Paul Townend and Vauban PIC: Sportsfile
13:30 - TRIUMPH HURDLE - This looks like a good renewal of the Triumph with all the top trainers well represented. Willie Mullins's VAUBAN (2/1) looks like it will be added to a lot of accumulators on Friday and I couldn't turn you off that idea. He looks the most likely winner to me after his win over Fil Dor at Leopardstown last month. He improved massively from his runner-up run behind Pied Piper in December. He quickened up smartly to win by three lengths and looks like there is even more to come.
Another of Willie Mullins' runners Icare Allen would also have an eachway chance. He was fifth behind Vauban that day but went on to beat Prairie Dancer a couple of weeks later at Fairyhouse. He travelled well but was sticky at more than one of his hurdles which could catch him out in a Triumph. There is no doubting his engine though as he galloped all the way to the line. He's a player at Cheltenham, no matter where he goes.
Pied Piper is many peoples' idea of the Triumph winner having already beaten Vauban and followed that up with a nine-length win over Moka De Vassy at Cheltenham in January. The course form has to be a big plus and you couldn't help but be impressed by his turn of pace that day at Cheltenham, albeit he didn't have to beat too many classy rivals. The runner-up was subsequently beaten 20 lengths by Britain's main hope for this race, Knight Salute. Speaking of Knight Salute, he's not flashy but he gets results and will rock up at Prestbury Park with five consecutive wins under his belt. Discount him at your peril.
SELECTION - VAUBAN (2/1)
14:10 - COUNTY HURDLE - As always this is a maze to work out but I like two eachway in this with most bookies enhancing the number of payout places. COLONEL MUSTARD (8/1) and SURPRISE PACKAGE (12/1) look solid in the market with the latter representing the winning jockey-trainer combination from this race 12 months ago. Kevin Sexton rode Belfast Banter to stunning win in this last year for Peter Fahey and this Surprise Package could live up to his name here just a week after bolting up in the Imperial Cup at Sandown, beating Lively Citizen by nine lengths after cutting through the field like butter from the back. This big field will suit him and he won so easy last week, it probably hasn't taken much out of him. Colonel Mustard has some of the best form in the book. Last time out at Leopardstown, he was third, beaten 12 lengths, behind Sir Gerhard who won the Ballymore. The Ballymore (run over tow and a half miles) probably proved Sir Gerhard's best trip is two miles, the trip he won over at Leopardstown. Three Stripe Life (second in the Ballymore) split Sir Gerhard and Colonel Mustard that day. Colonel Mustard was just over two lengths behind Jonbon on his run prior to that so has form on both sides of the Irish Sea and is a major player here.
SELECTIONS - SURPRISE PACKAGE (12/1) AND COLONEL MUSTARD (8/1) EACHWAY
14:50 - ALBERT BARTLETT - I think this is a case of keeping it simple and backing GINTO (3/1) to win this for Gordon Elliott. He has looked very progressive and is unbeaten over hurdles, winning his maiden at the first time of asking and following up with a Grade 2 and Grade 1. He won all three so easily and will be suited by this longer trip too. Ginto beat a horse of Willie Mullins called Whatdeawant by over eight lengths (eased down) at Naas in January and that rival went on to finish third in the Ballymore here earlier this week, finishing 12 lengths behind Sir Gerhard. Ginto still had plenty in the tank that day and is quick and efficient at his hurdles. It's hard to find a negative. One at a bigger price that could get involved for places is The Nice Guy (12/1), trained by Willie Mullins and owned by Offaly Live owner Malcolm Denmark. Mullins has said he's been surprised by the progress the horse has made in his work since winning his maiden at the first time of asking against subsequent winner Ramillies at Naas in January. He'll certainly stay this trip and could be finishing better than most here.
SELECTION - GINTO TO WIN (3/1) AND THE NICE GUY (12/1) EACHWAY
15:30 - BOODLES GOLD CUP - Another tricky race to work out despite not being the highest quality Gold Cup of all time. A lot of the debate here centres on A Plus Tard and Galvin on the basis of their titanic clash in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas. Galvin came out on top on that occasion while Kemboy, who skips this assignment, was less than a length behind them.
