Cheltenham Festival Day 4: Clan the man for Gold Cup

This year may prove to be one of those very rare occasions when the Gold Cup is overshadowed by other races from throughout the week. Paisley Park’s emotional victory in the Stayers is one race that would easily stand out in previous festivals, Espoir D’Allen’s unthinkable triumph in the Champion Hurdle is another. Yet, Bryony Frost and Frodon’s bloodless, determined and historic win in the Ryanair should be plastered all over back pages and front pages across the land. If the BHA aren’t using images of the pair to sell the sport worldwide for the weeks, months and years to come, then they’re missing out on the best opportunity for racing to earn praise and positive press for many years. Anyway, onto the final day and though the very best may be behind us, there’s still some unbelievable racing to come:

Triumph:

SIR EREC (nap) has taken to hurdlers far better than most of his age. A stone bruise in the build-up should not detract punters from his chances as he bolted clear in a Leopardstown Grade One last month. He was also a top-class flat horse to boot, running Stradivarius close into third on soft ground and if he’s fit, he may well be bomb-proof. Tiger Tap Tap was only just beaten by the selection on debut, but was much more comfortably in arrears last time out and so Gardens Of Babylon, who was runner-up in the aforementioned Grade One, is preferred. The British challenge is headed by Quel Destin, who just keeps winning although hasn’t been as visually impressive on a couple of his starts and will have some task keeping the favourite at bay. More interesting is the French import Pic D’Orhy who will be having his first run for Paul Nicholls. His form from his homeland is very good, but he is well and truly thrown in at the deep end here. Coeur Sublime is expected to do much better than when running in an open Grade Three latest while Pentland Hills was impressive on debut at Plumpton.

1. Sir Erec
2. Gardens Of Babylon
3. Quel Destin
County:

As with many of the handicaps this year, the favourite of the race has been the subject of distinct Irish interest ante-post. That horse is last year’s third Whiskey Sour who contested some top novice races with credit last season. He was kept fit on the flat, but with limited success and is 3lb higher than last year. He’s comfortably opposable at the odds. Ch’tibello ran subsequent graded winner Midnight Shadow close over 2m 4f last time out and the sharp pace will suit but I’m going to side with a touch of class and my old favourite WE HAVE A DREAM. He earned a confidence boosting win in the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso and had been running admirably enough at the highest level prior to that. A strongly run race and big field may be the making of him as he’s a stylish hurdler with gears and stamina and currently seems a massive price. Sternrubin ran a good race back over hurdles o his last start while Monsieur Lecoq runs just 6 days after being runner-up in the Imperial Cup at Sandown so is effectively 3lb well in. Mr Adjudicator was a fine second in the Triumph Hurdle last season and would stand a chance on that form while Crooks Peak chases a four-timer, though an unlikely one. Mohaayed won this last year but has gone up a stone since so Pinghsou might eb the liveliest outsider as he’s a course and distance winner weighted kindly if returning to any sort of form.

1. We Have A Dream
2. Ch’tibello
3. Mr Adjudicator

Albert Bartlett:
This is one of the most open contests of the week. Birchdale was perhaps fortuitous to win on Trials Day and didn’t shape like an extra test of stamina would suit him. Lisnagar Oscar was a runaway winner in the Prestige at Haydock and so must enter equations while Nadaitak accounted for two higher-rated types in some fashion. Commander Of Fleet couldn’t go the pace of two miles a couple of starts back but got his head in front of RHINESTONE over six furlongs further when knuckling down in a Grade One at the Dublin festival. However, the runner-up may just reverse placings as he was conceding 2lb to the winner and stayed on strongly, only going down by half-a-length. An extra two furlongs may suit and he’s a bit of value. Allaho looked to have a bit in hand when victorious four weeks ago as did Dickie Diver though he must revers placings with Lisnagar Oscar from their shared debut. Dinons lost his unbeaten record easily when last seen, but he’s now been freshened up and could feasibly return to form while Cap York won on his first handicap start so may be a silent improver.
1. Rhinestone
2. Allaho
3. Dickie Diver

Gold Cup:

