Our racing expert John Doyle previews days three and four of the Cheltenham Festival including the Gold Cup
Day Three – Thursday 15th March
JLT Novice’ Steeple Chase
This race has cut up badly this year with the Willie Mullins trained, Invitation Only, heading the market. Overall, his form is good but not outstanding and he would be a hard favourite to support.
Terrefort representing the Henderson team is another good horse who does not excite as a star. Finian’s Oscar was the best horse over Hurdles, but has had a patchy Chasing career so far.
However, since his last run, he has had a breathing operation and will run with headgear for the first time. Modus is another who is steadily improving.
Selection: Finian’s Oscar
This is a race that has been won by the Irish recently. The JP McManus team look to be targeting this race heavily this year with A Great View, Glenloe and Sort it Out all looking to be leading fancies for that team.
A Great View and Glenloe finished second and third in the Leopardstown qualifier but interestingly most of the support has been for Glenloe. Sort it Out was even more eye-catching at Punchestown and looks to be coming to hand at the right time.
The Philip Hobbs team have a good record here too and Louis Vac Pouch looks another likely type.
Selection: Sort it Out
Outsider: A Great View
Another race that has cut up badly as contender after contender has been forced to miss the race.
Last year’s winner, Un De Sceaux, has become a hot favourite to win again. He is well suited by cut in the ground and is unbeaten in a couple of runs this season.
The opposition is led by Cue Card and Balko Des Flos, one who is approaching the end of his career and one who needs to improve.
Cue Card ran well at Ascot and will want to force the pace which could mean a duel with Un De Sceaux.
Balko Des Flos has to improve but has been well supported. If the Mullins team allow Yorkhill to run here, he will be a danger to all.
Selection: Un De Sceaux
Outsider: Balko Des Flos
This year’s Stayers Hurdle is the most competitive for a few years. Sam Spinner has been winning this season and has put in some good performances. He has not run since Christmas and as a front runner will be vulnerable to a finisher.
Supasundae won at last year’s Festival and has shown improved form this season. He still needs to improve to win here. Yanworth is interesting returning from Chasing as he has class but doesn’t always look the easiest ride.
L’Ami Serge will be suited by the fast pace and will almost certainly finish in the frame. If Daryl Jacob can deliver him very late, he can just about win this renewal.
Selection: L’ami Serge
Brown Advisory Handicap Chase
A red-hot Handicap chase that David Pipe has a really strong record in, so that is always the place to start.
His runner this year, King Socks, is an interesting contender who has had training problems but looks to have been prepared for this race.
He was given a prep run at Kempton behind Modus and will be cherry ripe for this assignment. The only negative is his lack of experience.
Tully East, the winner of the Close Brothers Handicap last season is another who looks to have been laid out, so is easily supportable too.
Others from Ireland who could be suited by the race are The Storyteller and Vieux Morvan, who likes to run from the front.
Selection: Kin Socks
Outsider: Vieux Morvan
Mares Novice Hurdle
This is the newest race to the Festival and the Willie Mullins team have won both runnings so far. This season, they have another hot favourite in Laurina.
This Mare has won a couple of races impressively to the eye but the times are not super. The heavy support has come because of the hype, so really this is a favourite to take on.
Maria’s Benefit and Cap Soleil are more battle-hardened Mares and if they engage the favourite, it may be that she will give in to the tougher opponents.
Selection: Cap Soleil
Outsider: Maria’s Benefit
Kim Muir Handicap Chase
This race is full of potential gambles and one that returns from last season, Squouateur, looks to have been laid out all year for this event. Heavily backed last year, the race didn’t go well for him but he was just starting to stay on when he unseated. He looks a likely contender.
Mall Dini and Sugar Baron have good Cheltenham and Festival form, will be ridden by top Amateurs and will be well fancied too.
Outsider: Sugar Baron
Day Three – Friday 16th March
Apples Shakira has been a long-time favourite for this race. She has run all her races at Cheltenham in small field races.
Being a full sister to Apples Jade makes her easy to be excited about but how she will cope with a bigger field will be interesting.
Redicean has won three times around Kempton and has improved each time. A stayer on the flat, he could improve for the hill at Cheltenham and will be involved.
From the Irish contenders, Mr Adjudicator and Farclas stand out on form with Farclas open to most improvement.
Since Rich Ricci stood on the steps of the stand at Leopardstown and declared Max Dynamite in the County Hurdle as his best bet for Cheltenham at the start of February, all the main support has been for him.
This horse has run some great races on the Flat since last seen over Hurdles and could be well handicapped.
Flying Tiger is interesting for Nick Williams as he could improve for the better ground and looks on a fair mark too.
Ivanovich Gorbatov is also interesting as he was gambled to favourite in this race last season and finished sixth. He is lower this season and could run well too.
Selection: Max Dynamite
Outsider: Ivanovich Gorbatov
This is an attritional race for Novice Hurdlers and it has thrown up numerous upsets over the years.
Santini has assumed favouritism for this race but it is worrying that his trainer, Nicky Henderson, suggested he was too immature for this test after he won last time.
Chef Des Obeaux loves soft ground and would be a smart prospect if soft here. Next destination would be of interest if switched while Poetic Rhythm ground out a win at Newbury at New Year and will be suited by a slog.
Selection: Chef Des Obeaux
Outsider: Poetic Rhythm
The Gold Cup this year is not the strongest renewal as a number of the top contenders are missing the race.
Might Bite leads the betting and this horse would be a lot warmer favourite if his perceived suspect tendencies were not in evidence.
However, this season, he has won both his races in straightforward fashion and this horse could be a superstar. Native River finished third last year but has been specifically focused on this race this season and will go close.
Our Duke, Killultagh Vic and Our Duke are the strongest Irish contenders, and can all be given a chance.
Selection: Might Bite
Outsider: Killultagh Vic
The Foxhunter is usually a big field for the Amateur riders and it is usual for the fancied horses to be at the fore.
Paul Nicholls has a strong hand with Wonderful Charm looking his best option under Sam Waley-Cohen.
Burning Ambition has been winning with authority in Ireland and will be a big fancy for them. Also, for Ireland, Foxrock is well fancied for the Ted Walsh team too.
Selection: Wonderful Charm
Outsider: Burning Ambition
This race is hard to sort out as the contenders are improving and plenty of luck in running is needed.
The big stables have been setting Novices aside for this event but it has been the second and third strings that have triumphed.
Gordon Elliott has a couple of potential blots in Blow by Blow and Flawless Escape. Blow by Blow was hyped as a bumper horse, but has taken time to get his act together over hurdles but recently he has shown improvement.
Diese Des Bieffes has good form for the Nicky Henderson team and is likely to be ridden by riding sensation, James Bowen.
This alone will bring support but this horse has a super chance and will only have that chance increased by his partner.
Selection: Diese Des Bieffes
Outsider: Blow by Blow
The last race of the Festival is a fast run two-mile handicap chase. Jessica Harrington won the race last season and returns with Rock the World but more eye-catchingly Don’t Touch it looks to have been prepared specifically for this.
Thienval was third last year and with some improvement will go close. Others to consider are Vaniteux and Dandridge who have run well before.
Selection: Don’t Touch it