Find out who our experts are tipping for day four of the Cheltenham Festival 2021.
It is easy to imagine Tritonic and ZANAHIYR as strong contenders for future Champion Hurdles. A Flat race between them would almost certainly go badly for Zanahiyr but the Irish powerhouse has fitted so easily into his new role, and has been such an assured jumper, that he gets a narrow verdict over a very strong rival whose dashing finish was seen to such good effect at Kempton, a track that favours speedsters. There is a slight ground query for Quilixios who is entitled to be breathing down their necks on bare form but the state of the going is not important to the improving Adagio and he could be third best.
It might seem like madness opposing the Irish in the novice hurdles but we know exactly how good Tritonic is from his Flat exploits against Group performers and the speed he showed at Kempton last time was spellbinding. He has a good horse to beat in Zanahiyr, but he’s going to relish the hill and the ever quickening ground and if his jumping holds up he must go close. He’s well over a stone superior on the Flat to Alan King’s two previous Triumph winners.
A fascinating renewal with the selection one of the better horses to go hurdling off the flat in recent memory. Runner-up at Royal Ascot and rated 99, he has taken to obstacles like a duck to water. A strong stayer on the flat, a stiffer track can see him in an even better light with the drying conditions a plus for him. Zanahiyr, whilst not as good as the selection on the level, that came from less opportunities so is respected as the main danger.
Tritonic was second at Royal Ascot on the Flat last season and chased home the Group 1 winner Subjectivist on another occasion. Not many horses of his Flat calibre go hurdling these days and I was really impressed with the stamina he showed to cut down a decent horse at Ascot.
Dan Skelton and Willie Mullins have split the last six runnings between them. Skelton relies on Third Time Lucki but fellow novice GANAPATHI could prove to be a lot better than his opening mark and gets the nod for the Mullins team. This unexposed 5yo travelled well before failing to stay 2m6f in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown last month and has significant potential. Milkwood did extremely well to finish third at Newbury in November, having been badly hampered, and he is second choice with the drying ground in his favour. Thyme White has a similar profile and is next on the list for Paul Nicholls, who has won this four times. Le Patriote and Eclair De Beaufeu are attractively handicapped, while Drop The Anchor and Champagne Gold fought out the highly competitive Ladbrokes Hurdle at Leopardstown last month but the handicapper has hit them hard and they need to find further improvement.
The one that interests me is Captain Kangaroo, who has sneaked in unnoticed at the bottom of the weights. He’s been beaten at short prices on all his runs over hurdles and has never run in a handicap – but neither had Saint Roi before he ran away with this last year – and the more you delve into Captain Kangaroo’s profile, the more you think he will improve massively for this test. Not only did he thrash none other than Kilcruit on his only bumper start, but he’s closely related to some high-class horses on the Flat, and he’ll relish running on decent ground for the first time. The form of his second in a Naas maiden hurdle could hardly have worked out better with the winner and fourth going on to win Graded races, and if Captain Kangaroo jumps fluently, he will surely prove an awful lot better than his current handicap mark.
Surely the bet is Eclair De Beaufeu, who is back over hurdles this season. He has run twice at this meeting and run a blinding race each time, including in this race as a five-year-old in 2019, when he sauntered into the lead after the second-last, but was sent for home too soon and unseated when still in front but being challenged at the last. That was off a mark of 136, but Eclair De Beaufeu improved dramatically for another season and fences and, having won a big handicap at the Dublin Racing Festival, he turned up at this meeting off a mark of 149 in the Grand Annual, in which he finished second to gambled-on favourite and stablemate Chosen Mate. He went up to a mark of 153 for that, but the Irish handicapper didn’t touch his hurdles mark, so he was able to run off 135 three times this term, albeit each time on ground much softer than he likes. Eclair De Beaufeu was still an eyecatching sixth of 22 at the Dublin Racing Festival last time, but when a punter on Twitter asked my opinion of him for the County, my response was that the BHA handicapper wouldn’t let him get away with a mark some 18lb below his chase rating. That doesn’t tend to be how things work in Britain, as young improving horses are rarely allowed to revert back to old marks in a different sphere. An example comes from the Pertemps Final, in which Colin Tizzard’s Copperhead had to run off a mark of 143, having been well beaten at Chepstow off 146 in February. That February run was his first over hurdles since he won off 116 in February 2019, and he was 30lb higher in that sphere because he’d improved so dramatically over fences. However, the British assessor seemed happy enough with Eclair De Beaufeu’s three hurdles efforts this term to award him a mark of just 139, 4lb higher than in Ireland, but 14lb lower than his chase mark. That is fair enough on what he has done, but he clearly needs decent ground and, in terms of proven ability, he’s probably the best- handicapped horse running at the meeting. That doesn’t mean he’ll win because there are novices in the field who could have more up their sleeves (like Saint Roi 12 months ago), but he will surely be on the premises and you can bet the excellent Jack Kennedy will not push the button so soon this time.
