In recent years this has undoubtedly proven the toughest of the four days to make a successful return on. There are very few opportunities to unearth possible shock winners with an incredible early price and who have been overlooked in the market.
DAY FOUR HIGHLIGHT
Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase (Grade 1)
STAR OF THE DAY
Kauto Star is without shadow of a doubt the King of National Hunt racing and he has retained his crown in some style this season. A former two time Gold Cup winner, four time Betfair Chase and FIVE time King George winner is simply a class act who appears rejuvenated this season. I just pray he gets round and whether you are going to bet on him today or not, you cannot help but want him to win, no matter what the circumstances may turn out to be!
DID YOU KNOW?
More than 200,000 pints of Guinness are consumed at Cheltenham during the course of the four day Festival. I just hope somebody has a mop.
GRADE ONE ANALYSIS
There are three Grade One races scheduled on Friday in total with Novice hurdlers and chasers each competing prior to the main showpiece event itself, which will see the elite paraded on course. Each of these three events appear problematic to assess but I have reached a conclusion on each of them and will make a conscious effort to persuade you to think similarly.
The opening race on the card is the 1.30PM JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1) and there have been several trainers in confident mood approaching the race. Trainer Gordon Elliot has claimed Shadow Catcher to be one of his best chances on the final day whilst Alan King has been particularly sweet on his number one Grumeti. King has also shown a liking for his second stable star Balder Succes with Paul Nicholl's being equally bullish regarding his hopes with Pearl Swan.
All in all it could pay to swerve the hype, but I am keen to keep faith in a certain Phillip Hobbs who trains SADDLER'S RISK. This is a horse he has mentioned on record to be "Better than Detroit City was". These are strong words and I have been keen to try and prove this rather than just believe a possible trainer comment that exhumes over-confidence.
I have had a look at Phillip Hobbs' record in the Triumph and over the years he has proven to be highly successful in the race with the limited numbers he has entered to run. In 2004 he won with outsider Made In Japan before enjoying further success in 2006 with the ill-fated Detroit City. Hobbs unsuccessfully tried for a repeat bid in glory when his runner Liberate could only finish runner up to Katchit the following year.
It is a telling fact that Hobbs has failed to enter the race since 2007, acknowledging that none of his fledgling hurdlers have been up to the same standards that he ascertains are required to win the event. It is also quite revealing that NONE of his previous runners in the race had tried their hand in a Graded race prior to running at Cheltenham as well.
With the knowledge that Saddler's Risk has already been tested in a Grade 2 at Kempton, whether he won or not, confirms to me that he firmly believes in his own sentiment that this is his BEST juvenile that he has trained. Therefore with his previous record in the race being there on show for everyone to analyse, I am encouraged to bet quite heavily on his charge with an option to trade off inrunning.
The likely dangers will possibly come from Alan King who runs two accomplished recruits who have serious potential. From a potential value perspective it may pay each way backers to chance their arm on the Dermot Weld trained Hisaabaat who is already a Grade 1 winner and should not be an outsider in the market like he currently is.
The following event sees the Novice staying hurdlers take to the fore in the 2.40PM Albert Barlett Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1) which is a decent test over three miles for the 20 entrants. Willie Mullins is the apparent BANKER of the meeting by all accounts and has been backed off the boards accordingly, but as we all know, betting on a Novice at short odds can ultimately prove costly and all the hype is currently built into these unrealistic short odds.
As an each way alternative there seems to be no better alternative to back "one of" Gordon Elliot's best horses in training MOUNT BENBULBEN. He has already suffered in defeat against the Willie Mullins charge, but he was given the task of making the running on that occasion which did not suit and he continually jumped to the right. In a bigger field this afternoon he has strong claims of running a decent race and will stay on all day, hopefully keeping his main rival in his sights.
The main focal point on the final day though will be much anticipated Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1) at 3.20PM. A true staying test when all said and done which will also require elements of speed due to the drying conditions which promise to be marginally quicker than on Thursday.
With one long-winded paragraph I will evaluate the runners taking part in the race in a typically straight talking fashion.
