CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2017 – FRIDAY PREVIEW

There you go: the finale, the last day – it’s nearly over, gone, history. Time’s flying and these four days of Festival craziness fly by in a blink of an eye. This is Friday, the day were the champ of champs is crowned. Who’ll make history, who will it be, the new king?

…..

1.30: Triumph Hurdle

The home team has a strong hand in the race with the unbeaten Defi Du Seul and progressive Master Blueyes and French recruit Charli Parcs but I feel it’s the Irish that will take home the price.

If Bapaume would line up I’d be certainly interested in him but the market trend suggests he’s not going to be declared. So it’s left to the horse who has beaten him in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle last month: Mega Fortune.

I really do like the progression this good looking Soldier of Fortune son has made this season.He got closer and closer to the big guns in Graded races until eventually getting his head in front.

In the Leopardstown feature he jumped well but was most impressive once he put the foot on the gas pedal. He jumpedthe second last and wooosh off he went, in the end running strongly to the line.

I’ve got slight worries about the fast ground as he seemed to relish the juice in the ground the last time, but at given prices he’s a bit over here with only a handful of runners having a realistic chance to go close. Further progression must see him go close.

Selection:
10pts Win – Mega Fortune @ 7/1 PP

……

2.10 County Hurdle

Gordon Elliott has a massive week so far and it might get even better because with Mick Jazz he has an exciting runner in the race. He won well on his first start for Elliott in October and was a fine runner-up behind Labaik, which looks brilliant form in hindsight.

He then went on to Fairyhouse Handicap where he travelled strongly behind a wall of horses but in the home straight then getting hampered twice, also making a mess of things at the second last, yet staying on strongly. Impressive!

After a break he produced another strong staying performance beating an odds-on Mullins horse at Punchestown. He looks the type ready made for Cheltenham. Even the ground is no worry. He could easily be better than his handicap mark.

Another one I really like to run big is Twiston Davise’s Crievehill. He’s probably getting in off a light weight. He’s progressive, his 3rd place behind Neon Wolf when last seen looks strong form and he might be still able to progress. The ground is a big worry as he never encountered anything less than soft, but at a big price he’s worth a punt.

Selection:
10pts win – Mick Jazz @ 10/1 Bet365
5pts win – Crievehill @ 40/1 Betfair SB

……

2.50: Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle

Death Duty may look like a good thing to many – but not to me. He could easily be too good, though at shortish odds I’m against him given he’s unproven on this ground and trip.

Two bigger prices are certainly of interest and seemingly underappreciated: there is the lightly raced Constantine Bay, who stepped up to 3m at Doncaster and produced a strong travelling yet incredibly game and tough performance in a ding dong finish, staying on very strongly. Traits you want to see in an Albert Bartlett contender.

Ami Desbois is the other one: Already  a seven year old, bit more experienced, he’s been improving this year, was only a lengths behind Wholestone over course and distance in December but the price difference in the betting would imply there is a whole world between the two.

I really like Wholestone, but if I do so, then I have to like Ami Desbois even more, given his progressive profile and much bigger price.

Selection:
5pts win – Ami Desbois @ 33/1 Betfair SB
5pts win – Constantine Bay @ 16/1 Bet365

…..

3.30: Gold Cup Chase

Who’s the new champ? Native River most likely. Hard to be against him? He put in some big performances, is clearly on the up, has Cheltenham form and is only seven. Even if there is no rain arriving, the ground may not necessarily be too big an issue.

But at the given price I can’t have him. Plain and simple he’s got to prove it all now for the first time in Grade 1. He hasn’t done that before. This is the toughest test to date which he may pass with flying colours. But I have to see it to believe it.

The standard is set by Djakadam. Twice a runner-up in this race; seemingly enjoying a better preparation this time and the Mullins yard is bullish. Fact is he’s been here before and ran extremely well, but fact is also his win record is only average. He had a lot of hard races for a horse of his age, so I’m not convinced he is even able to run to his form of the last two years.