It’s been a frustrating season for followers of this horse, not showing what he’s genuinely capable of so far. He wasn’t disgraced when midfield in the Champion Hurdle last season, dropping to a mark of 147 now in handicap company. His finishing efforts have been weak this campaign so it’s interesting that connections fit a tongue strap here, if that has the desired effect, he finds himself on a very tempting mark on the pick of his form.
Ganapathi clearly didn’t stay 2m6f in a Grade 1 at the Dublin Racing Festival but he travelled notably well before his stamina gave out. Prior to that, he was caught close home by Dreal Deal in a Grade 2 at Punchestown and he looks perfect for a strongly run 2m1f on decent ground.
Market leader Stattler is a strapping chap for whom this war of attrition could suit down to the ground, but he did get the run of things at Leopardstown last time and yet did not finish far ahead of Fakiera, who came from a long way back. Further behind was VANILLIER, who palpably failed to give his running in performing well beneath market expectations (he was only 12-1). The RPR of 144 that he produced when finishing strongly for second in a 2m7f Grade 2 the time before is not to be sniffed at, and the potential is there to outrun his odds. He is unproven on this ground but that's the case with a lot of them, including Torygraph who is also highly respected. Contrary to what is suggested by their market positions, Threeunderthrufive has as good a form chance as his stablemate Barbados Buck's, and they could be best of the British contingent.
If you haven’t backed him already A Plus Tard would definitely be my choice, but those looking for a bigger price might want to consider Streets Of Doyen for John McConnell in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (2.30). Proven at Cheltenham, albeit on the other course, Streets Of Doyen will love the drying ground and the form of his three wins over 3m in October gets better every time you look at it.
Not a particularly strong looking renewal of this race. Got given an odd ride at the Dublin Racing Festival last time out, never put into the contest from out the back but was noted making ground late in the day. He was a couple of lengths behind the re-opposing Stattler on that occasion but that rival was given a far better ride from the front. The extra quarter of a mile looks a clear plus for the pick who looks all about stamina and should relish the battle up the final climb.
It might be worth a chance on Streets Of Doyen, who was put away for the winter after scoring at Cheltenham in October, but has always had this as his target. He has obviously improved a lot since October, but even so Streets Of Doyen surely won’t be going off at 33-1 should the ground dry out. It might not of course, but that’s the chance I’m willing to take.
Fergal O’Brien has his horses in good form and most of them seem to improve when they go up in trip. That was certainly the case with Alaphilippe at Haydock when he won a Grade 2 by 14 lengths.
Gordon Elliott has a good candidate in the shape of Torygraph, whose form keeps getting boosted and there is every chance he is going to improve again in the Albert Bartlett.
Great credit is due to Al Boum Photo for his two Gold Cup wins and although the form of last year's success is downplayed now, it was still top class, with the second Santini and third Lostintranslation both rising young stayers at that stage. Neither of those rivals has weathered the intervening months too well and Al Boum Photo is a much more reliable option. However, there is room at the top for A PLUS TARD (nap) who acts so well here and added a new dimension to his already impressive record when coming home best to beat Kemboy over 3m at Leopardstown. Champ is dependent on a better round of jumping than is sometimes the case from him but his stamina is surely not in doubt and he makes more appeal than the redoubtable Frodon and Royale Pagaille, impressive though the latter has been on testing ground of late. Minella Indo is closely matched with Champ on their RSA run last year and he is another who is capable of a big run.
