Your guide to the 2019 Cheltenham Festival Aonghus O Maicin certainly didn't let you down yesterday. Four winners and an each way placing for Ballyandy meant if you followed his selections, you didn't have a bad Festival Wednesday at all. Here's his look at what Thursday has in store.
Of all the memories Cheltenham delivers on any given day, the performance of the mighty Tiger Roll will be immortalised in the bustling chronicles of this famed Festival for decades and generations to come. Legendary - simple as.
It's no exaggeration to say this is a horse that will be discussed in the same breath as names like Dawn Run and Desert Orchid, the peerless Arkle, and every other name that just runs off the tip of the tongue upon the utterance of Cheltenham. The Gordon Elliott Star has long had a place in our hearts but yesterday saw him receive the a permanent key to it with arguably his best performance yet. Even as he effortlessly passed the post he had the look of a beast raring to go back out in the country again. Line fences up across the Irish Sea and he'd probably run home ahead of his box.
Punters won't only cherish him for the memories, but also for the way he helped them recoup some of the losses from a disastrous Day One. For that they must also be thankful to the inimitable Altior who ran well below his best and yet, as champions do, did enough to retain his title.
Some jokingly claim that Tiger Roll could be a Gold Cup horse but is that really so far-fetched? And Altior, the best chaser since Kauto Star, has the look of a monster that could take on any challenge. Surely they could never meet? We'll leave that one in our daydreams for now.
Meanwhile, Jamie Codd enjoyed the finish to Tuesday's final race so much that he decided to relive it by getting involved in another smashing finish in yesterday's final race, this time aboard Envoi Allen in a edge-of-the-seat duel with Blue Sari. In the latest instalment of Mullins versus Elliott - McManus versus Gigginstown - the Elliott star emerged to leave both Ireland's top trainers on two winners apiece at the halfway stage.
A first win for Martin Brassil at the Festival, as well as a first official win for Joseph O'Brien - he won the Triumph Hurdle with Ivanovich Gorbatov in 2016 under his father's license - made it another truly phenomenal day for the Irish invaders, though the ever-so-humble Nicky Henderson has led the charge for the hosts eager to undo some of the damage the unruly Irish have caused over the past decade. It's edge-of-the-seat stuff all-round; why haven't you the rest of the week booked off yet?
Moving on, today's big races, the Ryanair Chase and the Stayers' Hurdle, are among the most competitive renewals of the races in recent years. The Irish always flood in their droves to Prestbury Park for Cheltenham's St Patrick's Day, though the English challenge is particularly strong this year with heavily fancied runners in particular in the championship hurdle race.
1.30: JLT Novices' Chase
Ten runners are declared for Thursday's opener, though for many this is already down to a two-horse race with Defi Du Seuil, the 2017 Triumph Hurdle winner, and Lostintranslation set to renew their season-long rivalry.
The former came out on top by an length in the Grade One Scilly Isles Novices' Chase last month, but now they're back at Cheltenham where the latter got the better of the Philip Hobbs runner up the hill on their second-last outing.
Real Steel has done nothing wrong since falling on his chasing debut at Christmas, but this remains a major step up even if he did win each his previous two runs by a total ten lengths. Similarly, it would appear Kildisart has a bit to find coming up out of handicap company and back into a Grade One. But with two wins from three runs this season, the last coming at this track, he's worthy of at least a glance.
At long odds Pravalaguna is noteworthy. While both her previous wins over fences were in the company of mares only, she does receive the seven-pound allowance over her male counterparts and is definitely worth an each-way gamble at around 16/1. But it's hard not to get drawn back to the two at the top of the market, especially after yesterday's RSA Chase saw Topofthegame come out on top.
Back in December Defi Du Seuil comfortably beat the Paul Nicholls horse. This race sees Lostintranslation look poised to get up the hill again to get his first Festival win on his resume.
2.10 Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle
Of all the races at the Festival this ranks among the most difficult when trying to find a winner. Clearly, the handicapper takes no shortcuts when assigning weights in this contest, as illustrated by the tightly-contest finishes over the last number of years. One runner that looks interesting at a big enough price is Boyhood. Stamina will be no issue for him and he'll love the conditions if they are as expected to be.
He was well-beaten by First Assignment on his last trip to the venue but the latter is now much closer in the weights and their previous meeting was on much quicker ground. Sire Du Berlais is very popular, it seems, among ante-post punters, but given the tight nature of the race a runner with longer odds is preferred.
Thermistocles, who will be saddled by Jospeh O'Brien, is another very interesting participant having been primed for this race. He runs for the first time for O'Brien in the colours of Martin St Quinton who, as it happens, gave Aidan O'Brien his first Festival winner back in 1996.
Winners of this race in the recent past have usually been in the six- to eight-year-old age-bracket, while Davy Russell has won the last three renewals. Unfortunately for punters with an affinity for last year's top jockey at the Festival, Russell doesn't have a ride in this year's race forcing you to look elsewhere.
Nevertheless, Boyhood looks a decent each-way shot at 18/1. He went up 13 pounds after his last win but his credible second on good ground off the higher mark has set him up nicely for a tilt at this.
2.50: Ryanair Chase
As a result of Altior's presence in yesterday's Champion Chase, a lot of big names have been rerouted to this race. A step back in trip for some major three-milers, at the same time, makes for quite the intriguing contest here.
Four of the big-hitters here have won at the Festival before, but all have certain flaws as impressive as they are.
Footpad is coming into this off the back of a poor season and in an obvious attempt to avoid Altior. Should he rediscover his Arkle-winning form he will be in the money, but his performances over the last few months have not justified favouritism. Road To Respect is a handicap winner at the Festival at this distance, but three miles still looks like his ideal trip. Michael O'Leary's desire to win his own race, however, has seen him take a stab at this while last year's winner, Balko Des Flos, hasn't been up to much this year.
