St Patrick’s Day simply belonged to the Irish as they took the first 6 races on Cheltenham’s Thursday card. The first three races belonged to Gigginstown Stud as Shattered Love, Delta Work and Balko Des Flos were all well-backed before winning. Two of those were also trained by Gordon Elliott and he went on to land a treble for the second day running with The Storyteller.
However, wins in the Stayers’ Hurdle for Penhill and for Laurina in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle saw Willie Mullins edge ahead once more with 7 wins. It was then down to Missed Approach in the last to stop a clean sweep for Ireland, and he probably saved the bookies fortunes as he beat the well-backed Mall Dini.
Ireland also have a several great chances of landing the Cheltenham Gold Cup, though it’s Nicky Henderson who could land a fantastic treble of the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup if Might Bite can win Friday’s Blue Riband event.
Triumph Hurdle, 1.30
Great Britain have won 7 renewals, though Ireland have won 3 of the last 5
Barry Geraghty has ridden 4 of the last 9 winners
Nicky Henderson has trained 3 of the last 9
SP’s have ranged from 2/1 to 33/1
6 of the last 10 winners had won last time out
Triumph Hurdle Summary
This is the smallest Triumph Hurdle field I can remember. Redicean is the top-rated horse in the race on a mark of 149 and this stout stayer on the flat should have no problem with the ground or the trip. However, he must concede 7lb to the 146 rated Apple’s Shakira who has done nothing wrong so far and bids to give Nicky Henderson a fourth winner of the race in the last 10-years and a seventh win overall. Irish trained horses have won three of the last five runnings though and Mr Adjudicator and Farclas look sure to be competitive for Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott.
County Hurdle, 2.10
Ireland have won 7 renewals, Great Britain 3
Willie Mullins has trained 4 of the last 8 winners
Ruby Walsh and Paul Townend have ridden 2 winners each
SP’s have ranged from 8/1 to 50/1
Only one winner was a single-figure price
9 of the last 10 winners were rated between 132 and 139, however last year’s winner was rated 158
Winners have been rated either 5, 6 or 8
County Hurdle Summary
Last year’s winner Arctic Fire won off 19lb higher-rating that any of the previous 9 winners and, with the highest-rated runners looking nowhere near as good as him, it could be worth reverting to runners in the typical ratings band of 132 to 139. That brings in the Dan Skelton trained Spiritofthegames, and his form has received a couple of boosts already at the festival with Kalashnikov finishing second in the Supreme and William Henry being placed in the Coral Cup. He also handles the ground and stays further so could stay on late in a race that is usually won by a closer.
The Albert Bartlett, 2.50
Great Britain and Ireland have won 5 renewals each
No Trainer or Jockey has won the race twice in this period
5 winners had won last time out
Winners have been aged 5, 6, 7 or 8
SP’s have ranged from 15/8 to 33/1, with the last 4 winners being returned 33/1, 14/1, 11/1 and 16/1
Albert Bartlett Hurdle Summary
Nicky Henderson has won just one of the previous thirteen runnings of the Albert Bartlett but looks to have a seriously strong-hand this year. Santini must be of interest as he beat Ballymore runner-up Black Op here over shorter last time and looks sure to be suited by the step-up in a trip. Henderson also has Ok Corral, Chef Des Obeaux and Mr Whipped. Willie Mullins is also mob-handed though it’s Chris’s Dream who looks the main hope for Ireland after winning his last two for Henry de Bromhead.
Cheltenham Gold Cup, 3.30
Great Britain have won 7 renewals, but Ireland have won 3 of the last 4
Nicky Henderson has trained 2 of the last 7 winners
8 winners had won last time out
Winners have been aged either 6, 7, 8 or 9
SP’s have ranged from 9/4 to 20/1
9 winners were returned at single-figure prices
9 of the last 10 winners were running in the race for the first time
Cheltenham Gold Cup Summary
Last year’s winner Sizing John may not be here to defend his title, but this looks one of the most competitive Gold Cups of recent times with 18 runners. The field is headed by Might Bite but last year’s RSA winner has been on the drift this week with bookies happy to take him on with the extra-distance on soft ground a possible worry. One horse who has no stamina issues is Native River and it’s hard to see him not finishing in the frame if he matches the form of any of his last few runs.
However, value-seekers may want to give Minella Rocca a chance to back to form as he’s finished in front of Native River at the last two Cheltenham Festivals and should relish this stamina test. Another who should relish the stamina test is Our Duke and the form of his latest win was boosted when Presenting Percy won the RSA.
However, he finished behind the likes of Edwulf and Outlander at Leopardstown, and those two might have been beaten by Killultagh Vic if he hadn’t fallen at the last. Road To Respect also has good form at Leopardstown this season and won at the festival last year, whilst Djakadam also tends to run well in the race having finished 2/2/4 the last three years.
Definitely Red and American should relish the ground whilst Total Recall could yet be anything after three wins from three runs for Willie Mullins. It wouldn’t even be a major surprise if Double Shuffle outran his odds as he finished second in the King George, has run well at Cheltenham before, and his stable has been in great form at the festival so far.
Ireland have won 6 of the last 7 renewals
Winners have been aged between 7 and 11
SP’s have ranged from 13/8 to 33/1
The last 3 renewals have been won by female jockeys
Foxrock has a real touch of class and, though he’s been beaten at two previous Cheltenham Festivals, this is a big drop in class and he should have no problems with the ground. He’s also ridden by Katie Walsh who will be looking to continue the great recent record of female jockeys. However, he faces a big danger in the up and coming youngster Burning Ambition who lost nothing in defeat when beaten just under 3-lengths by the 150-rated Gilgamboa last time, which was 7-lengths closer to that horse than Foxrock had managed previously.
Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, 4.50
Great Britain have won 5 renewals, Ireland 4
Willie Mullins has trained 2 of the last 4 winners
Winners have been aged 5 or 6
4 winners had won last time out
Winners have been rated between 133 and 143
SP’s have ranged from 9/2 to 25/1
Martin Pipe Hurdle Summary
Willie Mullins has won this with a couple of serious horses in recent years in Don Poli and Killultagh Vic, and his three representatives all look to be potentially well-handicapped. It’s hard to guess the pecking-order of his jockey-bookings with Jamie Bargary, Lizzie Kelly and Liam Gilligan booked However, Deal D’Estruval really caught the eye last time. He won over 21-furlongs on his first race for Mullins and then came flying into second over 2-miles last time, when finishing behind a massive improver, and he should go close. Meanwhile, last year’s winning trainer Gordon Elliott also has four runners of which Flawless Escape looks the pick. David Pipe would also love to win the race named after his father and he looks to have saved Mr Big Shot for the race as he returns from nearly a year off the track.
Grand Annual Handicap Chase, 5.30
Great Britain have won 6 renewals, Ireland 4
Davy Russell has ridden 2 winners
SP’s have ranged from 3/1 to 40/1
Only 1 winner had won last time out
The last 7 winners were rated between 138 and 147
Winners have carried between 10-2 and 11-6
Winners have been aged between 6 and 10
Grand Annual Summary
Foxtail Hill has potential off a 3lb higher mark that when beating La Prezien here in October but needs to come back to form having had a few poor runs since. However, the Cheltenham record of North Hill Harvey stands up to the closest scrutiny even though he’s rated higher than recent winners. He’s won a soft ground Greatwood hurdle and two novice chases over 2-miles here, and the soft ground should be perfect for this big imposing sort. Trainer Dan Skelton considered him good enough to win an Arkle so, having side-stepped a hot Arkle to run in this, he looks sure to go well.