And so, almost unbelievably, we enter the home straight of the year’s best four days of sport every season. Obviously, the Gold Cup is centre stage, not only of the day, but the whole Festival and the entire jumps season. However, for me, the curtain raiser on the day, akin to the Champion Bumper on the Wednesday evening, is something of an audition for stardom in the future.
JCB TRIUMPH HURDLE
Yes, this another absolute minefield of a race. Another where you could throw a dart at a board and land on the winner. Having said that, it’s a contest I’ve been lucky in over the years. From Tiger Roll to Our Conor to Defi Du Seuil. Now, over the years, a very simple formula has been employed by yours truly in terms of figuring out juvenile hurdles – back the representatives of Alan King!
The master of Barbury Castle generally has a plethora of 3/4 year-olds with which to go to war with. However, with his sole representative currently chalked up at 33/1, for once it will be necessary to look elsewhere. In another development that’s something of a rarity these days, the host nation appear to have the upper hand in this heat.
Principally, in the guise of the Paul Nicholls duo SOLO and SIR PSYCHO. Of the Irish, the Joseph O’Brien pair of CERBERUS and, in particular, A WAVE OF THE SEA certainly must enter the equation. However, the Henry De Bromhead-trained ASPIRE TOWER remains the most impressive youngster seen over timber this season.
The Born To Sea gelding would, I think still be unbeaten had he stood up last time at Leopardstown and, with the sense that he should have the best of his compatriots covered. That should be enough to see him run into the money, at the very least.
Another handicap, another team of McManus horses, all with chances in their own right. Nicky Henderson’s Rathill has always carried a fairly tall reputation but seldom, if ever, lived up to the billing. Of the other pair in the green and gold hoops, both based in Closutton, SAINT ROI appears to be the better fancied. However, for this observer at least, his fellow French-bred CIEL DE NEIGE makes more appeal.
Simply because, whereas the former of the double act, with respect, only won a Tramore maiden after being well beaten beforehand, the latter was only three parts of a length from winning the always competitive Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.
Outside of those mentioned, another Mullins duo, ARAMON and BUILDMEUPBUTTERCUP certainly appear capable of bettering their most recent efforts. Similar comments can apply to the Henderson-trained ADJALI while if the Martin Brassil trained YOU RAISED ME UP can repeat anything like the form of his previous run (Which has been franked by THOSEDAYSAREGONE earlier in the week) it would leave him right in contention.
ALBERT BARTLETT NOVICES HURDLE
The Mullins and Elliott yards, as you might expect, are both stocked with genuine contenders here. The one thing that’s surprising me is the current price of Rich Ricci’s AIONE, a very generous 33/1 at the time of typing. Granted, the same owner is also responsible for one of the other current leading fancies, MONKFISH but the grey has shown enough to merit more respect here.
Gordon’s FURY ROAD must also be taken into consideration in a big way. That one’s only defeat recently was to Paul Nolan’s stable star LATEST EXHIBITION. In the well known familiar colours of Jim Mernagh, the gelding by Oscar has catapulted his extremely likable trainer back into the big time.
However, here is stepping into the unknown. Not only in terms of class, they all fall into that bracket, but, dealing with the crowds and all the razzmatazz that goes along with The Festival. Obviously, again, that applies to the majority of the field also. For that reason, THYNE HILL From the Philip Hobbs stable catches my eye.
The only caveat to that assertion is the drying ground. That said, where Richard Johnson’s mount will have an advantage over his fellow competitors is course experience, having won in the shadows of Clieve Hill early in the season. Jockey and trainer will be on a retrieval mission after some high profile reversals (though not as a combination) earlier in the week and those surely represents their best opportunity.
CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP
The centre piece of not only the whole meeting but the entire season. Again, it’s a race the Irish would appear to hold the upper hand in. My reason for such a view is two fold. Firstly, obviously, because Willie Mullins has the defending champion in AL BOUM PHOTO and secondly because a lot of the home team’s top hopes are hyped up to be a lot more than they’ve ever actually achieved.
Chief among them SANTINI. The ‘party line’ always seems to be that he just does enough but I’d be more inclined to think he just doesn’t pull out enough when the heat homes come. That brings me to CLAN DES OBEAUX. Now, the Paul Nicholls trained animal is undoubtedly high class in his own right, having won two King George chases.
However, against that, there’s an inclination that Sir Alex Ferguson’s steed doesn’t give of his best around today’s venue. In contrast, last year’s victor AL BOUM PHOTO reserved his best performance for the day that mattered most. Add to that the title holder having the same preparation as last term – in the unlikely surrounds of Tramore.
For all that, I’m drawn to KEMBOY He was one of the leading fancies for last year’s renewal but unfortunately dislodged Danny Mullins very early on. This time around, mind you, he appears to have come in under the radar. There’s no doubt he needed possibly his first couple of runs and it would be no shock to see him fighting out the finish.
FOX HUNTERS CHASE
STAKER WALLACE – EW – (JAMIE CODD/ENDA BOLGER)
JOHNNY HENDERSON GRAND ANNUAL CHASE
US AND THEM – EW – (JJ SLEVIN/JOSEPH O’BRIEN)
MARTIN PIPE CONDITIONAL JOCKEY’S HURDLE
FIVE O’CLOCK – EW – (CONOR MCNAMARA/WILLIE MULLINS)