Un De Sceaux demands respect, especially if the rain buckets down between now and this afternoon, while the same could be said for Frodon, though he hasn't exactly had the number of many superstar names.
The Henry De Bromhead-trained Monalee, on the other hand, will enjoy these conditions and the step back in trip may suit. He's gone close to winning a big one on a number of occasions, finishing to Gold Cup favourite Presenting Percy in last year's RSA Chase, and behind eventual Stayers' Hurdle winner Penhill in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle the year previous.
Moreover, De Bromhead knows how to produce chasers for March. If Monalee does have a lot of faults, they're very well-hidden.
3.30: Sun Racing Stayers' Hurdle
No matter what happens here it looks set to be one of the most heartwarming stories of the week.
The English heavily fancy Paisley Park, trained by the relatively unknown Emma Lavelle, who has yet to put a hoof wrong all season winning all four of his starts this year. The seven-year-old would be a very popular winner at the track, but despite the impressive form all year, he hasn't bet anything near as impressive as those accompanying him in this line-up.
Another popular favourite would be Faugheen and if he can win at the Festival for the first time since 2015, he would surely come home to a roar resembling the welcome Sprinter Sacre received back in the 2016 Champion Chase.
We can all be suckers for fairy tales but the Willie Mullins star's recent form is fantastic, making all at Punchestown on his first attempt at this distance to beat last year's winner here, Penhill, into a distant second. He was disappointing in his drop back down to two miles for the Morgiana Hurdle in November and was looking promising when falling two out at Christmas.
Supasundae, last year's runner-up, cannot be dismissed having beaten Faugheen in last year's Irish Champion Hurdle, but that was at two miles while Bacardys, another Mullins runner, is simply too undependable and is easily opposed.
Kilbricken Storm, last year's Albert Bartlett winner, is another one of interest. He loves this track and will love getting the chance to come back hurdling after a stint chasing, but he hasn't beaten anyone of Faugheen's class to date. For all the competition, both the head and the heart are expecting a magical Faugheen return to the winners' enclosure.
4.10: Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase
Rather interestingly, the second- and third-placed runners from this race last year are back again this year, but now running off the same mark of 137. Splash Of Ginge got home ahead of King's Odyssey 12 months ago in relatively deep conditions, and therefore demand respect again.
Valseur Lido is another with Festival form having ran into the money in the JLT Novices' Chase and the Ryanair Chase previously, but performances since then have been greatly disappointing.
The most interesting pair in this race, though, have to be Janika and Siruh Du Lac. The latter pipped the former by a head at the post in their last encounter at the track in January, but the handicapper has taken note of the performances and put Nick Williams' runner up by five pounds. Coupled with the cut in the ground, Janika should be handed a huge advantage and connections are apparently very sweet on his chances as a result.
Connections of Spiritofthegames are also quite bullish of their runner's chances and should Kildisart spring a surprise in the day's opening race, expect his odds to take a fall after he galloped home in third behind the JLT runner in January.
But if the rain continues to come it's hard to look beyond the favourite, Janika, who has a phenomenal record on heavy ground in France before being snapped up by Nicky Henderson, a trainer with a obvious keen eye for talent, and who commands a healthy position in the race to becoming the Festival's leading trainer for the first time since 2012.
4.50: Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Chase
Willie Mullins has won every renewal of this race, though that's hardly as impressive as it sounds since it has only been run three times. Having said that, his record in other mares' races means he demands respect wherever he goes in these type of contests. Ruby Walsh's decision to take the ride on My Sister Sarah suggests the Closutton establishment thinks this is their best chance, though Elfile, ridden by Paul Townend, is also worth keeping an eye on in the market.
The English, however, really fancy their runners, Epantante and Posh Trish in particular. As a six-year-old the latter must give five pounds to the five-year-old Epantante boasting a record of two-from-two over hurdles this campaign. Connections of Posh Trish remain very bullish of her chances though, her only loss over hurdles coming against Lust For Glory which was quickly overturned when they met again back in December on softer ground.
Posh Trish has plummeted in the market in recent days, has won on her only previous visit to this track and is, rather importantly, being trained by Paul Nicholls, a trainer who is on quite the hot streak at the moment. All of this makes the mare very hard to oppose despite a very large field of almost inseparable talent.
5.30: Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup
It would be quite the achievement if Jamie Codd was to ride the winner in the last race on each of the first three days, but he looks poised to do so aboard Measureofmydreams. Yes, the horse is quite short-priced but the whispers emanating from Gordon Elliott's yard suggest this one will be hard bet.
As pointed out earlier this week, the very best amateurs are worth an extra few pounds in the amateur-only events and nobody is better than Codd. Likewise, Derek O'Connor is one of the best in the business but there are some questions over Any Second Now's ability to stay up the hill. This will be the furthest the seven-year-old has gone to date and he is carrying a big weight.
The same can be said, on both counts, for Livelovelaugh too, but with Patrick Mullins on board he's of interest, though neither half of the father-son Mullins duo have ever won this race. He's worth an each-way shout given the experience of the jockey on-board.
The Lisa O'Neill-ridden Rogue Angel, on the other hand, is more than capable of travelling the distance, having won the Irish National back in 2016. He is ageing though, at 11-years-old, and only one runner over the age of 11 has won this race in the last 20 years. At a big price, he may run into the money, though the stable's main threat is sure to be thereabouts.
1.30: Lostintranslation 10/3
2.10: Boyhood 18/1 (EW) (nb)
2.50: Monalee 9/2
3.30: Faugheen 7/2 (Nap)
4.10: Janika 9/2
4.50: Posh Trish 6/1
5.30: Measureofmydream 9/2