So the final day of the Cheltenham Festival is upon us and with the Gold Cup looking wide open and three competitive handicap hurdles on the card, all is not last if you are languishing in mid-division in the Telegraph’s Fantasy Racing competition.
So let’s not waste words on introductory paragraphs and jump straight into focusing on the likely contenders for today’s big races.
Triumph Hurdle (1.30pm)
For many, the banker of the entire Festival runs in this in the shape of Sir Erec. High class on the Flat, he was good enough to be beaten just two lengths by Stradivarius in the Group 2 Long Distance Cup at Ascot last year, he has won both his starts over hurdles, notably when beating the best juvenile hurdlers Ireland has to offer in the Spring Hurdle at Leopardstown.
He is a worthy favourite and will probably be heavily backed to get punters off to a winning start on the final day. He is by far the most likely winner but Quel Destin rates a good each-way bet. A battle-hardened performer, he jumps well and should run with credit.
County Hurdle (2.10pm)
With three of the last four winners priced at 20/1, 25/1 and 33/1 and no winning favourite since 2004, this race has proved a minefield for punters and Fantasy Racing players alike.
If you have a pin handy, it might be worth letting the fickle finger of fate choose your selection but I’ll be backing Capitaine. He was good enough to win a Grade Two novice hurdle two years ago and showed plenty of his old zest when winning on his first run back after a wind operation at Taunton last month. The Nicky Henderson-trained Countister has not run this season but is also interesting based on some decent form last year.
Albert Bartlett Hurdle (2.50pm)
I’m going to take a chance that fancied runners Birchdale, Dickie Diver, Allaho lack the necessary experience for this race, with most winners having ran at least three times over hurdles before contesting this. So, in a very trappy race that throws up its fair share of shock results, it could be worth chancing Alsa Mix. She was well beaten behind Champ in the Challow Hurdle but had previously been impressive at Grade Two level in heavy ground. Stamina seems to be her strength and she should relish this step up to three miles.
Gold Cup (3.30pm)
A race that traditionally goes to young improvers rather than outstanding veterans with no winners aged ten or older since the turn of the century. It also pays to focus towards those at the head of the market, with only one horse since 1999 winning from outside the top four in the market. With that in mind, I’ll be backing Kemboy who was seriously good when winning the Grade One Savills Chase at Leopardstown and beating the best Ireland has to offer bar Presenting Percy. Ruby Walsh presumably had the pick of Willie Mullins’s four runners so it’s a negative that he has chosen to ride Bellshill over Kemboy, but David Mullins was aboard for that last success.