Today marks the end of what has been an excellent festival. The majority of the bookmakers’ betting offers for Cheltenham will revolve around the Gold Cup today, and hopefully the events earlier in the week from Champion’s Day, Ladies Day, and Paddy’s Day won’t have left them reeling. With last year’s winner Don Cossack out of the running for the Gold Cup today we have an exciting race on our hands. There’s plenty more action to look forward too, though.
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13.30 The JCB Triumph Hurdle
A race featuring the leading 4-year-old juvenile hurdlers, but few winners in recent seasons have emerged as future Champion Hurdlers. Last season’s winner Defi du Seuil has disappointed in both outings during the current campaign.
2018 Race Preview
Ahead of the 2017 JCB Triumph Hurdle, Defi Du Seuil was unbeaten in all five races over hurdles and he justified his odds of 5/2 favourite by winning the race by five lengths. Current market leader Apple’s Shakira from the Nicky Henderson stable has also yet to taste defeat and will hope to repeat the performance of last years’ winner in the 2018 renewal.
One advantage for Apple’s Shakira prior to the opening race on the final day is that she has won all three of his UK hurdle races at Cheltenham and was especially impressive when winning by eight lengths back in January. However, she faces a challenge from stable mate We Have A Dream who has won all four of his hurdle races since transferring to the Henderson yard from France. He has also proved capable of winning on various types of ground.
Alan King will be hoping that he can prevent Henderson from winning the race when he saddles former flat horse Redicean who is also unbeaten over hurdles having won all three of his races at Kempton Park. Whether he can be equally effective at Cheltenham is another issue.
As for the Irish challenge in the ‘Triumph’, Willie Mullins could be triple-handed with Mr Adjudicator, Stormy Ireland and Saldier. The former horse is another former flat campaigner and is unbeaten in two juvenile races, but he showed decent battling qualities to account for the useful Farclas last month at Leopardstown. A re-match is likely between the two four-year-olds.
Mullins has also asserted that Stormy Ireland will join Mr Adjudicator in the same race at Cheltenham, and this French import could be anything after sauntering home by more than fifty lengths in his only Irish hurdle race. She may lack experience ahead of this contest and the same warning could be applied to Saldier who won very easily at Gowran Park last month following his transfer from France. He started at 4/9 favourite and his jockey never moved a muscle in winning by an eased down ten lengths.
14.10 The Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle
This is a notoriously difficult 2m handicap hurdle for punters intent on studying the form. It can be worth watching the market movers in the race. However, Willie Mullins won the race last season with Arctic Fire priced at 20/1 despite the horse finishing second in the 2015 Champion Hurdle.
14.50 The Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
This race is staged over 3m for staying novice hurdlers. Former Gold Cup hero Bobs Worth won the contest in 2011, but few other previous winners have fully realised their potential in later years.
2018 Race Preview
A glance at the current betting market for the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle on the final day of the Festival would appear to suggest that Nicky Henderson is set to earn the prize with his stable mates Santini and Chef Des Obeaux installed as first and second favourites. Willie Mullins will hope that his Duc Des Genievres can beat both horses.
Santini can be backed at about 4/1 to win this contest although he has only raced twice and won on both occasions. Back in December, he disposed of Chef Des Obeaux by just over four lengths at Newbury while narrowly beating Black Op at Cheltenham during late January. Both distances were short of the trip in the Albert Bartlett, so his stamina must be taken on trust.
Chef Des Obeaux has since won all three hurdle races since his defeat by Santini, but he has been more impressive when stepped to about three miles in his latest two appearances. He won a Grade 2 event at Haydock last month in heavy ground and similar conditions at Cheltenham would be ideal.
Opposing the two Henderson horses is likely to be Duc Des Genievres who has been beaten in both outings over hurdles. Yet it is worth noting that the Mullins horse was finishing well in both contests over shorter distances, and just appeared to lack that vital turn of foot for those races. He should be suited by a test of stamina around Cheltenham.
Another Irish horse to emerge as a potential each-way hope is the Henry de Bromhead trained Chriss Dream who won over three miles in a debut performance for his new stable. In a Grade 3 contest at Clonmel, he destroyed the remainder of the contestants and turned the race into a procession from the second circuit onwards.
It is difficult to assess the form of that race whereas another outsider Poetic Rhythm won at Grade 1 level in his last race at Newbury, but his stamina may be suspect having failed to win over three miles in as many races during his point to point days.
15.30 The Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup
This is the jewel in the crown and the highlight of the four days. Arkle, Dawn Run, Desert Orchid, Golden Miller, Kauto Star and Best Mate have all emerged as famous winners offering lasting memories when claiming the coveted prize. Sizing John will attempt to become the first horse since Best Mate to retain the title but he can expect strong opposition from Might Bite and Native River among others.
2018 Race Preview
After winning the 3m RSA Novices’ Chase at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, Might Bite has been installed as favourite to win this season’s Gold Cup especially after registering two wins from as many starts this season. However, he can expect challenges from the third placed horse Native River among others.
Might Bite wandered up the final hill when winning the RSA Chase last term before rallying to beat Whisper by a nose. He subsequently beat the same horse at Aintree before winning at Sandown and Kempton this season. Although that latter race was the prestigious King George, the Nicky Henderson faces the challenging Cheltenham hill after travelling two furlongs more than last year, and around the more gruelling New Course.
Opposing Might Bite will be second favourite Native River who won his seasonal opener at Newbury last month after a long absence. The Colin Tizzard trained horse won the Hennessy and Welsh Grand National last season during a fairly busy campaign, and he may have been feeling the effects of those difficult races when finishing third in the 2017 Gold Cup.
Although a late injury prevents 2017 Gold Cup winner Sizing John from defending his crown, there are other significant Irish challengers in this race.Our Duke has emerged as a serious contender after improving with each race during the season and winning the Irish Grand National last term. It is also worth noting that Edwulf, Road To Respect and Total Recall all claimed victory in their previous outing while Killultagh Vic fell when leading at the final fence in the Irish Gold Cup.
Yet Northern trainer Brian Ellison could upset the more fancied animals with his stable star Definitly Red. Priced at approximately 16/1, the demands of the course should prove no problem as he won at Cheltenham on his previous appearance in heavy ground, and there are no issues with stamina. Performing equally well at Grade 1 level is the main question regarding this consistent horse.
16.10 The St. James’s Place Foxhunter Chase
This third and final race for amateurs is run over the same course and trip as the Gold Cup. This race aroused much media attention at the 2016 Festival as Olympic Cycling Gold medallist Victoria Pendleton rode Pacha de Polder to finish fifth before Bryony Frost confirmed her potential as a rising star by winning with the same horse in 2017.
16.50 The Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle
This race is named in honour of the great trainer who saddled 34 Festival winners. Restricted to conditional jockeys, Jack Sherwood was a winner in 2016 and he is the son of Simon who rode Desert Orchid to Gold Cup victory. Trainer Willie Mullins is responsible for three of the nine winners of this contest.
17.30 The Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase
Named after the father of trainer Nicky Henderson, this is another difficult 2m handicap for punters at the end of a long week of competitive racing. Anybody backing last year’s winner Rock The World at 10/1 would at least have left the Festival with some money in their wallet or purse.