Cheltenham Festival 2022: Day Four Preview, Tips
We're onto Friday, Day Four, and traditionally the least fathomable of a quartet of largely inscrutable afternoons punting. But if we can unearth a winner or two we'll likely be well rewarded so let's work in that optimistic spirit...
After an unforeseen monsoon on Wednesday (it was a miserable day at the track), the going changed to heavy and much of what follows was based on an expectation of very different ground conditions. Do check whether the horse you fancy (or I've suggested) handles conditions!
1.30 Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m1f)
A dozen horses searching for Triumph triumph, the first four in the betting hailing from Ireland. Favoured is Vauban, trained by Willie Mullins to win the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival. There he beat Gordon Elliott's - or, more correctly, Caldwell Construction's - Fil Dor by a relatively comfortable three lengths; but Vauban was previously second to another horse with the same connections as Fil Dor, Pied Piper. Vauban was rumoured not to be ready that day but the evidence of the form book is that Pied Piper beat him fair and square.
Pied Piper has run once since, in the Cheltenham Triumph Trial (G2) on trials day in late January, easily accounting for Moka De Vassy and six others, none of whom re-oppose. That fact implies a degree of hollowness to the win but it's hard to lay blame at the hooves of Pied Piper. He's unbeaten and on literal form reading should probably be favourite.
Fil Dor had notched a hat-trick before conceding only to Vauban last time, that trio being achieved in a novice, then a Grade 3 and then a Grade 2. Very much heading in the right direction until undone by Vauban, then, and another obvious contender.
Less obvious is the third from that Spring Juvenile, Il Etait Temps, who did all his best work at the finish and surged past the two in front of him at the jam stick. That was a first run for the Mullins yard having been acquired from France and he looks tailor made for a stern stamina test at the trip.
First of the British challenge is Porticello, whose excellent season in the care of Gary Moore has seen him win three of four, most notably the Grade 1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow. He has plenty of experience and his best form is all on soft turf (has won on good to soft in Listed grade).
Porticello's sole defeat was to Knight Salute, himself unbeaten in five hurdle starts of which the last three were in Grade 2 fields. All of that quintet were on good to soft or good ground so no worries there, and one of them was at this track. The question is simply, is Knight Salute good enough, given he's unlikely to have the progression of some of his rivals after so much relative experience. He's a flagship horse for the resurgent yard of Milton Harris, and I very much hope he runs well. I feel he's entitled to be first home of the UK entries.
One of my ante post "probably gone west" vouchers is on Icare Allen, who was well beaten in the Spring Juvenile two back before getting on track, after a fashion, in a Grade 3 at Fairyhouse. He may have a little more to show yet though probably not as much more as at least one of the four atop the market.
Dan Skelton will saddle Doctor Parnassus, two from two over hurdles and a close second to the very good mare Indefatigable when last seen on the flat. This lad looks all about stamina: he's won over 2m3f already and was staying on in the soft before that. I just feel he'll not be fast enough even if he's good enough (and I doubt that, also).
The other four have limited claims on what they've achieved at this stage.
Triumph Hurdle Pace Map
Not masses of obvious early pace, with Lunar Power and perhaps Ages Of Man seeking a name check before the proverbial taps are turned on.
Triumph Hurdle Selection
The top of the market looks about right if you, like me, believe the Irish are stronger than the British. The one who has some juice still in his price potentially is Il Etait Temps, who looks an each way bet on that Spring Juvenile debut. Connections will know more this time and he'll not leave his challenge so late. Porticello has G1 form on wet ground and might hit the frame.
Suggestion: Try 11/1 Il Etait Temps each way.
2.10 County Hurdle (Grade 3 Handicap, 2m1f)
This is way above my punting pay grade though I did once tip and back the 50/1 winner, Silver Jaro when the County was the Friday night cap. What a day that was! Still, we can't live on former glories.
These days, it seems, you want an unexposed handily-weighted and classy animal. My shortlist, which should be treated with extreme caution, is State Man, First Street, I Like To Move It, Top Bandit, Cormier and Jesse Evans.
Few horses at this year's Festival have been as well touted and widely entered up as State Man, who lands here as the likely jolly. A five-year-old novice, he was second in France before falling on his Irish debut and then bolting up in a nothing maiden hurdle. All his form is on soft ground and that's a concern as is that jumping frailty/inexperience. I certainly believe that he's a very talented horse but at the price he's opposable.
First Street, in comparison, is relatively battle hardened after three wins from five hurdle starts, three novices and two handicaps. Most recently he was third to Glory And Fortune in the Betfair Hurdle (handicap) at Newbury, and that one ran a mighty race to be a nine length fifth in the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday. Betwixt Glory And Fortune and First Street that day was I Like To Move It whose chance is also well advertised by the winner's subsequent effort. At Newbury, he just failed to close the remaining head deficit with the winner and has gone up four pounds as a result. This likely fast pace should bring the front of the race back to him sooner and he rates a definite danger.