Long Run may indeed be the most likely winner but he cannot jump and an Amateur jockey riding him makes his odds not worthy of the punters money. When he won the Gold Cup he was 7-2 and perhaps a better horse than he is now, so the even the best prices available right now are not worth taking. Kauto Star would be a dream winner and is vastly superior to any other horse in the line up if he can retain the unbelievable level of form that he has been in this season. He is however not getting younger and always in danger of being surpassed by an improver during these late stages of his career. Burton Port has been backed as a possible alternative but with just ONE run to his name over the course of the last 17 months I find it hard to have any confidence in his chances of winning. He was not good enough to win the RSA in 2010 and later ran second in the Hennessy behind fellow plodder Diamond Harry who has not progressed. Midnight Chase has encouraging course form but in this company he could only win if his opponents were blindfolded and the same could be said for What A Friend who has a questionable attitude at times. Time For Rupert remains too highly rated for handicaps and too poor for words when racing against the very best. Meanwhile The Giant Bolster is simply too headstrong to stay the distance whilst lacking the defining talent required to succeed. If a jumps race is meant to have a pacemaker then he simply is just that and nothing more. Quel Esprit could still be anything but is very unlikely to be more than a place contender having developed best of what have proven to be a hopeless group of Novice stayers from last season. Synchronised almost appeals but Rubi Light failed to shine yesterday and there is no certainty that his Lexus Chase win is anything other than just a very good run. However very good runs do not win Gold Cups do they? Horses such as China Rock and Carruthers lack the skill and temperament whilst the trainers of Knockara Beau and The Midnight Club must have ticked the wrong race option on their entry forms. The only horse left from a value perspective and technical analyst viewpoint is WEIRD AL who has progressed steadily during a lightly raced career. He may have flopped in this race last season but he broke a blood vessel and can be forgiven his poor effort, since then he has shown improved form and with a great record running fresh he may have what it takes to scare the front two in the market. He has to be considered the best chance of finishing third at the very least and an each way bet is advised.
SUMMARY OF THE REST OF DAY FOUR
The 2.05PM Vincent O'Brien County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) is a confirmed speed test where horses being held up in the race have an successful profile heading into the event. I have maintained a good strike rate in the handicaps this week and will endeavour to improve that record further this afternoon. One notable absentee from the Festival this week is a Gordon Elliot trained winner and he has a great chance later on the card, but in this particular race he appears to have a dark horse capable of providing punters with a good run for their money.
PLAN A is only rated 3lb more than when he ran here in the Fred Winter when favourite as a juvenile. He could only finish fourth that day, but had a sizeable weight to carry in a race that was run on very quick ground and he is inclined to have developed since. There is hidden money on the horse as both of the main Irish bookmakers are unwilling to go bigger than 18-1 whilst their UK counterparts are happy to offer up to 25-1 and even bigger on the exchanges. His style of running is very well suited to this race and his trainer could be planning another plot that I would rather be on than simply just watching in a silent disbelief.
The 4.00PM Christie's Foxhunter Challenge Chase Cup (Class 2) is a minefield year after year with Amateur jockeys contesting their version of the Gold Cup. Quite often a spectacular race for the wrong reasons with last years renewal being no exception when Baby Run capsized when looking set to win readily for the second time.
I would be reluctant to just select one horse in such an open race so in that frame of mind I believe a fair return can be made by backing both ON THE FRINGE and outsider JUST AMAZING. The first of these two looks set to go close after attempting to win this last year when only a 6yo, lacking the required experience and staying power at that age to provide connections with a win. It is interesting therefore that his performance did not put connections off a repeat bid and they appear to very much fancy their chances of taking the spoils. His prep run was very decent and will have put him spot on for this event.
Backers could be rewarded at a big price by betting on Just Amazing each way, running for trainer Paul Nicholl's. He was quietly fancied by his stable for this event last season but failed to show his best with his stamina ebbing away towards the end of the race. This year their approach has changed and he comes into the race fresh which is not a usual trait for an eventual winner of this race. However he appears to run some of his best races first time out and without the same competition in front as he had last year he could surprise quite a few people and go close.
The final two races to conclude the Festival are both massive field handicaps but difficult to engage a strong opinion in. Under normal circumstances I would not be keen to place a bet in a race lacking quality which is how I determine the 4.40PM Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle (Class 2) to be. The vast majority of these horses will either be eventual staying chasers or middle distance hurdlers with unknown potential. What will win is anyone's guess but a chance is taken to small stakes on OSCAR NOMINEE who has run well this season so far.
The selection suggested he has stamina traits when staying on behind Tuesday's Supreme Novice Hurdle winner Cinders and Ashes at Haydock in the mud. He was distinctly novicey that day and was outclassed but not by much and this step up in trip on better ground will show him in a better light today.
A competitive renewal of the 5.15PM Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase (Grade 3) draws the meeting to a close on what will have hopefully proven to be a successful meeting for many. What is clear by this renewal is that it is overall improved profile of runners taking part and with the combination of decent ground it could prove to ignore recent trends.
With this clearly looking on paper a far superior renewal than last year I am happy to ignore any of those who ran in the race last year including the impressive winner Oiseau De Nuit. The two on my shortlist for the race are TOUBAB and the useful Irish raider SLIEVEARDAGH who comes into the race at the top of his game.
Toubab looked quite a class act over hurdles and is still developing into a chaser but he is difficult to remove from the equation with trainer Paul Nicholl's likely to have readied him to peak for this race. Ground ideally could have been softer but when all things are considered he surely will not be far away at the finish if handling this bigger field.
Slieveardagh meanwhile looks a handicap snip at present despite a 10lb rise for his latest win in Ireland by the British handicapper. He has not really had his conditions so far and could be even better than he has shown, and on that basis I believe he is a strong contender whilst being best in at the present weights.
BEST OF LUCK TO ALL!