Find out who our experts are tipping for day four of the Cheltenham Festival 2023
Six of the last nine winners of the juvenile hurdling championship race have been Irish-trained and the raiding party contains the top contenders again, with Willie Mullins’ Vauban set to take on at least one of the Gordon Elliott-trained pair Pied Piper and Fil Dor, who are in the same ownership. The three have interwoven form lines after Vauban and Pied Piper met on their debuts at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve (victory going to Pied Piper by half a length) before Vauban defeated Fil Dor in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle, Ireland’s top trial for the Triumph, at the Dublin Racing Festival in February. In between, Pied Piper was given a run-out on Cheltenham’s Trials day and put down a strong marker with a nine-length victory. The others have a lot of work to do to bridge the gap on Racing Post Ratings but among those set to try is Porticello, whose trainer Gary Moore was so unlucky to lose this race two years ago when Goshen unseated at the last. Also on the home team are the Milton Harris-trained Knight Salute, who has beaten Porticello, and Dan Skelton’s undefeated Doctor Parnassus.
This is an ultra-competitive handicap and being in the right ratings bracket has become a virtual prerequisite. All bar three winners since 2006 were rated in the 130s with six of the last ten having run off 137-139. Ireland has accounted for ten of the last 15 winners, with seven of them trained by a Mullins. Paul Nicholls has done best of the British trainers, winning four times since 2004, but the one to watch recently has been Dan Skelton, who has won three of the last six runnings with Superb Story in 2016, Mohaayed in 2018 and Ch’tibello in 2019. The Betfair Hurdle and the Liffey Handicap Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival have been key pointers (nine of the past 21 winners had run in one of those hot contests) but five of the last six winners were returning from long breaks (72 days-plus). Willie Mullins will be the first name to check and his team is likely to feature a mix of established class from the likes of Echoes In Rain along with less exposed types such as State Man. Gordon Elliott has a likely sort in Top Bandit, while Dan Skelton has followed a tried-and tested method by giving Greatwood winner West Cork a long break.
This is always the trickiest of the Grade 1 novice hurdles to unravel, with so many of the runners unexposed at the 3m trip, and the winning SPs have included 50-1, 33-1 twice, 16-1, 14-1 twice and 11-1 in just the last eight runnings. Ireland has won six of those last eight and Gordon Elliott appears to hold the strongest hand at the top of the market with Ginto, Minella Crooner and Hollow Games among his possibles as he tries to land this race for the first time. Willie Mullins has options with Minella Cocooner and The Nice Guy, while John McConnell’s Bardenstown Lad is an Irish hope from outside the big yards and brings winning form over 3m at Cheltenham. The British contenders are set to include Henry Daly’s giant Hillcrest and, intriguingly, Stag Horn for Flat trainer Archie Watson.
Five of the last six Gold Cups have gone to Ireland and they have a stranglehold again after dominating the key build-up races. Last year’s Irish 1-2-3 are set to return, although there are question marks against Henry de Bromhead’s title-holder Minella Indo after a winless season and Willie Mullins’ Al Boum Photo, who has turned ten now as he attempts to regain the crown he won in 2019 and 2020. A Plus Tard, last year’s runner-up in a De Bromhead 1-2, is top on Racing Post Ratings after his impressive Betfair Chase victory but he was then beaten in the Savills Chase at Christmas by Galvin, who has emerged as a strong new challenger for Gordon Elliott. Tornado Flyer (Mullins) and Conflated (Elliott) put themselves in the picture with surprise wins in the King George VI Chase and Irish Gold Cup respectively. The chief British hope is Dan Skelton’s Protektorat, who has been kept fresh since a wide-margin success at Aintree in December.
Last year the Will Biddick-trained Porlock Bay became the fourth British winner in the past five years, giving some respite from the Irish onslaught in most other races. Porlock Bay also continued the recent run of success for older runners, being the seventh in a row aged in double figures. Despite that upward trend, 17 of the last 30 winners have been aged nine or younger. Billaway, runner-up as favourite in the past two runnings, is likely to head the market again as he bids to make it third time lucky for Willie Mullins. A big threat is the David Christie-trained Winged Leader, who beat Billaway by 12 lengths in a Thurles hunter chase in January. The best British chances may lie with Paul Nicholls’ pair Cat Tiger and Bob And Co, who was still on the bridle when unseating three out in last year’s race.
This was a new race on the festival programme last year and predictably it went to Willie Mullins, who has dominated the mares’ races over hurdles for years. Mullins landed a one-two with Colreevy and Elimay, in a reversal of their positions at the head of the market, and Ireland had the first five in the 11-runner field. Elimay looks set to return, fresh from a Listed mares’ chase success over 2m at Naas, along with stablemate Concertista, who was a narrow runner-up in last year’s Mares’ Hurdle and has made a smooth transition to chasing with a pair of Grade 2 wins in mares’ contests. Gordon Elliott has a big contender in Mount Ida, who won last year’s Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase and beat Elimay at Fairyhouse on New Year’s Day. He could also send Irish Arkle runner-up Riviere D’Etel here. The British challenge may be led by the Alan King-trained The Glancing Queen, a good second to the high-class L’Homme Presse in the Grade 2 Dipper Novices’ Chase over course and distance on New Year’s Day.
This handicap hurdle for conditional riders is not an easy ‘getting out stakes’ for punters at the end of the festival. Nine of the 13 winners have been sent off at double-figure odds and Sir Des Champs in 2011 is the only successful favourite. Interestingly, seven of the last eight winners ran in Graded company on their previous outing (the exception was 2020 winner Indefatigable, who had won a Listed mares’ hurdle last time out). Eight of the last 11 runnings were won by Willie Mullins, Paul Nicholls or Gordon Elliott. With this race earning a reputation as a proving ground for future top chasers, the Gigginstown House Stud runners are worth a close look. The top two Irish yards have to be the starting point here. Gordon Elliott’s possibles include Chemical Energy, who looks to be on a handy low mark having been out of the fray for most of the winter. Likely types for Willie Mullins are State Man, Adamantly Chosen and Deploy The Getaway. Langer Dan, runner-up last year for Dan Skelton, would be interesting if he comes back.