Brian Ellison has played many a fine tune on Cormier, a veteran of 31 races, though only ten over hurdles, four of those wins. That record includes Class 2 handicap victories the last twice, one of them at Cheltenham, though his record in large fields is a concern for me.
Gordon runs Top Bandit, well named some might say, and this fellow has been progressing nicely over hurdles. After a debut third on soft at Limerick, he's rattled up a treble of novice hurdle scores. This will be his handicap debut and he's got the right combination of relative experience and a total lack of exposure to the assessor.
Meanwhile, trying to pretend he's not as good as he is has taken a different form for the Noel Meade-trained Jesse Evans. Meade saddles last year's Fred Winter bomb, Jeff Kidder, at 80/1 so he knows the way to do it. Jesse was sent off favourite for the Greatwood handicap hurdle in November (14 length ninth of 19), since which he's not been seen. His previous run over timber was when a two length fourth in the extremely valuable Galway Hurdle and before that he'd won an 18-runner handicap hurdle at Killarney. He looks a tempting price though wouldn't want it to get too wet.
Lorna Fowler trains Colonel Mustard and plenty thought he should have gone in one of the Grade 1's. He's been second to Jonbon and third to Sir Gerhard in his last two starts and that reads very well, as well as does the fact he handles all ground.
Many more can win, natch.
County Hurdle Pace Map
The charge looks set to be led by Felix Desjy and I Like To Move It principally, though there are bound to be others who want a piece of it. Likely to be rapid from the get go.
County Hurdle Selection
Devilishly difficult. Willie's certainty in the Fred Boodles was beaten on Tuesday and I don't want to be with State Man at the price, for all that he could be fantastically well handicapped. Top Bandit is not much bigger but has more concrete claims on the form book if not the rumour mill. But I'll swing with two at double figure odds in I Like To Move It and Colonel Mustard. They both have proven form, in top class handicaps and Graded conditions races respectively, and retain upside for this ultra-test.
Suggestion: Back 14/1 I Like To Move It and/or 12/1 Colonel Mustard each way with all the extra places.
2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 3m)
This goes one of two ways, in terms of the market: it's either won by a classy well-fancied runner, or by an unconsidered rag with a street fighter's attitude. The last two winners, Monkfish and Vanillier, fit more or less in the first category; before that, we had 50/1, 33/1 twice and 16/1 within six years. Probably the way to play, in Countdown terminology, is one from the top and two from anywhere else.
The top is made up of Ginto and Hillcrest, strong and classy stayers from either side of the Irish Sea. Ginto (pronounced 'Jinto', I think) is a Gordon runner that is unbeaten in three over hurdles, taking in a maiden, a Grade 2 and the Grade 1 Lawlor's of Naas. 4 1/4 lengths is the closest a rival has got to date, in that G1, and he will likely again be front rank from the start. Whether he can see it out in this bigger field I don't know but he deserves his primary perch in the punting pecking order.
So, too, does Hillcrest, top of the domestic pops after four wins over hurdles in as many completed starts. While they've been largely achieved on wet ground, his first two were good to soft and he ought to go fine on that. Representing the Henry Daly team he'd be something of a throwback to an age before the mega yards and, as a soppy old romantic, I'll be cheering him on for that alone.
Back in the real world, Willie has the next one in the lists, Minella Cocooner who, rather marvellously, got the better of Minella Crooner last time. That was a good race at the DRF but it was over a shorter trip and he'd not have beaten the other Minella at this distance that day. He's lightly raced and is another who races very prominently.
Bardenstown Lad has lots of top of the ground form, and a similar profile to last year's third, Streets Of Doyen, for the same connections. He won easily, and as expected, at Musselburgh last month and looks like he'll stay well. He, too, is a front rank racer.
Willie's The Nice Guy steps up in both trip and grade after three wins, including a romp in a 22-runner maiden hurdle. That is his sole spin over timber, though, so his inexperience has to be a reservation.
From a personal perspective, I'd love Stag Horn to win. Along with Ron Huggins and Pete Williams, I own a horse called World Of Dreams, who was second to Stag Horn on that one's hurdling debut, giving him seven pounds and coming out best at the weights. Our lad is unfortunately sidelined just now but we're cheerleading for the Stag, who has elevated his claims for the 'spuds race' with a second hurdle win, in Grade 2 at Warwick. His previous career as a flat horse earned him a triple-digit rating, which confirms the class and substance of his profile.
At the big-priced bomb end of considerations is a horse like Idas Boy. He's run to a good but not great level in three mile novices behind the likes of Gerri Colombe, and if they 'go a million' placing a later premium on extreme stamina, he's the type to plod on into the picture. Of course, he might not be even nearly good enough: such is life.