It’s a tough task to win three Cheltenham Gold Cup’s but Willie Mullins has taken the same route as last year to keep this horse as fresh as possible for this task. He has won both a strongly run and a steadily run Gold Cup so he won’t mind what happens up front but it’s hard to think that with Native River and Frodon in here, it will be anything other than a proper gallop. That is inclined to test the jumping of Champ as well as the newly discovered stamina reserves of A Plus Tard, so the dual winner looks the safest option to claim another Cheltenham Gold Cup.
With a few firms offering non-runner no bet now, and at a much bigger price it might be worth considering Royale Pagaille.
Santini is surely the each-way bet in the race from the market leaders. I think there is every reason to believe he can go close again, and hopefully he’ll have another warm-up in a race rather than a racecourse gallop.
Sloggers can win the Gold Cup but they are usually weaker renewals and more often that not class and a bit of pace are the key attributes, both of which A Plus Tard has in spades.
Smart hunter chaser BOB AND CO has a good chance on ratings and is taken to give Paul Nicholls a fifth success in this contest. The selection has done very well since joining the Ditcheat maestro and is better than ever judged on his reappearance win. Billaway and Red Indian are obvious dangers near the head of the betting but there are some interesting contenders at bigger odds, notably Chameron, Porlock Bay and Mr Mantilla in that order of preference. It Came To Pass ran away with this race last year but he's harder to recommend on this season's form.
There is definitely room at the top for some new blood and the one I like is Will Biddick’s Porlock Bay, who was a big eyecatcher when a close second at Wincanton on his warm up run. He might have made up his ground a bit quickly on bottomless ground that day but he kept on right to the line and he had previously run out an impressive winner on a much faster surface in a point-to-point. These ex-French horses more often than not improve greatly when getting on quicker ground for the first time and if Porlock Bay is of the same mould, he could spring a bit of a surprise.
A smart chaser in France, including at Graded level, it’s not a surprise that he has become a top class performer in the Hunter Chase sphere. A wind op before his return win at Haydock looks to have helped him as that was by far his best performance for current connections. He has run to an RPR of 150+ in all three of his wins for Paul Nicholls, a level of form that should make him favourite over Billaway who was a beaten favourite in this race last year and is yet to run to better than 147.
Staker Wallace finished fourth behind It Came To Pass on his Cheltenham debut in 2020. The ten-year-old has since placed in two point-to-point contests before breaking his maiden tag in a Hunter Chase at Limerick. He could be a much-improved animal this year and at 11-1, looks the horse to be on at the prices.
This is the inaugural running of this mares' chase and Willie Mullins, who has dominated the mares' hurdle races at the Festival since their inception, may well hold the key with Colreevy and ELIMAY. Colreevy won the Grade 1 Faugheen Novice Chase against males at Limerick in December but Elimay's second place to classy male stablemate Allaho at Thurles in January was an excellent performance and she is preferred. Shattered Love has the form to play a leading role but her profile is rather unreliable, while 2019 Grand National runner-up Magic Of Light also comes out well at the weights but she would prefer further. The more the ground dries out the better it will be for Really Super and she's an interesting outsider.
I’ve learned my lesson when it comes to hunter chases, so will move swiftly on to the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase (4.15), in which Elimay is the obvious favourite after a cosy victory over Shattered Love at Naas last month. However, that was over 2m, which is way shorter than Shattered Love’s best distance (it was actually the best she has ever run over the trip) and she is the one with Cheltenham form. She landed a massive gamble when taking the JLT in 2018, and this is much easier than her assignments in the Gold Cup and Ryanair for the last two years. It’s not a deep race, and she looks an each-way bet to nothing.
