Willie Mullins can finally get his hands on the Gold Cup on Friday, with last year’s runner-up Djakadam (3:30) taken to bounce back from his fall here on trials day.
The seven-year-old remains lightly raced and his victory in the John Durkan over 2m4f earlier in the season was, visually, hugely impressive. Quicker ground isn’t really a concern and, despite the fact that he has fallen on two of his three visits to this track, he is taken to get it right on the big day under Ruby Walsh.
Stable-mate Don Poli could well be the biggest danger, despite being over-looked by Bryan Cooper. Another lightly raced seven-year-old, he will be staying on stronger than anything else in the closing stages and arrives here in search of a third successive festival victory, having won the Martin Pipe and RSA. He clearly thrives under such conditions, but marginal preference is for Djakadam.
Earlier on the card, Mullins can win a fourth County Hurdle since 2010 courtesy of French import Great Field (2:10) with the five-year-old creating a huge impression on his recent Irish debut.
The Great Pretender gelding travelled with some purpose that day and, while the form might not amount to a great deal, he looked a potential graded class performer to me and a mark of 147 doesn’t seem too harsh. Available at 9-1 at the time of writing, he looks a solid each-way play.
In the same McManus silks Henry Higgins ought to relish the strong pace and, given his speed, the quicker ground. He was a big-priced winner for this column last time out (advised at 28-1) so is worth considering as a ‘saver’ with conditions likely to suit.
The unbeaten Barters Hill heads the market for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, but prevailing conditions really ought to suit Shantou Village (2:50) who can score for trainer Neil Mulholland.
Unbeaten until running into Yanworth on trials day, his early season form now reads really well and the six-year-old is another who will relish the good ground, while the step up in trip is also expected to suit. Available at 6-1 at the time of writing, a big run looks on the cards.
At a similar price Squouateur (4:50) is fancied to win the Martin Pipe for Gordon Elliott and JP McManus.
The five-year-old has impressed on his last two starts, particularly last time when quickening stylishly, and I’m not surprised that he has been steadily supported since the weights were unveiled.
The grey needs to prove his ability to handle a quicker surface, but he travels like a serious prospect and I don’t envisage it being an issue. I also expect the strongly run race and big field to play to his strengths. Despite the competitiveness of the race, he rates the best bet on the Gold Cup card.
2:10 Cheltenham Festival: Great Field; 9/1 bet365
2:50 Cheltenham Festival: Shantou Village; 4/1 Stan James
3:30 Cheltenham Festival: Djakadam; 7/2 Coral
4:50 Cheltenham Festival: Squouateur; 5/1 Ladbrokes
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