Paul Ferguson has four Cheltenham tips for us on Friday; Our Conor, Ifandbutwhynot, Bally Cassey and Sir Des Champs. Preview below.
Willie Mullins has enjoyed a magnificent week already, saddling five winners on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the County Carlow handler can land his first Gold Cup courtesy of Sir Des Champs (3:20) who, like main market rival Bobs Worth, has won at the past two Festivals.
The seven-year-old looked a future Gold Cup winner when landing the Jewson in fluent fashion 12 months ago and I’m not deserting him now. He has steadily improved with each run this season and promises to improve for meeting better ground and stepping up in trip. Despite not knowing who will replace Davy Russell in the saddle, he is taken to become the first Irish Gold Cup winner since War Of Attrition carried the same colours to success in 2006.
Nicky Henderson’s Bobs Worth is the main danger and the Hennessy winner is unbeaten in four races at Cheltenham. The eight-year-old looks sure to run a big race, but marginal preference is for Sir Des Champs.
Henderson saddles the danger to the selection in the JCB Triumph Hurdle too, in the shape of course winner Rolling Star who created a good impression here on trials day, but preference is for another Irish raider Our Conor (1:30) who can make it four from four over hurdles for Dessie Hughes.
Hughes is another trainer who has his string in fine form, with White Star Line, Tofino Bay and Lyreen Legend all being placed earlier in the week, and his juvenile has looked a potential star in the making in completing a hat-trick on home soil.
The winner of the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle last time, he travelled powerfully for Bryan Cooper, who will be on a high from riding his first Festival winner yesterday, and had Wednesday’s Fred Winter winner Flaxen Flare back in fifth that day (beaten 26 lengths). Any overnight rain certainly won’t inconvenience him and he was trading at 10/3 on Thursday evening with Blue Square.
The 28-runner County Hurdle isn’t for the faint hearted and plenty of luck in running is needed, but Ifandbutwhynot (2:05) has done us a couple of good turns this year (notably when scoring for the column at 14/1 in November) and he appeals as the type to relish the strongly run contest.
David O’Meara’s novice took his chance in the Champion Bumper at last year’s Festival and beat the smart Eduard on his second start over timber, before beating Tanerko Emery here at the Open meeting.
Both of those horses have franked his form and, having flopped on really testing ground at Sandown, the seven-year-old returned from a break to score in ready fashion at Musselburgh last month off a mark of 130.
O’Meara believes he will be better back on a left handed track and he also believes better ground will bring about further improvement, so it is hoped that the ground isn’t too soft at this stage of the day. Available at 12/1 early on Thursday evening, that was soon mopped up and 11/1 was best available with Bet Victor offering 5 places.
If the rain does arrive then many people’s ‘banker’ on the final day will be At Fishers Cross who has very strong form to his name, notably last time when outstaying The New One here over 2m4½f in a race that is working out really well (runner-up obviously won here on Wednesday and fourth home Whisper won next time before finishing third off 132 in the EBF Final last weekend).
His earlier form adds up too, beating Salubrious (winner since) at Newbury and Inish Island (winner since) here. The latter re-opposes again and, with not much between them when they last met, he could appeal as a lively outsider at around 14/1.
However, Ruby Walsh has jumped ship and rides the much less exposed Ballycasey (2:40) who looks the ideal type for this and is bred to appreciate the better ground; again a lot will depend on the state of the ground by the time of the race.
The six-year-old grey beat Our Vinnie, another possible outsider here as he beat Rule The World earlier in the season (runner-up to The New One on Wednesday) in a bumper last term and has not had to come off the bridle to win two small hurdle races in heavy ground.
He has 7lbs to find with the market leader on official ratings, but is open to plenty of improvement and should be backed each-way at the best price available 9/2. It’s tough to take on that last piece of form of At Fishers Cross, which looks absolutely guilt edged, but at the prices Ballycasey gets the nod.
The rapidly improving African Gold who represents the in-form Nigel Twiston-Davies stable is another to consider in what looks a cracking renewal. His form was also boosted in the EBF Final, having beaten impressive winner Close Touch at Doncaster last time.
1:30 Cheltenham Festival Our Conor (7/2 Ladbrokes)
2:05 Cheltenham Festival Ifandbutwhynot (each-way 11/1 Bet Victor)
2:40 Cheltenham Festival Ballycasey (each-way 5/1 BlueSq)
3:20 Cheltenham Festival Sir Des Champs (4/1 Bet365)
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Last Year’s Book Results – Leading Prospects:
- SPRINTER SACRE – Unbeaten – winner at Aintree & Cheltenham
- SIMONSIG – Winner at Aintree & Cheltenham
- CINDERS AND ASHES – 10/1 winner of Supreme Novices Hurdle
- BOBS WORTH – 9/2 winner of the RSA Chase
- MENORAH & SILVINIACO CONTI – Both Aintree Winners
- SIR DES CHAMPS – Unbeaten inc 3/1 Jewson Cheltenham Winner
- FINGAL BAY – Won 4 times inc Challow Hurdle
- RAYA STAR – 10/3 winner at Wetherby, 12/1 Ladbroke Hurdle winner, 15/2 Scottish Champion Hurdle winner
- AMBION WOOD – 14/1 EBF Final Sandown winner
- CHAMPION COURT – 6/1 G2 Dipper Novices Chase winner
- PALACE JESTER – 14/1 winner at FFos Las
- SWINCOMBE FLAME – Hat-trick winner inc Lanzarote Hurdle at 9/2
- TEAFOR THREE – 5/1 NH Cheltenham Chase winner (Manifesto Novices’ Chase)