Horse Racing

Your Guide And Tips For Cheltenham Day Four

Your Guide And Tips For Cheltenham Day Four

We thought a grey sky would dominate this week. We were wrong.

The only looming shades at Prestbury Park yesterday afternoon were the green and gold of JP McManus as the Limerick man, no stranger to the winner's enclosure, took that familiar path a total of three times to add a treble to his Champion Hurdle success.

But to say the day belonged to him would be woefully inaccurate. For if other days were prone to deluges, yesterday was dusted with tales of redemption, and near-redemption, mixed with the overwhelming emotions of victorious jockeys. If you had previously doubted the significance of the festival, you will long have humbly returned to your box.

Noel Fehily has been riding since before many of us can remember and as the most senior jockey in the weighing room, his imminent retirement - which he announced after winning yesterday's penultimate race - could spark the beginning of an exodus over the coming seasons. As it dawns on us that the likes of Fehily are riding out their final winners, the privilege has been all ours.

At the other end of the weighing room, Byrony Frost delivered an equally passionate speech after landing the Ryanair Chase aboard Frodon, while the well-travelled Aidan Coleman backed up a first Grade One of his career earlier in the season with the biggest win of his career in the Stayers' Hurdle. Coleman's day in the sun hasn't come before time and after years of waiting for the right horse, and settling for a continuous stream of wins from Wincanton to Wetherby, he'll cherish yesterday's memories.

But the real heartwarming stories are the ones that won't make the back pages. On the Friday of last year's festival, with all eyes were fixed on Cheltenham Gold Cup day, Charlie Deutsch was on runners in Huntington. Since then, misconduct has led him to spending a number of months in prison but a fine rehabilitation was almost capped off when pipped by Frodon aboard unfancied Aso.

Likewise, Joe Colliver has had his problems with the law in the past and had to have his date in court postponed to ride Sam Spinner in the feature race of the day, almost landing a shock when coming past the post in second. Hopefully, for Colliver, the magistrate had not forgotten an each-way wager.

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Both are living proof of the rather cliched light at the end of the tunnel and Deutsch will represent all those more familiar with the likes of early afternoon cards at Newton Abbott when he takes the ride aboard Yala Enki in today's Gold Cup, the undisputed biggest prize in National Hunt racing. The beauty of Cheltenham summed up in one ride.

Before rambling any further, on to the races.

1.30: JCB Triumph Hurdle

We begin the final day with the widely-accepted banker of the week, Sir Erec, taking on the best of the sport's four-year-olds.

Joseph O'Brien has a shockingly talented stable of juveniles and this horse, it is claimed, is by far the best of a bunch that includes impressive Supreme Novices' Hurdle runner Fakir D'oudairies and the much-lauded winner of Wednesday's Fred Winter Hurdle, Band of Outlaws.

The heavy favourite is quite the anomaly - he is still a full-horse capable of breeding - and as recent as last autumn he came third behind Stradivarius in a Group Two race on the flat. But approach the race with caution as last year's heavy favourite for this race, Apple's Shakira, was also the banker for most at last year's festival including her owner, the ever-wily JP McManus. To our horror, she failed to perform.

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Moreover, the impressive colt still has plenty to beat including the Nicky Henderson-trained Pentland Hills who won very impressively on his first and only start for the stable. This four-year-old's flat form, however, is significantly inferior to that of Sir Erec.

Paul Nicholls also brings two impressive runners in Pic D'Orhy and Quel Destin. Can they live with the reputation the favourite brings to proceedings? It's unlikely and all the form suggests another heavily-backed Irish star heaping misery on the bookies.

2.10: Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle

Finding the winner here is a challenge, as illustrated by the 33/1, 20/1 and 25/1 winners in recent years. Whiskey Sour, battling it out with Ch'tibello at the top of the market, has an abundance of ability and came third here 12 months ago. His past few runs, however, have been on the flat and coupling that lack of recent competitive practice over hurdles with his rise in the ratings must make others preferable.

