Sky Sports’ Alex Hammond gives her Cheltenham Festival finale picks including Djakadam for the Gold Cup: | Skybet Bet £5 Get £20 Free
JCB TRIUMPH HURDLE
Nicky Henderson looks the trainer to follow in this and there’s no doubting that Peace and Co looks the one to beat after wins in the Summit and Finesse Hurdles. He is highly strung though and wore earplugs last time out. He has bags of ability though and the fast run pace of the Triumph will help his cause.
Doesn’t look like a typical juvenile as he’s got scope and long term potential. Henderson also trains the horse that I like the look of, Hargam. The grey won easily at Musselburgh last time out and has a different profile to favourite. He’s a small horse, had three runs on the flat in France and may not have the scope of his well fancied stablemate. He suits this better ground though and I really like him.
If Beltor was trained by a big name rather than Robert Stephens, he’d be shorter in the market. He won on the flat at Redcar, so not a superstar, but excelled over hurdles and is two from two. He can run a bit freely too and the tactics in this race will help him settle. I’m concerned he may be better suited to Aintree, but he is another smart juvenile. That man Henderson again with Top Notch who is five from five. He won two hurdles in France and is unbeaten in three in UK. He won the Victor Ludorum at Haydock and whilst he is yet to meet anything as good as he will here, he is a contender. It’s Hargam for me though.
VINCENT O’BRIEN COUNTY HANDICAP HURDLE
The horse that has kept cropping up for this race is The Game Changer for Gordon Elliott. Bryan Cooper will be riding for Gigginstown House Stud as he has his first run since joining Elliott after former trainer Charlie Swan handed in his licence. His half brother is Cheltenham specialist Johns Spirit and this horse is ultimately a chaser in the making, but he could take this en-route.
Watch out for the Tony Martin trained Savello too. He looks to have been trained with a festival handicap in mind and is much better handicapped over hurdles than fences.
ALBERT BARTLETT NOVICES’ HURDLE
The Willie Mullins trained Black Hercules is apparently an aeroplane! He was fourth in the bumper here last year, is a Point to Point winner and is two from two over hurdles. He jumps and stays well, but I’d be concerned that the ground may be too quick as he seems to have shown his best on testing ground.
The horse I like is No More Heroes, another for Gordon Elliott who looks sets to have his best festival to date. The horse scoped badly after a poor run behind Outlander at Leopardstown last time out when beaten favourite. Prior to that, he’d done very little wrong.
Value At Risk was formerly trained in Ireland by Philip Fenton for whom he was a smart bumper horse. Now with Dan Skelton, he won on his hurdle debut for his new trainer and then was beaten in better race at Cheltenham in January. The step up in trip looks like it will suit and can be forgiven that defeat. However, it’s No More Heroes for me.
BETFRED CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP
Now on to the big one, and Silviniaco Conti is a worthy favourite for Paul Nicholls. He’s the best horse coming into the race, but his Cheltenham record is a worry. He would be hard to beat if reproducing his King George run and he has become a stronger stayer with time.
Unfortunately for Oliver Sherwood and supporters of Many Clouds, the weather has gone against the Hennessy winner. This horse is an out and out stayer and is a lovely old fashioned chaser. If there is a cloud burst then he would have a great chance as he really impressed on trials day at Cheltenham in Janaury, but it’s looking unlikely.
Holywell could run a big race for Jonjo O’Neill as conditions are ideal for him. He has a 100% record at the festival and is a great ride for Richie McLernon. He got a much needed confidence booster when landing the odds at Kelso under AP, who rides for JP McManus in this on Carlingford Lough. He rode the John Kiely trained horse to win the Irish Hennessy last time out. The horse hasn’t been the most prolific winner over fences, but he’s not done a huge amount wrong overall latterly. Road to Riches won the Lexus for Noel Meade. He’s had his problems, but his trainer has got to bottom of them. Bryan Cooper thinks this horse is one of his best rides at the festival and the horse is a Grade 1 winner on his last two starts.
Now to the horse that I think can win this; Djakadam. Owner Rich Ricci was on the same preview panel as me last week in Leeds and he really fancies this horse to win him his first Gold Cup. The horse won the Thyestes with top weight and is still unexposed. He was beaten behind Many Clouds in Hennessy when desperately needing the run. In fact, to the eye he looked fat! He’s a massive horse and whilst he’s still young, he could be good enough to win this year’s renewal at this stage of his career.
I can’t see last year’s lucky winner Lord Windermere being good enough on what he’s done this season to follow up. A lively outsider could be Coneygree as the novice takes on the established chasers. He jumps well and wouldn’t be out of place in the line up. So, it’s Djakadam for me. I feel this division needs a shake up and this young chaser could be the one to do it.
In this I like Paint The Clouds has won all 4 since going Hunter Chasing for Warren Greatrex. He beat former Racing Post Chase winner Quinz at Doncaster last time out and whilst he’s a horse who has had problems, he’s talented. Sam Waley-Cohen has ridden him in all his Hunter Chases which is another advantage. Salsify is an obvious danger for Rodger Sweeny as he probably needed his last run on return from injury. He won the race in 2013. Carsonstown Boy was 2nd at huge price last year and is one to consider each way again.
MARTIN PIPE CONDITIONAL JOCKEYS’ HANDICAP HURDLE
Roi Des Francs is widely considered as the horse to be on for the final day of the festival. This is a lottery of a race, but could be another winner for Willie Mullins and Gigginstown. He is progressive and has been widely tipped up by the Irish contingent. The track should suit him and he has form on better ground, which he’ll need come the final day of the meeting.
THE AP McCOY GRAND ANNUAL CHASE FOR THE JOHNNY HENDERSON CHALLENGE CUP
This will be the final race that AP McCoy will ride in at any Cheltenham festival and it’s apt that the course executive has named the race in his honour. He could win it too on Ned Buntline for Noel Meade and JP McManus. The horse comes into the race rated 142, he was 2nd last year off 138. It looks like his season has been geared towards a repeat bid in this and he had a spin over hurdles at Christmas. Call me sentimental, but I’ll be roaring this home and you could do worse than back him. I’m not alone in my thinking as he has been well supported in the run up to the festival.
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