Taking into account that Uxizandre ran a course record in the Ryanair the ground will obviously take a fair amount but there’s a real chance of soft ground which will not suit some of the main winter performers.
1.30 Triumph Hurdle
Hargam is one of those that would not relish soft ground. He was beaten by Golden Doyen on the old course last November but came back to win over the new course in December, beating Karezak and Stars Over The Sea. I’ve made a late decision to desert him and go with Petite Parisienne (10/1), purely on the strength of his impressive Grade 1 win on yielding ground at Leopardstown. I think that he can improve on that. Peace And Co has course and distance form on soft but I think that his facile win at Doncaster has led to him being hyped. Another to take into account is ante post favourite Kalkir at 20/1.
2.05 County Hurdle
Far more of Tony Martin’s short priced favourites fail than succeed so I’m against Quick Jack (15/2). I can’t have Hawk High (25/1), Princely Conn (14/1) or The Game Changer (10/1) so I’ve decided to stick with Cheltenian (20/1). This horse has run only nine times since winning the Champion Bumper in 2011 and recent form is much improved, particularly his second in the Grade 3 Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last month. In my view that was an ideal prep.
2.40 Albert Bartlett Hurdle
As I mentioned in last week’s post I think that Value At Risk is a serious contender for this at 11/1. Black Hercules is a deserving favourite and Tea For two could run another big one but I don’t think that there is a great deal of depth in this field.
3.20 Gold Cup
There are a number of runners that I can’t have in this – Bobs Worth, Boston Bob, Carlingford Lough, Holywell and Road To Riches among them. Many Clouds will benefit from the rain and could run well. Coneygree is respected but I think it’s down to Djakadam and Silviniaco Conti (9/2). When a horse has been a short priced favourite for a long time there is a temptation to pick holes with a view to working out why he might not win. However, I believe Paul Nicholls when he says that he wasn’t at his best last year, the uncharacteristic fall the year before happened when he looked all over the likely winner and, above all, the dominant win in the King George convinced me that he is the best staying chaser in training.
4.00 Foxhunters’ Chase
I mentioned last week that there is a widely held view that Paint The Clouds (9/2), unbeaten over fences, is a class apart from the competition. Sam Waley-Cohen has ridden the horse throughout his hunter chase career and I can’t make a case for any of the others. I expect the price of this one to plunge before the off.
4.40 Conditionals’ Hurdle
It’s back to the Mullins show in this one with my preference for Killultagh Vic (11/1) ahead of the current favourite Roi Des Francs. Le Mercurey is also respected.
5.15 Grand Annual Chase
Named this year after A P McCoy and he has a realistic chance on Ned Buntline, fourth in this race last year. I think that WP Mullins will round off his best ever Cheltenham with another Ricci horse ridden by Ruby, Blood Cotil (9/1). I can see Walsh and McCoy battling up the home straight for a fitting finish to an excellent Festival.