Ch'tibello ran home second at Aintree in his last outing at Christmas though there was nothing special about the competition there while Eclair De Beaufeu is not without a shot as Jack Kennedy continues to look for his first win of the week. Mr Adjudicator is carrying a lot of weight for a five-year-old but has entered the frame in Grade Ones of late and came home in second behind Champion Hurdle winner Espoir D'Allen most recently.

Last year's winner, Mohaayed, has risen dramatically in the ratings and therefore his long odds are once again justified.

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Ar Mest, with similar long odds, may just have an each-way shot carrying just ten stone after sneaking in at the bottom of the weights. His most recent race was in the Grade Three Betfair Hurdle at Ascot and after a solid run in decent company, a similar run today could see him enter the money.

2.50: Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle

A horse may have all the talent in the world but history tells us that experience is key to winning a race like this. It's always a slog, with enough hustle and bustle to deter young experienced horses from getting involved. So as impressive as Birchdale and Commander of Fleet - both aiming for favouritism here - have been to date, their age and experience counts against them and makes them easy to oppose.

The same applies to the Joseph O'Brien-trained Rhinestone. The Irish still hold decent cards in this race with Derrinross and Dinons. The former will love the rain if it comes and aged eight he will be more than capable of dealing with his younger rivals.

Two recent wins makes Derrinross attractive, but equally as attractive is the Elliott-trained Dinons whose fall on his last run can be ignored. Before that, he had been on a sensational run of victories and was proving to be a class above his rivals on each occasion.

Colin Tizzard's Rockpoint is the most notable of the English runners, with past form over course and distance in these conditions having beat Lisnagar Oscar, another runner in this race, into second. At around 20-1 he's certainly worth an each-way flutter in a race that has thrown up a number of surprising winners over the years, including the Tizzard-trained Kilbricken Storm last year.

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That being said, if the ground dries up sufficiently this could be Dinons's to lose. If not, the experience of Derrinross in conditions he'll have a whale of a time in could see him in fine fettle coming up the hill.

3.30: Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup

It's the one for which we wait all week:  the Blue Riband of the national hunt world. This year sees more contenders than ever for the biggest prize in the game, each one with their own specific flaws making the spectacle all the more enthralling.

Native River is looking to retain the race, but he'll want a lot of cut in the ground and it doesn't look like enough rain is going to come between now and then.

Presenting Percy, considered Ireland's best shot in the race, is trained by the small-time Pat Kelly in Galway, though don't let that turn you away from him. Kelly's recent runners at the festival have proved he is nothing short of a genius when it comes to prepping horses.

He was wonderfully impressive when bolting up the hill past Monalee in last year's RSA, but the Henry De Bromhead runner's performance in yesterday's Ryanair Chase was quite disappointing which in turn, perhaps, takes the gloss of Presenting Percy's win last year.

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Clan Des Obeaux, the King George IV winner from St Stephen's Day, may not have the stamina to get up to the finish line, not that it's turning away many backers. Meanwhile, Elegant Escape boasts an each-way chance based on the performance of Frodon yesterday, having chased the Ryanair winner home on his last outing. Conversely, he was comprehensively beaten in last year's RSA Chase.

Of the Willie Mullins runners, Al Boum Photo has been considered as a project horse for perhaps a future Gold Cup so is unlikely to land his trainer his first win in this race this year. Bellshill is the chosen ride of Ruby Walsh, though the nine-year-old was beaten comprehensively by Kemboy, another Mullins runner, two starts ago.

The latter should have no problem with the conditions or trip here and has been in scintillating form since a fourth at last year's Festival. The increase in trip over the course of the season has seemed to suit and his performance in the Savills Chase at Christmas was one of the most impressive on Irish soil over the last 12 months and proved stamina to be of no issue at this distance, finishing - like Presenting Percy - seven lengths ahead of Monalee. The manner of the victory, spending most of the race alone at the top of the field, only adds to his credentials. Taking the ride will be David Mullins and although he has never won at the festival, he landed the 2016 Grand National at his first attempt. He won't be stuck for talent or bravery.

4.10: St James's Place Foxhunter Chase

With Jamie Codd taking the ride on Ucello Conti, he has understandably attracted a lot of interest. But the fact the well-journeyed runner hasn't run at this course yet doesn't bode well for him in an event that has seen many previous winners getting familiar with the environment before eventually winning.

