Sky Sports Racing’s Alex Hammond offers his analysis and selections for the fourth and final day of the Cheltenham Festival, headlined by a tough-looking Gold Cup.
Mullins to end the week in style?
Friday’s curtain raiser is the JCB Triumph Hurdle and there’s no lap-by-lap here, it’s Vauban for me and if Willie Mullins doesn’t already have the head coach title sewn in by this time- there, that might do the trick.
It’s a class race with two former smart flathorses leading the market. Vauban was a flat middle distance winner in France and Pied Piper a decent handicapper for John and Thady Gosden, who cost his new owners 225,000 guineas in August.
Vauban was beaten by Pied Piper on his hurdles debut but didn’t have time for the race that day and put that behind him to win a Grade One last time out.
Pied Piper has the distance and form advantage when it comes to win a Triumph Trial at this track in January. This is not a two-horse race and it would be insulting to suggest otherwise.
Hillcrest did further studies with Olympic gold medal-winning rider Laura Collett and that can only be a good thing.
He is the favorite to win the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, although at the time of writing his trainer Henry Daly has still not given him the green light to race at the Festival and he could be saved for Aintree in place. Minella Crooner has been left out so it must be tempting to direct their future superstar.
Perhaps in these uncertain times, The Nice Guy could be the one to keep by his side. He’s unbeaten in three starts under the rules and the switch to that sort of trip is sure to suit.
Support Blackmore for Gold Glory
Then to the race of the week, or my race of the year, the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup. If I won the lottery, this is the type of horse I would try to buy.
It’s not an easy race to rate this time around. Multiple winners are not uncommon, and Al Boom Photo is trying to re-enter the race after being beaten last year in a treble bid.
He’s 10 now and it makes life harder, both physically and statistically. In fact, the last horse of this age to win the Gold Cup was Cool Dawn in 1998. It looks like some cheekbones are going to fit him and it just might sharpen him up.
Minella Indo won last year’s renewal but failed to replicate that form in a below-par season for coach Henry of Bromhead. That said, there have been many highlights for the team and they are working much better now.
This horse was rejected by Rachael Blackmore last year in favor of A Plus Tard and his stable mate is once again a major threat. That’s probably the only thing last year’s top rider did wrong all week!
I’m inclined to go with A Plus Tard and hope Rachael does too. He was so good in the Betfair Chase, beating Royal Pagaille by 22 lengths, and was beaten just a narrow header by Galvin in the Savills Chase when the stable couldn’t buy a winner. He’s since gone and hopefully he can show us what he’s made of because he’s a class actor at his best.
It would be great to see Protektorat run a great race for his connections and fulfill a lifelong ambition for owner John Hales if he could win it with this horse. He was also kept cool by Dan Skelton thinking about this week and is the cheapest British runner.
Surely Billaway can win a hunt for the St. James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Hunters? He’s been second for the past two seasons and was helped by the addition of cheekbones when he won at Naas last time out.
Did I mention I thought his trainer Willie Mullins would be the head coach? We won’t get rich backing this outcome, but I think a Mullins accumulator could be on the cards! Have a fantastic week, it all seems so simple at this point, and we’ll definitely have fun unearthing these winners.