He may well, but again, price dictates that he’s not for me. Even at double the odds he’d not be my choice, I have to admit. And that might be unfair to the poor horse and he could easily prove me wrong. If he does: great for Willie Mullins and well deserved.

Looking elsewhere I cant have Cue Card either. The old boy seems to be nearly as good as ever. But does he truly stay the Gold Cup trip? I still have a few doubts. Another one who’d be a well deserved winner, don’t get me wrong. But there are good reasons to oppose him, at least at a shortish enough looking price.

Sizing John is an interesting case. He won’t see the backside of Douvan here, but will he actually have the stamina to get home? Big question mark in my book.

Lexus Chase winner Outlander is a serious horse, though one you never can be sure whether he’s on a good or a bad day. It concerns me that he has not been seen since Christmas. Maybe to keep him fresh. This quirky character is not for me.

Neither is More Of That, even if Jonjo is blullish. Maybe unlucky the last time when he fell in the Irish Gold Cup, but overall his form over fences is below the standard required to land a Gold Cup.

Brings me to the two I fancy – though as it is with each and everyone in this field, you can blow big holes into their form.

After landing the Peter Marsh Handicap at Haydock, Bristol De Mai was odds-on to land the Denman chase, where he was then a long way beaten by Native River. That form is not his true class and I wouldn’t read too much into it. He’s clearly better than that.

Still only a six years old he could easily improve and develop into a top chaser. He may not, of course, that is also possible. At given prices I’m rather backing him to close the gap to the favourite.

Speaking of form that ties in with Native River: he was second at last years Festival behind Minella Rocco in the National Hunt Chase!  For Minella Rocco things did not go well since then. A decent comeback run followed by a fall and unseating his rider in his next two other starts this season.

Hard to know what to make of that. Confidence might be an issue. But if he can get his act together, which is more likely to happen at a place over a trip he has proven to be successful at, then he could be in the shake-up.

Selection:
5pts win – Minella Rocco @ 25/1 WH
5pts win – Bristol De Mai @ 25/1 WH

……

The Foxhunter is a race I find impossible to solve. Yes, On The Fringe is the most likely winner, but he is also a very short price. I would love to find an alternative but I rather focus on the last two races of Festival.

…….

.4.50: Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap

There is no doubt that Battleford ticks every box for me. Granted he gets in to the race, which looks rather likely (otherwise it’s money back anyway), he’ll be a big market mover come Friday I believe.

He had the perfect preparation in my mind, showed excellent form this year – his runner-up effort behind Monalee rates highly in my book. Most importantly he was here last year, finishing an agonisingly close second in the Champion Bumper.

Off a really nice mark he’s got a tremendous chance to win this race.

Selection:
10pts win – Battleford @ 8/1 Bet365

……

5.30: Grand Annual

Having fancied Le Prezien to have a chance to have a place chance in the Arkle and subsequently in the Brown Advisory, I have to fancy him for this, right?

The French recruit has had a good – albeit – light season so far, including a Grade 2 success here at Cheltenham. Hi seasonal reappearance when second behind Charbel looks increasingly strong form after his excellent performance in the Arkle on Tuesday.

Ground is a slight worry, but he looks potentially well in on handicap debut, so it’s the risk I take.

However there is another horse I even more fancy: that is Velvet Maker. I was incredibly keen on this lad last year in the very same race, where he bombed out. But he scoped badly- and had his issues in the aftermath, which meant he only made a reappearance last month.

That was an encouraging spin over hurdles where he travelled well and finished a nice third without getting a hard time. He should come on allot for the run – hopefully – with a 2lb lower mark than last year, fit and healthy this time around, I sense he’s a massive chance to lead from start to finish.

Selection:
5pts win – Le Prezien @ 10/1 Bet365
10pts win – Velvet Maker @ 14/1 Bet365

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