Former Talksport man Charlie McCann marks your card and previews the weekend’s horse racing action at Cheltenham.
The Paddy Power Gold Cup is the first big handicap of the jumps season; David Pipe, who saddled the winner with Great Endeavour last year, saddles the market leader Grand Crus (2/1) who runs from a handicap mark of 157; the grey is a personal favourite and the most likely winner but when you consider Long Run was beaten into third place two years ago from a mark of 158 and went on to win the Gold Cup later in the season you get some idea of how short a price the grey is for such a competitive event.
The favourite is often held up right out the back and you always need luck in running with such exaggerated waiting tactics; he could be the proverbial handicap snip but Exotic Dancer was the last horse to carry more than 11stone to success in the race back in 2006 and Grand Crus is reluctantly overlooked.
Triolo D’Alene was touted as Nicky Henderson’s nap of the Cheltenham Festival by many earlier in the year and he has been the big market mover in recent days; his jumping wasn’t good enough behind Hunt Ball (reopposes on 12lb worse terms) back in the spring and he may not yet have the experience for such a competitive big field handicap.
My two against the field, as long as the weather forecast is correct and there is no further significant rain, are Divers for the north and the veteran Finger Onthe Pulse to take the prize back to Ireland.
Divers (2.35) cannot have the ground too quick and has been laid out for the race by connections; trainer Ferdy Murphy, who has his string in rude health, has booked last year’s winning jockey Timmy Murphy for his grey and off 10stone 1lbs he will be hunted around at the back and, all being well, will make his move coming down the hill. Third in the race last year this 8-y-o I (16/1 at BetVictor) is entitled to come on for his reappearance and Murphy (Ferdy) has an excellent record at getting his horses ready for the big day.
The second recommendation is less obvious but I think former Festival winner Finger On the Pulse at 40/1 (likely to drift) can make a bold bid from the front; excellent conditional Maurice Linehan has done 9st 8lbs in the last 12-months and the hope is he can get down to 9st 7lbs or thereabouts for tomorrow.
At his best the Irish raider is a bold jumping front-runner who will love the ground and, although nearly old enough to vote, he ran a cracker at the opening Cheltenham meeting and can give us a good run at a very big price.
Tony McCoy has been booked for the lightly-raced Buy Back Bob (3.40) by Tony Martin and this Irish raider looks potentially very well handicapped; a decent performer on the level he should get the searching gallop his profile suggests he will need at the minimum trip.
The market is likely to be made by the Nicky Henderson trained Kings Destiny who was rated 100+ on the level but showed little in three starts for the Lambourn handler back in the summer. It is possible that he is well ahead of the handicapper but he has been a beaten favourite three times over timber and is overlooked at the likely price.
The opening Triumph Hurdle Trial is always won by a good juvenile and Vasco Du Ronceray (12.45) probably beat very little at Hereford on debut but this French import came to the track with a big reputation and he can be followed until beaten.
Patrick Corbett takes off a valuable 10lbs from the 4m Festival winner Teaforthree (1.55) in the stayers’ chase and that could prove decisive; the selection is closely weighted with Sir Alex Ferguson’s Harry The Viking on Festival running and this looks another very hot contest.