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    Cheltenham Blog  -  Day Four, Friday 15th March 2013    
    DATE POSTED: 14/03/2012    

Cue Card made his entrance count this time and Solwhit came with a withering run to deny Celestial Halo a memorable victory in the World
Hurdle.  But now its the big day for chasers...


The Triumph Hurdle (1.30pm) attracts many classically bred runners with good Flat speed these days and is an altogether different prospect to the early days of Cheltenham where the runners were mainly from jumping pedigrees.

This yearís race seems to be a three-way fight between Our Conor, the pick of the Irish-trained runners, Far West and ROLLING STAR. They deserve to be the first 3 in the betting, but thereís always room for something else to spring out of the pack in this race. Nicky Henderson is great at preparing the young horses for this race and has won it 5 times in recent years. Rolling Star has reportedly done some great recent work on the gallops at home, has some excellent French breeding (his sire also sired Nacarat) and has comfortably won a hurdle when in France and on his introduction over here. There is a lot of confidence behind him. The more experienced Our Conor who cost only 4,500 Euros is likely to give him most to do, while Paul Nichollsís Far West, who is bred for jumping, has won 2 Triumph Hurdle trials at Cheltenham as well as a good hurdle at Ascot will be sure to on the premises if it turns into a stamina test. We note that the French NH top jock, Jacques Ricou, is on Nicky Hendersonís Vasco de Ronceray.

We had our fingers burned when selecting COTTON MILL in last yearís Neptune Hurdle (2-05pm). The horse was well in contention and looked set to give Simonsig a battle when veering off-course at the 2nd last and unseating Dennis OíRegan. The horse has redeemed himself somewhat in two very good runs since, and we suggest trying again with him in the County Hurdle. Another horse weíve followed successfully this year is IFBUTANDWHYNOT, who has a course win to his name and is on a handy weight so will have to appear on the betting slip tomorrow even though his form may not be quite up to this class. Midnight Game cost an awful lot of money and could claw a portion of it back for maestro Willie Mullins.

Ballycasey could well be yet another hurdle winner for the Walsh/Mullins combo in this yearís Albert Bartlett hurdle (2-40pm). The horse has been prepared all season with this one race in mind and looks certain to do himself justice. FISHERS CROSS, from the yard of Welsh trainer Rebecca Curtis, has already been well supported for this race.  His stock has risen further since the Festival win of The New One on Wednesday as he beat that horse by a neck here in January. The addition of AP McCoy in the saddle lends further weight to his chances.

The Gold Cup (3-20pm) is the jewel in the Festival crown and has been graced by most of the best chasers in racing history. It goes without saying that each yearís race is the subject of intense sports media and betting community scrutiny the moment that the winning owner of the previous yearís race picks up the trophy, and itís no surprise that the favourites have won 6 of the last 10 runnings. Long Run won the race in 2011 and he sets the benchmark and, at the age of 9, is far from over the hill. I have to confess to a personal and perhaps misguided bias against amateur riders in these races, and prefer to look elsewhere for the winner, but have to acknowledge that Long Run deserves at least a place. Weíve been following Silviniaco Contiís rise to stardom and the 7yo has been in the notebook ever since, as a 4yo, he saw off  6yo, Captain Chris and has been unbeaten ever since. He is the apple of Paul Nichollsís eye and now might be a good time to get a quote for the 2014 event before 3:20 tomorrow. However Paul is having a fruitless Festival so far and we should approach this race with caution, especially as there is plenty of good opposition tomorrow including Bobís Worth and Sir des Champs but we will stick with SILVINIACO CONTI in the hope that heís developed the stamina necessary to win here and is in good heart.

The Foxhunterís Chase (4-00pm) brings together the best hunter chasers in the country, some of them from top NH yards but others can come from farmers who just own the odd horse and like to follow the local Hunt. It is an event that is probably best left alone for betting purposes but we will offer Cottage Oak, formerly trained in Ireland by Gordon Elliot, and Fearghal OíBrienís Creevytennant as sporting hunches.

The Martin Pipe Hurdle for Conditional Jockeys (4-40pm) has been whittled down to 24 runners from the original 196 entries and is not a race for the faint-hearted punter. There are so many with chances in this handicap that even a long list of suggestions could fail to find the winner. We note that a former course winner, Kells Belle, who has dropped 8lbs in the handicap this season as a possible for the Henderson yard. Also, just squeezing into this race at the foot of the handicap it is interesting to see 8yo Paint the Clouds, who has been absent for 16 months and clearly had a problem, but has two Course wins and a 3rd to his name and is unbeaten in his last 5 races. Who knows, this could be a dream return for the Warren Greatrex stable. It would be lovely to see Ownaracehorse trainer, Phil Kirby, get into the frame with Stopped Out, who demonstrated his wellbeing when hacking up at Kelso in December and has a great pilot in Lucy Alexander but, overall, we recommend saving the cash and just enjoying the spectacle.

The grand finale to the Festival is the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup (5-15pm) and son Nicky loves to win this chase which is named after his father. Nick has won it twice and is trying to get a stranglehold tomorrow with no less than a quarter of the runners coming from his yard. (We expect that Benefficient wonít run, having won earlier today).  Unable to select the best of the Henderson entries, we suggest that Tom George may be able to provide the winner with RODY.  Another possible is Viva Colonia, who is on a handy mark for Malton handler, Brian Ellison.

Nap of the Day is COTTON MILL and the outsider suggestion is Kells Belle

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