And a word for Dermot Weld and his entry, Falcon Eight. Like Stag Horn, he's a classy flat horse - he won the Chester Cup off top weight last May - but, unlike Stag Horn, his price is still quite fat. Never in it on hurdle debut over two and a half miles (yielding to soft), he was able to get to the front eventually in a 2m7f maiden at Thurles last month on yielding ground. His best form is on good to soft or yielding and he looks the type to keep running. Indeed, his profile is quite similar to Stag Horn's where his price is 2.5x that one's.
Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Pace Map
Stag Horn might take them along, though there are plenty of others who want to be close to the lead if not on it.
Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Selection
Like all of Friday's races, this is trappy. I do like Ginto but not his odds, likewise Hillcrest. I'm after a bit more latitude for making a mistake and so will tilt at a windmill in the form of Idas Boy, who might just appreciate an out and out slog, and Falcon Eight, whose classy flat form may have been a bit under-rated.
Suggestion: Try a couple of big-priced guesses in the form of 25/1 Falcon Eight and 50/1 Idas Boy each way, extra places obvs.
3.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1, 3m 2 1/2f)
This year's Gold Cup is an interesting race though not a vintage one, on looks at least. I covered it in some detail in my Gold Cup preview here, and don't have much to add now the final preparations have been completed. Written on 11th January I felt Minella Indo was big enough to bet at 8/1 (now 5/1) and Chantry House was worthy of a small dabble at 16's (still 16's).
I'm not inclined to add anything much to those opinions, the reasons for which are to be found at the above link if you're minded. One horse who does need marking up, however, is Royale Pagaille, for whom the Wednesday rain moves him from unlikely to quite possible. He's been backed accordingly but remains a double figure price at time of writing.
Cheltenham Gold Cup Pace Map
Not clear where the pace will come from if not from Santini. And if from Santini, it may not be that fast early.
Cheltenham Gold Cup Selection
A competitive but not outstanding renewal of the Gold Cup, and one in which I respect Galvin's chance greatly but would rather bet Minella Indo at similar prices. Trying to guess on a longer priced horse led me to Chantry House, whose winning habit is more admirable than it often looks and whose clunk in the King George needs overlooking to rate his chance here. Trainer Nicky Henderson is having a very good week.
Suggestion: Back Minella Indo to win at 5/1 or maybe Chantry House each way at 16/1 if you're feeling fearless/reckless enough. Don't forget 16/1 Royale Pagaille loves it wet.
4.10 Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase (Class 2, 3m 2 1/2f)
This is a race for people who know about point to point and hunter chase form, and I am not among their number. So there will be better places to go for an insight than what follows. Nevertheless, and caveats firmly in situ, here goes...
Second for the past two years, the chance of Billaway is obvious. Trained by Willie Mullins (really?), he's been in similar form this term and has a similar chance. Sent off at evens and 2/1 in that pair of silvers, he's a slightly bigger price this time but not enough to get me interested.
Dangers abound, perhaps most notably Winged Leader, who beat Billaway on his most recent start. With his best form on a good or yielding surface, as long as it's not too soft this eight-year-old probably holds strong claims.
David Maxwell rides Bob And Co, who unseated when still in with every chance last year. There he was ridden by Sean Bowen in the absence of amateur riders but, reunited with his regular rider, he's a chance of hitting the board, though recent second places when a short priced favourite temper enthusiasm for the win a touch.
I'm sure there's a reason he's this price and I'm a layman as I've said when it comes to this discipline, but Cousin Pascal looks big to me. He won the Aintree Hunters' Chase last year and beat Bob And Co last time - that one less than half his price - he also bolted up, granted in maiden hunter company, over further than three miles from a big field in very wet ground. This set up looks spot on and his sole defeat in recent times was on good ground which may not have suited.
I probably haven't mentioned the lively outsider that the hunt fans are all over, so apologies for that.
Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase Pace Map
Pinch of salt pace map because we don't have point form so these are Rules races only.
Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase Selection
I obviously don't know, so feel free to skip this next bit. But I've had a bit of Cousin Pascal each way at 16/1, and the other half of my stake each way four places at 14/1. Winged Leader should go well as a win play.
Suggestion: Back 5/1 Winged Leader to win and/or 14/1 Cousin Pascal each way with four or more places.
4.50 Mares' Chase (Grade 2, 2m 4 1/2f)
The least interesting race of the meeting for me. I accept that, in the grand scheme of the breed and all, there may be a place for it; but I'm unexcited by the prospect. Anyway...
Top rated is Elimay, second in last year's inaugural running to stable mate Colreevy. She's since won at Fairyhouse and Naas but, in between times, has been beaten by both Zambella and Mount Ida who lock horns again this time. Elimay handles all types of underfoot and is commendably consistent, but she's very short against a series of credible rivals.
