Gold Cup when in contention and who knows what might have been the result if he remains upright. That was his third run over 3m with the previous two seeing him win.
He’s unexposed and the one that could have more to offer given how lightly raced he’s been. Despite being a nine-year-old he has only had five chase starts but could be worth taking a chance on.
Definitly Red has won a couple of Grade 2 races on his last two outings, including the Cotswold Chase, which he won very well with everything pointing to a big run here.
The only thing he’s yet to do is prove it at the very top level and this is his chance to do that. He has plenty of appeal given the way he stays on testing ground, so there will be plenty of each-way appeal for him.
I think one of the seven-year-olds has an excellent chance in the shape of Road To Respect, who won the Grade 3 Stable Plate at the Festival last year, so brings course form with him to the table.
This son of Gamut was second in the JMWine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal in November when only headed close home by Gordon Elliott’s Outlander but he followed that up by winning the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown when responding well under pressure to reverse that form from the Down Royal race.
Balko Des Flos second in that Leopardstown Grade 1 and we saw him bolt up in the Ryanair Chase yesterday, so that form does look good with that in the book. He wouldn’t want any more rain but there is enough to suggest this progressive type could take another step forward to claim top honours.
Road To Respect e/w – 12/1
16:10 – Foxhunters Challenge Cup
Hunter Chases are exactly my forte but I’ve backed a couple of places here in recent years, so here goes.
Burning Ambition has top amateur Jamie Codd in the saddle and strong form claims after his second to Gilgamboa in a Hunter Chase at Punchestown. More rain wouldn’t inconvenience him given his form on heavy ground and he could have more progress to make as he’s just seven-years-old.
Wonderful Charm nearly won this race last year when he swooped late but was just too late on the scene. Sam Waley-Cohen takes over in the saddle and that’s not a bad booking. He has only had one run this season with that coming last month at Musselburgh then he’s had the ideal prep to blow the cobwebs away.
Foxrock is 4-4 in Hunter Chases and has been winning well in this sphere since being switched to it. He was 162 rated at the peak of his powers, so has that touch of class about him however he hasn’t fired at Cheltenham in the past, so running him around here would be a concern.
Virak has looked much more suited by this test since entering Hunter Chases. He’s 2-2 and looked like he’s interested in the game again after losing his way in handicap chases. He was once second in the Grade 2 Peter Marsh Chase, so has ability.
Pacha Du Polder won this race 12 months ago under Bryony Frost, so it’s a slight negative this gelding doesn’t have her assistance. He made a disappointing reappearance when a beaten favourite at Doncaster last month, so despite having C&D form I’d swerve him.
Barrel Of Laughs was 100/1 in this last year and outran those odds by finishing third. He came home well despite looking outpaced at crucial times that day and considering how wide he went it was a big effort. He came back here and won the Gold Cup Hunters’ Chase despite idling close home. The 12-year-old arrives here having won a point-to-point last month so enters considerations.
Wonderful Charm e/w – 7/1
Barrel Of Laughs e/w – 25/1
16:50 – Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle
Get the darts back out! Another tricky puzzle to solve and I’m throwing three darts at it starting with Blow By Blow who is one of many for Gordon Elliott.
This seven-year-old is lumbered with top weight but that comes after he got his act together in a Grade 3 Novice Hurdle at Thurles last time out. He was highly regarded by Willie Mullins and won a Grade 1 Bumper for him in his early days before the ownership fallout that saw him switch to Elliott.
Given he’s won graded races in the past then he could be slightly better than some of these handicappers. This son of Robin Des Champs has had five starts over hurdles with just one disappointing run where a mistake cost him his chance.
Elliott trained a Gigginstown winner in this last year with Champagne Classic and is the race he can plot one for. This seven-year-old won’t have been plotted given he’s shown himself to the handicapper but he can’t be discounted with his graded form.
I know I’ve said the form of Harry Fry’s string concerns me but I’d take a chance on Melrose Boy who was pulled out of a Grade 3 race at Sandown six-days ago, so connections clearly have earmarked this race as the target.
His last run saw him finish third in a Grade 3 Handicap Hurdle behind the 150-rated Topofthegame, who finished second in the Coral Cup, so the fact that he went within three lengths of him and is running off 137 here could somewhat underestimate him.
Kieron Edgar rode him to victory over 2m5f around here in November and he won that easily despite a jumping error at the last. He has course form, conditions are fine and he's on a good mark, so everything makes him an attractive price.
The third of my picks is a bit of a flyer with Brillare Momento for local trainer Martin Keighley. This seven-year-old has won twice around here, including a Listed race as a novice.
This mare also won over course and distance back in October, so won’t have any issues with the track.
She won last time out at Towcester beating Red Indian, who was an eye-catching fast finisher for a never nearer sixth in the Coral Cup. Harry Stock was on-board that day and is again here claiming 3lb taking her down to 136.
The cheekpieces will hopefully sharpen her up, so with course form and a trainer that can prime them for a run here then she has to enter calculations.
Flawless Escape will be backed because of his third at Leopardstown behind the very well handicapped Total Recall. He wasn’t beaten by far that day and drops back in trip here, so will have plenty of fans.
Stablemate Sire Du Berlais has only had one run this season and that came 20-days ago when second at Fairyhouse. That will have sharpened him up, so don’t be surprised to see this son of Poliglote run a big race.
Diese Des Bieffes would have been a candidate but the ground may have gone against this grey. He has some good form after finishing fifth in the Lanzarote last time out and he has the assistance of James Bowen.
Blow By Blow – 12/1
Melrose Boy – 18/1
Brillare Momento – 33/1
17:30 – Grand Annual
The usual Grand Annual finishes the Festival on what is likely to be a bookies day because this isn’t easy for the punter either.
Rock The World was second two years ago before going one better last time for Jessica Harrington.
JP McManus has brought the horse with this race in mind and more often than not runs his races around here, however, the ground may have just gone against him, especially if there is more rain.
The Game Changer could be one that Gordon Elliott has targeted at this race. He’s had a wind operation since finishing seventh of ten at Fairyhouse, which has seen him drop 2lb in the weights.
He’s had a quiet time but has won off higher marks, so if returning to somewhere near his best can’t be discounted.
North Hill Harvey was a joy to watch on his chase debut when winning over the fences on the Old Course. He was well beaten by Saint Calvados in the Arkle, which was disappointing but with cheekpieces on he could show his true ability.
Vaniteux looks laid out for the race after having wind surgery following his second in the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase. That was just a four-runner race but was his best effort for the David Pipe yard. He’s now 2lb lower than his last winning mark, so could come back to form if his issues have been resolved.
Paul Nicholls has a strong hand in this. Le Prezien is a tracker horse of mine but I find his finishing effort quite weak. He’s 4lb higher this time around but did run well in a handicap in October. Barry Geraghty could get the best out of him but he’s been slightly disappointing.
I’d be willing to chance Dolos, who has had just three runs over fences so far and seems to be going the right way. On his handicap debut, he was second to Gino Trial when unable to run him down in the closing stages but his jumping held up nicely and with this being a well-run race it is likely to suit.
Dolos e/w – 18/1
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