Galvin is certainly the up-and-coming staying chaser in Ireland and Irish runners dominate the market. Paul Nicholls' Protektorat is the only home challenger currently in single figures in the betting market. I was slightly turned off A Plus Tard after his runner-up run in this race last year. He had the entire hill to pass his stablemate Minella Indo but couldn't do it. It was a cracking run all the same; he had the two-time winner Al Boum Photo behind him and lost nothing really in defeat.
However, Henry De Bromhead's yard was in sensationally form last year, proven by that Gold Cup one-two, and I'm not saying they won't be in the same vein at Cheltenham but his horses haven't quite reached those heights yet this term. Galvin is hugely exciting and won the National Hunt Chase at the festival in 2021. He's short enough for a Gold Cup at 7/2 and I like a bit of eachway value in this.
For those purposes, I like AL BOUM PHOTO (12/1) and CHANTRY HOUSE (18/1). There has been plenty of talk about Al Boum Photo's poor work at home in the build-up to this race but having finished third in it last year, his bid for a famous third Gold Cup win is far from off the cards.
He is so lightly raced and travels so well around Cheltenham that you just can't ignore him at the prices. He's repeated his Cheltenham prep of the last couple of years by winning at Tramore over Christmas where he beat Burrows Saint at his ease. Trainer Willie Mullins did say he wished he was in better order at home in February but last week he worked him at Navan racecourse where he said he was "much, much happier" with him. Paul Townend was also impressed with his work at Navan so it could be a case of him coming into form at the right time for a famous hat-trick.
Chantry House is very interesting for Nicky Henderson having good Cheltenham form. He won the Marsh Novices Chase here in 2021 and has impressed stepped up in trip this year. He beat The Big Breakaway by 37 lengths in a two-runner contest at Sandown in November but we can't read too much into that.
He was then pulled up in the King George won by Tornado Flyer but got back to winning ways at Cheltenham in preparation for this. He beat Santini that day in January while giving his rival four pounds. That reads well if you consider Santini's form in the top grade, including when second to Al Boum Photo in the 2020 Gold Cup. Chantry House is still a relative unknown in this grade and at the distance, but there is enough in the form book to like his eachway chances at 16/1.
SELECTIONS - AL BOUM PHOTO (12/1) AND CHANTRY HOUSE (18/1) EACHWAY
16:10 - FOXHUNTERS CHASE - I like BILLAWAY (5/2) in this for Willie Mullins. He was denied in the same race at Cheltenham last year but comes into the renewal in brilliant form. He was beaten by 12 lengths by Winged Leader at Thurles in January but that was his seasonal reappearance. He has been primed for this race by Willie Mullins and they are sweet on his chance of going one better than his second-place finish last year. He prepped for this with a win over stablemate Good Bye Sam at Naas in February. A big run is expected and I think he'll do it for top connections. It Came To Pass is one at a bigger price (20/1) that could run a big race, even as a 12-year-old.
SELECTION - BILLAWAY (5/2)
16:50 - MARE'S CHASE - ELIMAY (2/1) is just a brilliant mare, a stunning grey, and is once again a solid bet in the mare's chase. She came unstuck against stablemate Colreevy in this race last year but lost nothing in defeat. She jumped well and saw out the trip well. Colreevy went on to beat Monkfish by eight lengths at Punchestown before being retired and that is excellent form. Elimay was a good second to Mount Ida at Fairyhouse in January and then gave weight and crushed Court Maid by five lengths at Naas in February. She is being ripened for this race and is one of JP McManus's leading chances of a winner on Friday.
SELECTION - ELIMAY (2/1)
17:30 - MARTIN PIPE HURDLE - It's no secret that LANGER DAN (5/1) has been campaigned for another crack at this after being beaten into second last year. In fairness, he bumped into a top prospect in the shape of Galopin Des Champs on that day and hasn't been harshly treated since. You can put a line straight through his prep run for this where he was sixth of six at Taunton. It was a pipe opener for this and there is plenty more to come with him. He was a clear second in this last year, nine lengths ahead of Floueur in third. He's on a three-pound lower mark now and will be backed on the day. Grand Jury (16/1) is an interesting one eachway for Henry De Bromhead. He was just four and a half lengths behind Ginto at Naas in January and could outrun those odds.
SELECTIONS - LANGER DAN TO WIN (5/1) AND GRAND JURY EACHWAY (16/1)
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