Another dry sunny day forecast for Gold Cup Day and conditions should have dried out to good to soft by the time of the feature event – the Blue Riband contest of the jumps season the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
1.30 Triumph Hurdle
The opening Triumph Hurdle is a cracker and Pied Piper (1.30) beat Vauban when the pair were having their first starts over timber at Punchestown and I hope to see the Gordon Elliot-trained juvenile confirm the form. I know there are many in the Willie Mullins camp who are firmly of the opinion that Vauban was an unlucky loser on that occasion, and he was a fluent winner of the Leopardstown Grade 1 at the Dublin Racing Festival last time although there are many in Ireland – especially in the Elliot yard – who believe runner up Fil Dor will reverse the form.
Pied Piper did us a favour, however, when scoring over today’s C&D at the end of January and he gets a narrow vote in a race where I do think Ireland will hold sway despite the fact that there is a strong home challenge led by the unbeaten Knights Salute although he is not certain to confirm Kempton form with Teddy Blue who is fitted with a hood for the first time.
Recommendation: Pied Piper 1.30 at 3/1
2.10 County Hurdle
Willie Mullins and Dan Skelton have shared six of the last seven renewals of this famous handicap and they have strong claims again this afternoon.
Skelton saddles West Cork (2.10) who landed the Greatwood Hurdle returning from a long lay-off on good ground here back in November. Skelton suggested he “bounced” when disappointing at Ascot the following month and he has been freshened up in the interim period. He is 7lbs higher than when scoring here earlier in the season, but he remains lightly raced and has clearly been laid out for the race since Ascot.
State Man could be anything. He was still cantering when coming down two out at Leopardstown on his first start for the yard and then easily landed the odds in a poor maiden hurdle at Limerick last month. His lack of experience could find him out, but he is yet another exciting prospect for the yard.
Impressive Imperial Cup winner Surprise Package carries a 7lb penalty for landing Saturday’s Sandown handicap, but he must have had a hard race despite the ease of his success.
Recommendation: West Cork EW at 9/1 with William Hill 6 places
2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
I would love to see the famous yellow and green colours of the late Trevor Hemmings come out on top courtesy of Henry Daly’s Hillcrest, but I just favour Ginto (2.50) for Gordon Elliot who is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles over two-and-a-half miles but did win a point over 3m and promises to be well suited by the step up in distance this afternoon.
Hillcrest is unbeaten over timber when he has stayed on his feet – hampered and unseated his rider on his penultimate start – but I wonder if his 2L defeat of I Am Maximus here back in January is good enough given the runner up was beaten out of sight in the Ballymore on Wednesday.
it would not surprise me if Ginto and Hillcrestare back here next year to contest the Brown Advisory Chase given both have future chaser written all over them and they are top class long-term prospects but, in the short term, it is Ginto for me.
Recommendation: Ginto 2.50 at 10/3
3.30 Gold Cup
When previewing the race about a month ago I suggested the race was down to three Minella Indo, Galvin (3.30) and Al Boum Photo and the latter no longer makes the frame given the noises out of the Mullins yard suggests he has not exactly been working the house down.
As a result, I think it is now a match between last year’s winner and the 2021 winner of the NH Chase and I now expect to see Gordon Elliot’s charge prevent De Bromhead from doing the Champion Hurdle/Gold Cup double for a second successive year.
Galvin looked to outstay A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase at Christmas and today’s additional quarter of a mile will suit him more than De Bromhead’s brilliant Betfair Chase winner who didn’t quite get home in the corresponding race 12 months ago. He finished in front of Minella Indo when runner up to Frodon in the Grade 1 at Down Royal back in the autumn and he has Festival form of 621.
Honeysuckle was brilliant on Tuesday, but I am absolutely convinced that Bob Olinger, the fortunate winner of Thursday’s opener – did not give his true running and it was interesting to hear winning jockey Rachel Blackmore’s post race comments. I also did not like Bob’s head carriage when push came to shove, and I wonder if the yard are back to their very best. For that reason alone, I have swerved Minella Indo although my money is already down.
Minella Indo was no match for Conflated in the Irish Gold Cup last time under Robbie Power but that was at a time when the De Bromhead yard were quiet, and this is his time of the year. His Festival record reads 121 and he jumped beautifully at Leopardstown last time. I am a fully paid-up member of his fan club, and my heart still says Minella Indo, but my head is now saying Galvin.
De Bromhead also saddles last year’s runner up A Plus Tard who has headed the market for most of the year, but I didn’t think he quite got up the hill 12 months ago and, as brilliant as he is, I don’t see him winning a Gold Cup on softish ground.
Recommendation: Galvin EW at 4/1 with Boylesports
4.10 Foxhunters Chase
My two against the field are Winged Leader for Ireland and Dubai Quest (4.10) with preference for the British challenger who caught my eye when running away with a Hunter Chase at Wetherby last time.
His jumping can be a bit novicey at times, but he thrashed a good yardstick in Yorkshire and Gina Andrews gets on very well with the 9-y-old who is unbeaten in his last seven starts – five points and two Hunter chases.
Recommendation: Dubai Quest EW at 11/1
4.50 Paddy Power Mares’ Chase
I thought Elimay (4.50) was an unlucky loser in this corresponding race last year when he was constantly carried right at his fences by the winner Colreevy in the inaugural running of the race and I hope she can go one better for Willie Mullins.
The mare seemed to back to her very best when scoring in first time cheek-pieces at Naas last time and she can reverse previous Fairyhouse form with Mount Ida despite meeting that rival on 3lb worse terms. The latter was a very impressive winner of the Kim Muir here last year, but she is, arguably, better going right-handed and the grey gets the vote.
Recommendation: Elimay 9/4 with William Hill
5.30 Martin Pipe c/j Handicap Hurdle
No Galopin Des Champs for Langer Dan to worry about this year and he must have a cracking chance of going one better for the Skeltons’, but marginal preference is for Gordon Elliot’s Hollow Games (5.30).
At the time of writing, it has been a frustrating Festival for the Elliot yard despite a 1-2 in the X-Country Chase and a 50/1 winner of the Coral Cup with Conflated the latest casualty when looking likely to finish second to the brilliant Allaho in Thursday’s Ryanair Chase.
Hollow Games was no match for Minella Cocooner in the Dublin Racing Festival last time, but he is fitted with a tongue=tie for the first time this afternoon and, while he is more exposed than Galopin Des Champs was 12 months ago, he could also be a Graded performer in a handicap, and he must only give 6lbs to Langer Dan.
Recommendation: Hollow Games 5.30 EW at 8/1 with Boylesports 6 places