After a good opening two days we got a welcome reminder of how difficult Cheltenham can be, with no winners on day three. With Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh show finally delivered, and the decision to overlook the pair proved costly, but we still have day four to get stuck into as the 2017 festival comes to an end.
13.30 JCB Triumph Hurdle
We’re in a good position with this race, having advised CHARLI PARCS 8/1 ante post who is now no bigger than 7/2. After a deeply impressive debut he was disappointing in the Adonis at Kempton, falling when under pressure, leaving the race open for the re-opposing Master Blueyes to run out a convincing 11-length winner. Given Charli Parcs had thumped that horse by 8 lengths on his debut the feeling is that he wasn’t at his best in the Adonis and this has been reflected with the positive betting moves recently. If he’s at the level that had Nicky Henderson purring I’m hopeful the ante post bet can land.
14.10 County Handicap Hurdle
Another puzzle of a handicap hurdle but we’re going to have two bites here. The first is WINTER ESCAPE, who never landed a blow when punted off the boards in the Greatwood back in November. Off the track since and dropped to 140, he will surely be better than that over time. He lacks experience but odds of 12/1 are worth chancing given how good he looked last season. At bigger odds I can’t resist a little nibble on COURT MINSTREL at 40/1. He’s obviously more exposed than a lot of these, but a mark of 145 gives him a real chance on the good ground he needs to be at his best. He’s been out of sorts on his last three runs, but with the ground soft on each occasion that can be forgiven. An excellent second on his first run of the season at Kempton, where unsurprisingly the ground was good, suggests he can still be a force in ideal conditions.
14.50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
AN interesting clash that seems Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins clash yet again. With Mullins sparking into life today Augusta Kate is certain to have her backers, and has to be taken very seriously given she looked threatening when looming up to challenge Death Duty at Naas before falling at the last. However, I’m of the opinion that the strong staying DEATH DUTY had her measure and with this extra distance sure to suit he looks solid here. Odds of 9/4 reflect his chance and it’s not the best price of the week but I like him a lot.
15.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup
Another race where we have an ante post position, having backed MORE OF THAT at 20/1 in our 2017 Gold Cup preview, and I’m still optimistic of a big run. The money has come for Djakadam, who I thought had just about the strongest claims of the leading trio, but there’s no appeal with his price of 3/1 now. The market looks about right to me so I’ll just be sticking with the ante post bet, but I really wouldn’t put anybody off backing More Of That at his current odds of 14/1.
16.10 Foxhunter Challenge Cup
A race that is all about the brilliant ON THE FRINGE who is bidding to create history and win this race for the third time in-a-row. In the previous two seasons he’s really needed his first run to put him right, so his seasonal reappearance at Leopardstown was hugely encouraging when forcing Foxrock to work very hard. Given Foxrock has been very impressive in hunter chases this season, winning his last four starts, everything points to On The Fringe running a massive race here with the brilliant Jamie Codd on board. It’s completely unoriginal but he’s a must bet, even at odds of 7/4.
16.50 Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle
It’s hard to overlook the chances of NO COMMENT, who comes here on the back of three wins on the bounce and a very progressive profile. The last of those wins came at Plumpton where he tanked through the race and was always holding Minella Awards, going away at the line. That horse has since won a Grade 3 handicap off a mark of 128 and a mark of 137 looks very workable for No Comment. It’s another unoriginal bet but he could have bags in hand and 6/1 seems fair.
17.30 Grand Annual Chase
A nice tricky race to conclude the festival. Le Prezien is a serious threat off a mark of 146, with very strong form connected to the likes of Top Notch and Charbel, and is surely on a good mark, but he lacked fluency last time out and this big field will expose any weaknesses. DANDRIDGE is 6lb higher than when second in this race last year and has clearly been laid out for this, with a spin over hurdles used as preparation. Few are better than Davy Russell for the big occasion and a big run can be expected at odds of 8/1.
14.10 County Handicap Hurdle — 1pt Winter Escape 12/1 & 1pt Court Minstrel 40/1
14.50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle — 2pts Death Duty 9/4
15.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup — 1pt More Of That 20/1 (Advised ante post)
16.10 Foxhunter Challenge Cup — 2pts On The Fringe 7/4
16.50 Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle — 1pt No Comment 6/1
17.30 Grand Annual Chase — 1pt Dandrige 8/1