Cheltenham Festival day four – Another Photo-finish just what Mullins is looking for

Friday is the fourth and final day of the Cheltenham Festival – and the day when the sport’s best steeplechasers line-up for the most revered race of the jumps calendar, the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Al Boum Photo is the star attraction as he bids to win the race for the third successive season for his trainer Willie Mullins, potentially emulating greats such as Best Mate and Arkle in the process.

The most precocious four-year-olds in the hurdling sphere will battle it out in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, with the Denise Foster-trained Zanahiyr undoubtedly the one to beat on what he has done so far.

Mullins is again responsible for a leading fancy in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle as Stattler represents the yard in the race won by Monkfish last season.

The final afternoon also means the leading trainer and jockey titles can be awarded as the sun sets on what is hopefully the first and last Cheltenham Festival held behind closed doors.

Three in a row for Al Boum Photo?

Paul Townend celebrates with Al Boum Photo after winning the Gold Cup
Paul Townend celebrates with Al Boum Photo after winning the Gold Cup (Jacob King/PA)

Al Boum Photo has a chance to become one of only five horses to win three Gold Cups as he lines up in the race that is the pinnacle of the jumps season. His preparation has run along similar lines to previous years with an easy win at Tramore on New Year’s Day, giving little away with regards to his chance against the likes of Champ, last season’s Ryanair winner, and Grade One Savills Chase champion A Plus Tard. The latter is the mount of Champion Hurdle heroine Rachael Blackmore – and do not discount Bryony Frost on Frodon, either.

Will Zanahiyr be triumphant?

Zanahiyr has been hugely impressive so far
Zanahiyr has been hugely impressive so far (PA)

The young stars of the hurdling division assemble for the Triumph Hurdle, with Zanahiyr the leading light. The gelding is now campaigned by Denise Foster and will face stiff competition from Alan King’s Tritonic, who was impressive when taking the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton. Henry de Bromhead also has a live chance with the undefeated Quilixios, who won the Grade One Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle before leaving Gordon Elliott’s Cullentra yard.

Stattler set for Albert Bartlett stardom

Stattler is yet another leading chance for Willie Mullins
Stattler is yet another leading chance for Willie Mullins (PA)

The line-up for the three-mile Albert Bartlett Hurdle is led by Stattler, but Foster’s Fakiera is also a well-fancied runner despite finishing two lengths behind the former when both horses were beaten at Leopardstown by Gaillard Du Mesnil. Bringing less prestigious but more consistent form to the table Paul Nicholls’ Barbados Buck’s, who has triumphed in three successive novice hurdles in the run-up to the Festival.

Bonus chasing

Harry Skelton and Langer Dan (left) at Sandown
Harry Skelton and Langer Dan (left) at Sandown (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Saturday’s easy Paddy Power Imperial Cup winner Langer Dan will bid for the £50,000 bonus which has only ever been won three times after making the cut for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle with two to spare. The participation of Dan Skelton’s five-year-old was in the balance until the 48-hour declaration stage, as despite picking up a 5lb penalty he still needed around 20 of those above him to come out. However, he gets into the race close to the foot of the handicap and will be 5lb ‘well in’, having been raised 10lb since his Sandown win.