Former Talksport man Charlie McCann examines Friday’s Cheltenham card and has a tip in every race. View Selections below
The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the Blue Riband event of the four-day Festival with dual former winner Kauto Star bidding to become the first horse in history to regain the crown on two occasions. Winner in 2007 and 2009 the horse is now 12 years of age and in the veteran stage but Paul Nicholls’ star has looked as good as ever this year winning at Haydock in November before re-writing the record books when landing a fifth King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
It would be an extraordinary achievement if he were able to turn back the clock but, despite his previous wins in the race; he has more class than stamina and was no match for Long Run in the corresponding race last year.
Long Run (3.20) became the first 6-y-old since Mill House in 1963 to land the Gold Cup last year and although he has been beaten by Kauto Star twice already this season I can see him reversing the places granted this more severe test of stamina. Many crabbed the effort of Long Run when he beat Burton Port in the Denman Chase last time but I thought that was a good effort giving his stablemate 10lbs and we know this stiff trip brings out the best in the gelding who is taken to outstay Kauto.
Donald McCain has saddled winners on the first couple of days of the Festival and he has kept Weird Al fresh for the race. Impressive winner of the Charlie Hall at Wetherby at the end of October he was beaten 10l by Kauto Star in the Betfair Chase on his sole subsequent start. He was pulled up in this race last year when he was reported to have bled from the nose but he could easily sneak into a place.
The heart says Kauto Star can regain the Gold Cup at 12 but the head says time waits for no one not even one of the greatest horses ever to grace the turf. BetVictor will be refunding losing win bets on the second horse if Kauto Star wins the Gold Cup up to a maximum of £50.
Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson have, between them, saddled the winner of the Triumph Hurdle for the last four years and Nicholls won with his “second string” Zarkandar last year. Pearl Swan gave Grumeti 3lbs and a beating at Newbury last time before losing the race in the Stewards’ Room and must go close.
In a wide open contest my two against the field are Darroun and Sadler’s Risk (1.30) with marginal preference for the latter who looks sure to be well-served by the stiffer test having been readily outgunned by Baby Mix at Kempton last time. The selection is a former Mark Johnston inmate on the flat and he looks sure to make it into a true test of stamina.
Citizenship is likely to go off a warm order for the County Hurdle but Jessica Harrington’s team have not all fired this week and for that reason alone is overlooked. A chance is taken with the novice Magnifique Etoile (2.05) who got bogged down in the Sandown mud last time but has been given a couple of months off. The forecast decent ground will suit and he can reward ew support.
It has been a mixed week for Willie Mullins and confidence in Boston Bob (2.40) is waning by the hour but I must stick by my original thoughts that this is a potential star although I expect a much better show from Mount Benbullen on this better ground and left-handed track.
Whatever happens to Long Run Sam Waley-Cohen has a great chance in the Foxhunters’ courtesy of Roulez Cool although he was very disappointing in the corresponding race two years ago when eventually brought down after a series of mistakes of his own.
Likely favourite Chapoturgeon has stamina to prove and the selection is Irish raider Salsify (4.00) who impressed at Leopardstown last time and will love the ground.
David Pipe saddles four (Street Entertainer looks stable number 1) as he tries to break his duck in the race named after his father Martin but Changing Times (4.40) is a fascinating runner having his first start for Nigel Twiston-Davies having been trained in Ireland previously where he had a progressive profile. A bold show from Smad Place in the World Hurdle would certainly frank the form of Bourne who has been raised 10lbs for his Ascot win last time.
Nicky Henderson has already had a fine week and he has previously won the race named in honour of his late father and the Master Of Seven Barrows has no less than six in the concluding Grand Annual.
I am surprised Tara Royal runs here instead of waiting for the Red Rum at Aintree and I think the undulations will find him out; in an ultra competitive finale Toubab (5.15) looks a thoroughly progressive type and is taken to give Messrs Walsh and Nicholls a last-race winner.