Chief among them may be Mount Ida, winner of the Kim Muir last season, and 1-1 versus Elimay since. She was apparently a little wrong physically when taking the Kim Muir, hence the erratic looking jumping at times and the tailed off early run style. That remains a niggle when considering this six-furlong shorter trip but she's a very good mare.
Zambella handles deep ground and two and a half miles is her range. She has a comprehensive score against Elimay in last season's Houghton Mares' Chase (2m4f, soft, exhibit A) and could be the value.
A mare who has had a few problems since winning the 2020 Dawn Run is Concertista. When she's good, she's very good, though, and her second to Black Tears in last year's Mares' Hurdle would be about enough to win here if she could reproduce it. She's a novice taking on seasoned chasers and that tempers enthusiasm.
Course specialist Vienna Court has been having a great season, winning a couple of handicaps here, the second of which was against the boys. Back in mares only company last time, she was picked off by Pink Legend on the flatter pastures of Huntingdon. It is likely Vienna needed a slightly greater stamina test, which she'll get, but I'm not convinced she's good enough. Pink Legend has since fallen in a race won by Zambella but was struggling at the time.
Scarlet And Dove has won on heavy and was not far behind Mount Ida two back before pulling up in the Thyestes Chase. Her overall profile is patchy though she does have some occasionally solid form in defeat.
Mares' Chase Pace Map
Zambella will be near the front, along probably with Elimay. Should be an even gallop, no more than that.
Mares' Chase Selection
Mount Ida and Elimay look very likely to be on the premises but the one that stands out at the current odds is Zambella. This race could have been framed for her and, though she hasn't quite the class of the first named pair, that optimal setup could see her competitive. She's a definitely each way bet with the firm paying four places.
Suggestion: Back Zambella each way with extra places if you can find them.
5.30 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 2m 4 1/2f)
The getting out stakes is for masochists! Conditional riders and 26 of them aboard largely unexposed and/or jobbed up horses over two and a half miles.
Langer Dan is trained in Britain by a Dan, Skelton, and was second in the Martin Pipe last year to Galopin Des Champs. Only two pounds higher now, having been nudged up five for the Martin Pipe silver then straight back down three for a limp effort at Taunton on his only intervening run has been widely observed as generous handicapping. Be that as it may, the missed point may be that this race has the potential for a lurker of the quality of a Galopin Des Champs. Or a Killultagh Vic, or a Don Poli, or a Sir Des Champs (strong trend for winners to have the suffix 'Des Champs'!)
So, if Langer Dan is not a blot, then who are the likeliest lurkers? Each of those mentioned was sent of 12/1 or shorter so I'm not going deep into the bowels of the form book.
Hollow Games heads the chasing pack, market wise, and is trained by former Martin Pipe conditional, Gordon Elliott, as are five others in this field. He was third in a brace of Grade 1's in his most recent starts and has form on deep ground. Of his others, Chemical Energy has won a maiden and a novice hurdle either side of beating all bar My Mate Mozzie in a Grade 3; he's quietly progressive. Likewise, The Goffer has more to give after a Grade 3 score last time at Thurles (soft). In fact, similar comments apply to all of Gordon's and I'm not even sure they're confident of how the hierarchy shakes down.
Willie Mullins saddles only two, so he's either happy he'll have won the trainers' title before 5pm on Friday or he quietly fancies one or both. They are Adamantly Chosen, winner of a big field bumper and a big field maiden hurdle, and second twice in between, including to the decent Gringo d'Aubrelle; and Five O'Clock, not seen since being hampered before staying on into a four length seventh in this race two years ago. Now four pounds better in, we know Mullins can get one ready off a layoff and this fella is a fan of the mud.
I can't resist a mention for Freedom To Dream, who has been second in a G2 and fourth in a G1 in most recent racecourse visits. He seems to handle all ground conditions and his trainer Peter Fahey knows the job (Royal Kahala, Belfast Banter, Suprise Package at Sandown, etc).
Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Pace Map
Expect this to be fiercely contested from the outset, with what looks like one each of Willie's and Gordon's vying early. If it's not them it will be some others in a race that will take some getting.
Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Selection
There's a good chance something at a single figure price will win this, perhaps even Langer Dan. But I'll have very small guesses on Five O'Clock and Freedom To Dream with the extra places.
Suggestion: Have a punt each way on 16/1 Five O'Clock and 25/1 Freedom To Dream with extra places aforethought.
The rain changed everything on Wednesday and hopefully you were able to pivot your punting accordingly. Regardless of wins or losses accrued in the toughest betting week of the year, the sport generally comes out in front and, with a following wind, will do again after the Gold Cup.