The final day at the Cheltenham Festival is almost upon us. The Gold Cup is the highlight at 3.30pm, but all seven races offer something to savour. Our editor has picked a selection in every race on day four below.
Vauban (1.30 Cheltenham, JCB Triumph Hurdle) 2/1
There are a few prodigious types in this season’s Triumph Hurdle, none more so than VAUBAN, who can provide Rich Ricci with a belated first Cheltenham Festival winner this term.
That could yet happen on day three, of course, but the American won’t have any better chances in his silks for the rest of the week. Sent to Willie Mullins from France, he was untoward with his jumping on debut, losing out to the more professional Pied Piper by half-a-length.
However, he was still an unlucky loser that day and despite the occasional correction to his right, he was brilliant at the Dublin Racing Festival. Despite fierce opposition from the more experienced Graded winner Fil Dor, the strapping chestnut won by three lengths and was likely value for a greater margin of victory.
Though Pied Piper has also won impressively since, there is plenty of reason to believe Vauban now has the stronger form and he can turn the tables in the opener on day four.
Colonel Mustard (2.10 Cheltenham, County Hurdle) 9/1
State Man may be all the rage for the County Hurdle, as he has such an appealing, unexposed profile.
With just the two runs over hurdles, he has been given an opening mark of 141. That may clinically underrate him if he goes on to be a Grade 1 performer. However, there is a close rival in the market who is worth looking into in greater detail.
That horse is COLONEL MUSTARD who hails from the much smaller yard of Lorna Fowler’s. His mark, for this his first handicap run, is 140, but he has achieved infinitely more than State Man. He was second at Grade 1 level last season at Punchestown and as placed twice more at Graded level behind Jonbon and Sir Gerhard this season.
His mark is a good 10lb below that of a horse consistently competing at the level he has done. Colonel Mustard was miles clear of many of the field at Leopardstown last time out and has almost certainly improved from last term. He is right in this and would be challenging for favouritism if trained by a Mullins or an Elliott.
Eric Bloodaxe (2.50 Cheltenham, Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle) 40/1
The Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle is often a puzzle. Seven of the last eight winners have been priced at 11/1 or greater.
Both Ginto and Hillcrest have looked high class, but particularly with the recent rain, this could turn into a serious slog. Hillcrest is an enormous horse, but even he might not want this to become too stamina-sapping.
A chance is therefore taken on ERIC BLOODAXE, who comes into this race with an intriguingly similar profile to last year’s winner Vanillier. Joseph O’Brien’s seven-year-old has competed in three of the same races as Gavin Cromwell’s grey last term.
The first was a Naas maiden hurdle over the same course and distance, but Eric Bloodaxe won a Limerick Grade 2 on heavy ground over Christmas relatively comfortably. Vanillier actually lost that race before both blew out at the Dublin Racing Festival.
He is a significantly greater price after his own disappointment, and he is held by Ginto over shorter. However, under these conditions, things might be much closer and he is far too appealing at massive odds.
Galvin (3.30 Cheltenham, Cheltenham Gold Cup) 10/3
Both 2020 and 2021s 1-2 are back for more, but it is a new kid on the Gold Cup block, GALVIN, who can secure Gordon Elliott’s second Gold Cup.
He has now finished in the top two in all of his last ten races, winning seven of those. It took a while for Galvin to make his name, failing to win in his first novice season in 2019/20, though that did culminate with a good runner-up in the final running of the novices’ handicap at the Festival.
However, an unbeaten second novice season saw him win twice at Cheltenham, the second coming in the National Hunt Chase. That race has become an increasingly classy contest since the four-mile trip was reduced to 3m6f.
This season, he has stepped up even further. A narrow defeat to a gallant Frodon at Down Royal preceded a clear career best when overcoming A Plus Tard in the Grade 1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown. That suggests this test will be absolutely ideal for him now and Elliott’s team are bullish he is now better than ever. He has a wonderful chance.
Winged Leader (4.10 Cheltenham, Foxhunters Chase) 9/2
Billaway’s position at the head of the market probably owes to his two near-misses in the race.
Last year’s was especially frustrating when he went down by a short-head, while 66/1 outsider was the only one who got away from him in 2020. However, he was very well-beaten by WINGED LEADER at Thurles in January and David Christie’s charge is surely overpriced as a result.
He put 12 lengths between himself and Billaway in that contest, which is vastly better form than anything he showed previously and that does not look likely to be a one off.
There would be a slight question if the ground remained soft, but as a front-runner, he could easily go well in a contest which often favours those up with the pace. He is an eight-year-old who might simply be on the up.
Mount Ida (4.50 Cheltenham, Mares’ Chase) 2/1
Apart from a bumper at Wexford in April 2019, Cheltenham is the only left-handed track at which MOUNT IDA has competed.
Despite persistent jumping to her right, she came from stone last to storm home in the Kim Muir a year ago. That was a phenomenal performance in the circumstances and she has shown how talented she is in mares’ only company this term.
Victories at Clonmel and Fairyhouse have been decisive and she has become an extremely likeable mare. Conceding 3lb to chief market rival Elimay, she fended that rival off admirably and soft ground should only ease the task she faces here.
The big question is how much ground she will give away at her fences, but she is very versatile regarding trip, will definitely stay in the conditions and was given a Gold Cup entry. That shows the regard in which she is held, and she would not have been out of place in the showpiece.
Adamantly Chosen (5.30, Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle) 7/1
Willie Mullins usually has a potential star lurking in this race and while ADAMANTLY CHOSEN may not be Galopin Des Champs, he is still very capable of winning this from his opening mark.
Langer Dan may find his party spoilt for the second year in a row after his recent comeback. Chief in Mullins’ battalion, Adamantly Chosen won a strong bumper at the Punchestown Festival last season, but proved frustrating around the turn of the year.
He was second to Gringo D’aubrelle on his hurdles bow, but that horse has finished in the top three in two Graded races since, while only the four-year-old Ebasari beat the five-year-old on his second start, when in receipt of 11lb. They pulled 27 lengths clear of the third.
Things finally clicked at Thurles, as he was once again 27 lengths clear of his nearest rival, but this time in splendid isolation. The step up in trip should be little issue, there is every chance he’ll improve and conditional rider Richard Deegan is operating at a 20% strike rate in the last two weeks.