The three primary candidates for the big one all represent a different type of fancied horse. Presenting Percy, though impressive as a novice last season, is all about reputation, but he has only contested (and won) a hurdle race this season from which the form is now looking decidedly questionable. He needs to step up hugely from that performance and show that the ability is there to win a race of this quality. Native River arrives as defending champion and though his two starts this season have been encouraging, it cannot be certain that he’s in quite the same vein of form; it also takes a lot to win this race twice. The other protagonist is CLAN DES OBEAUX. Some have knocked his form at Cheltenham over the years (he’s yet to win at the track), but he’s never had a nightmare there and has run up to his form on at least three of his starts at Prestbury Park. He’s a completely different beast now anyway having cruised to victory in the King George and Aon Chase. The ground should suit him and if he can sit off the pace and gradually make his way into contention, he’ll be right there with two to jump. Bellshill will relish the stamina test this poses but is yet to show that he’s up to this level while Kemboy has been passed over by Ruby Walsh despite flying away with the Savills Chase at Christmas. Might Bite may still be the most talented of these and though Nicky Henderson has been trying to impress his wellbeing, nobody could have him on form. Thistlecrack looked back to somewhat near his best when runner-up to Clan Des Obeaux in the King George while connections of Elegant Escape will pray for as much rain as could fall by tomorrow afternoon. Of those at prices, Al Boum Photo was impressive on New Year’s Day but has a lot to make up with Presenting Percy based on last season, Aniable Fly is sure to be staying on and may have been ideally prepped for this with runs over shorter and Bristol De Mai is officially the highest rated. He’s been saved for a big day here so you never know but he has it all to prove. If it becomes attritional, Yala Enki may pick up a few pieces.

1. Clan Des Obeaux
2. Native River
3. Anibale Fly
4. Thistlecrack

Foxhunter:

Pacha Du Polder seeks a third straight win in this contest. It wouldn’t look completely beyond him, but his re-appearance was far short of what’s required and this looks a strong field. The youthful Stand Up And Fight has shaped with a lot of promise on all three starts in point-to-points and Enda Bolger has won this race three times while Ucello Conti and Shantou Flyer were the best of these under rules and each can brag two wins in this sphere to date. Hazel hill has a remarkable strike rate (14/15) but nothing like this race has come onto his radar before. Road To Rome is unbeaten since joining Joe O’Shea and has looked far better than he was under rules, but the fancy is CAID DU BERLAIS. He was fifth in this last year (beaten just over 3 lengths) before bolting up at Punchestown and won his prep in a time of his own two weeks ago. He should perform better this time around and his experience of the race should see him go better. Haymount was placed in the National Hunt Chase and may go well back here while Southfiled Theatre was another who was useful on his day.

1. Caid Du Berlais
2. Ucello Conti
3. Road To Rome

Grand Annual:

Magic Saint confirmed his burgeoning promise with an easy victory on his latest start lining him up perfectly for a tilt at this. He might struggle in a field of this size and so the vote goes to stablemate and defending champion LE PREZIEN. He is now only 1lb higher than when victorious 12 months ago and JP McManus is having a marvellous festival. Whatswrongwithyou has a similar profile to the favourite insofar as they’re both fancied as ahead of their marks. Not Another Muddle is a novice going places based on his victory over this trip last time out while old bot Gino Trail continues to run with enormous credit and may have one last big day in him. Champagne At Tara had an excellent start to the season and, with a 5lb claimer aboard, is back to a mark from which he could challenge while Bun Doran is admirably consistent and that will stand him in good stead here.

1. Le Prezien
2. Not Another Muddle
3. Magic Saint

Martin Pipe:

Dallas Des Pictons will have to shoulder an 8lb rise if he’s to succeed in making it three wins on the bounce and while he’s shown promise, he’s yet another handicap favourite who offers little to no value in the market. Stablemate Defi Bleu was nowhere near his best on his latest outing but is a novice who will see out the trip while Pym promised much at the start of the season so is well-treated if the potential remains. Coolanly won a Grade Two here at the start of the season, but that was almost certainly a poor renewal though the mare IF YOU SAY RUN beat Mares Hurdle winner Roksana last season and has the benefit of Bryony Frost onboard. Her performances this season have been solid if unspectacular, but she won here in November and cannot be ruled out. Daybreak Boy is another ron the up while Big Time Dancer, Le Musee and Not That Fuisse should ensure an exciting end to the festival.

1. If You Say Run
2. Defi Bleu
3. Daybreak Boy

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