Last year's winner, now going for three successive wins in a row in this race, Pacha Du Polder deserves to be discussed but the 12-year-old could be over-the-hill at this stage, as On The Fringe discovered only two years ago seeking the same honour at that age.

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Top Wood, second in last year's renewal, is back to go one step further this year but the lack of a run since a disappointing run at Punchestown last April is a major negative. In contrast, Road To Rome is interesting coming off a long unbeaten streak but this is another step up and he could be a tad vulnerable.

Having run twice at the festival, including a close second in last year's Ultima Handicap Chase, Shantou Flyer is interesting. He has only had two runs this year in hunter chases, both in very small fields, but prior experience should stand to him and he's likely to hit the frame.

4.50: Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase

This had been the last race of the week up until last year and naturally, it's the most chaotic. Jockeys, still waiting to get a win on the board and running out of time, can be desperate which ultimately leads to a rather mad-hat affair. It may now be the penultimate race but given the last race is for conditional jockeys only, don't expect this to be much calmer than before.

The intensity of the race may count against the heavily-fancied Magic Saint who is just five-years-old but Paul Nicholls is very bullish about his runner, seeing him as more than a handicap competitor in time. Five-year-olds may have a poor record in this race, but there are very few five-year-olds chasing anyway.

He beat Gino Trail, a horse that seems to be treated a little harshly here, at Wincanton in February and the current ratings seem unlikely to overturn that result.

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Not Another Muddle was just pipped into third earlier in February by Gino Trail and has gone up a few pounds since. That result was subsequently followed up with an easy win in Sandown two weeks later.

La Prezien, last year's winner, and Brelan D'As will also be saddled by Nicholls, though he has been anything but ambiguous regards who he believes represents his best chance. It's hard to disagree with him judging by the impressive win the last time out on only his second handicap start.

The sole Irish raider, Mind's Eye, has minimal experience in handicap company, running home in a respectable fifth place at Leopardstown last month. Previously the seven-year-old was mixing it up in Grade One company without any major result of note. In essence, he's coming up against a possible future Grade One horse while his Grade One credentials are resigned to the past.

5.30: Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle

The race to initiate the comedown. After 27 races of high-octane entertainment, many may mistake this race as irrelevant. What they forget: the race to be the festival's top trainer may still be at the bottom of the melting pot. What's more the conditional jockeys see this as an ideal opportunity to snatch a precious festival win with their more experienced counterparts finished already finished for the week.

Like the amateur races, it can be beneficial siding with the top conditional jockeys in this one; around these parts experience pays. Off the back of winning last year's renewal of this race, Donagh Meyler hops aboard Dallas Des Pictons for Gordon Elliott. The six year-old is coming into the race off the back of two successive wins, his last loss coming at Leopardstown in December to City Island. After Wednesday's Ballymore Novices' Hurdle result, that form holds up quite well.

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Early Doors is also prominent in the market after two Grade One contests this season. Those exploits, as impressive as they are, mean the Joseph O'Brien gelding must carry top weight which may be too harsh to claim a victory on this occasion.

Byrony Frost, fresh off winning yesterday's Ryanair Chase and riding If You Say Run, could have a say here but the quality of talent the Paul Nicholls runner has overcome isn't as impressive as others.

Getareason, meanwhile, may be the greatest threat to Dallas Des Pictons and seems to be the best-handicapped runner from Willie Mullins' stable. He's stepping into handicap company for the first time and the handicapper may have shown a little bit of mercy. All things considered, the Meyler factor may just swing the finale Elliott's way.

Selections:

1.30: Sir Erec 4/5 (Nap)
2.10: Ar Mest 28/1 each-way
2.50: Derrinross 10/1
3.30: Kemboy 11/1
4.10: Shantou Flyer 8/1
4.50: Magic Saint 7/2 (nb)
5.30: Dallas Des Pictons 11/4

Photo by Barry Cregg/Sportsfile

See Also: The World Famous Balls.ie Cheltenham Tipster Table - Day 4

Aonghus Ó Maicín

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