My good friend Sir Alex Ferguson popped his head into the box on Wednesday ahead of the Champion Bumper where his horse I'm Fraam Govan ran down the field in the Champion Bumper; there was little talk about Turkish referees and kebabs were off the menu but that apart he was in good form and looking forward to the title run-in. Hoped you backed the 20/1 winner of the opener I gave you on Thursday; yes I was surprised too!
The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the Blue Riband of the Festival and the highlight of the final day of Cheltenham 2013; eleven go to post in what promises to be a cracking race with the dual King George winner and 2011 Gold Cup hero Long Run only fourth favourite behind the Cheltenham specialists Bobs Worth and Sir Des Champs and the unexposed Silviniaco Conti. Bobs Worth is a worthy favourite; tough and resolute we haven't seen him since he landed the Hennessy Gold Cup at the beginning of December but he is reported in rude health, is unbeaten in four starts at Cheltenham, stays all day and jumps well. He is the one to beat but I have been a Sir Des Champs (3.15) fan since the day he landed last year's Jewson Novices' chase and see no point in deserting him now.
The selection represents Willie Mullins, who has had a wonderful first couple of days, is unbeaten in both starts at Cheltenham, won the Grade 1 Irish Hennessy last time and should enjoy the better ground he will encounter today; Davy Russell is the regular jockey for the owners Gigginstown Stud so don't think Ruby Walsh has chosen the Paul Nicholls-trained Silviniaco Conti ahead of the selection although it would probably be a close call had he done so. Sir Des Champs has yet to confirm he stays 3m 2f and you can pick holes in his form in comparison with the other market leaders but I have felt for 12 months he was a Gold Cup winner-in waiting.
The Triumph Hurdle opens the card; Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson have won four of the last five renewals between them and they have the market leaders via Far West and Rolling Star but I hope the Irish can win the race for the first time since 2002 with Our Conor (1.30) winner of all three starts including in Grade 1 company at Leopardstown last month. His sire Jeremy (a horse honestly) didn't stay further than 7f but he is out of a Sadler's Wells mare and promises to appreciate the better ground he will get today. This is his first test of a big field (17 runners) but Far West's form took a knock when River Maigue ran poorly on the opening day and Rolling Star might be the big danger for Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty.
We are offering ¼ odds first 5 in the County Hurdle; one of these days the Emma Lavelle string will return to form and when they do she will have some very well-handicapped horses including Claret Cloak but the nod goes to Ifandbutwhynot 10/1 (2.05) who has always promised to be a decent sort for Paul Nicholls. The selection has improved all season and is only 5lb higher than when scoring at Musselburgh last time giving the impression he would improve again back on a left-handed track.
All week I have been waiting for At Fishers Cross in the Albert Bartlett but he is too short in the betting now that the ground continues to dry out; on soft ground he would be something to bet on but I am going to side with Ballycasey (2.40) who, as a son of Presenting, is bred to appreciate decent ground and still has shown a good level of form in Ireland on heavy ground this winter for Willie Mullins.
Salsify (4.00) and Chapoturgeon fought out the finish to the Foxhunters' last season and the former can confirm the form 12 months; the selection will love the ground and has built up a tremendous rapport with Colman Sweeney. Dante's Son was impressive in an egg and spoon race at Doncaster last time but he disappointed two years ago in this corresponding event and this is best left to the favourite although he will be ridden with restraint and is likely to be out the back for much of the race.
Gevrey Chambertin must go close in the Martin Pipe Hurdle for David Pipe whose father enjoyed so many great days at the Festival. The trainer normally has a handful of runners in the race but he has only the one today and Tom Bellamy take off a valuable 6lbs. The grey who is a brother of the stables Grands Crus looks the one to beat but is only 4/1 and has to be opposed at that price. I have been waiting for decent ground for Village Vic (4.40) for some time now and the form of his 3l defeat by The New One here back in October looks decent form given the winner sluiced up on Wednesday.
The Grand Annual is the Getting Out Stakes and Nicky Henderson saddles six of the 24-runners in the race named after his late father who did so much for the track; stable jockey Barry Geraghty rides French Opera and all the Henderson runners have chances but there is no question that Alderwood (5.15) is very well treated on his hurdle form, will love the ground and can give the JP McManus/AP McCoy combination a winning finale to Cheltenham 2013.
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