Chasing has been the making of this mare, winning three of her first four starts. The only time that she has tasted defeat came at the hands of Allaho which is strong form for this Grade 2 level, even more so given he bolted up in the Ryanair. Deep ground won’t have been ideal for her the last twice so it’s a huge credit to her tenacity that she has run so well. The drying conditions look more in her favour than her main market danger, Colreevy, and having beaten Shattered Love over an inadequate trip for both last time out, she looks very hard to beat.
The ex-Gordon Elliott runners must be taken very seriously given his tremendous record in this race but there may well be more interesting Irish contenders from other quarters this time round. Commandingpresence is one for Henry De Bromhead but he may prove second best to a Willie Mullins representative in GALOPIN DES CHAMPS. The Mullins-trained Gentleman De Mee has been the ante-post favourite and, as the least exposed runner in the entire field, he could have major potential but Galopin Des Champs could flower over this new trip and he gets the vote following his bold show when 100-1 in the top 2m Grade 1 novice race at Leopardstown. David Pipe has two interesting candidates who were due to run at Sandown last Saturday, with the novice Martinhal the pick given his promise. Last year's sixth Mill Green and Imperial Cup winner Langer Dan also need a mention.
Gabynako, has to be of great interest in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (4.50). Gabynako wasn’t in the same class as Bob Olinger but he kept on well all the way up the home straight. Being from the family of a Welsh National winner it was no great surprise to see the drop back to 2m didn’t suit in a handicap at the Dublin Racing Festival last time. However, there were other reasons for his disappointing show as he made a right mess of the second and never saw any daylight on the inside afterwards. That was a throw-out run and back up in trip he must have every chance of continuing Gavin Cromwell’s good record at the Cheltenham Festival.
That’s Eglantine Du Seuil, who won the Dawn Run for Mullins as 50-1 shot in 2019, but has been treading water ever since, including for Paul Nicholls this season. However, having been placed in good-ground Grade 1s in the two outings following her Cheltenham success, she has been restricted to races on soft and heavy for the last two campaigns, other than when a close fourth in the Ladbroke at Leopardstown last February, and on her debut for Nicholls, which she was entitled to need. She confirmed her liking for the new course when second in a handicap in December and she’s no forlorn hope each-way at around 33-1.
The two horses who were on my radar for the closing Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (4.50) were Galopin Des Champs and Gabynako, but they have predictably crashed in price after their Graded form with Appreciate It and Bob Olinger was so well franked.
I still think Galopin Des Champs is worth backing as he travelled so well at Leopardstown in that race that has worked out so well, but I’ll leave Gabynako and suggest an outsider who could run well.
Fire Attack is a fascinating runner in this. Things have not gone right for him of late but he was a smart bumper horse last season and began this campaign running Fakiera to half a length at Navan off level weights in November. That rival is at the head of the market for the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett so a mark of 138 here for Fire Attack looks very tempting. Joseph O’Brien has had four runners in this race, including a winner and a third. Of the two unplaced, one of them was sent off a very well supported favourite so better was expected. This does have the hint of one that has been lined up by a very smart trainer.
The Triumph Hurdle was first run at Hurst Park in 1939 and moved here in 1965 after that track closed. It used to have a reputation for huge fields and shock results but since four-year-olds were given the alternative option of the Fred Winter Hurdle in 2005 it has become more of a true championship event and 13 of the 16 winners have had an SP of 10-1 or shorter. Look for a classy hurdler as five of the last ten winners had already proven their calibre by landing graded events. Five of the last eight were trained in Ireland but neither Willie Mullins nor Gordon Elliott can begin to rival the outstanding record of Nicky Henderson: Britain's champion trainer took this for the first time with First Bout in 1985 and made it a remarkable seventh success when Pentland Hills scored two years ago.
The County Hurdle was established in 1920 and for many years it was the final race at the meeting - which was better news for bookmakers than punters as a tightly-knit handicap with a huge field makes for the toughest of 'getting out' races. That first running went to a 4-7 shot but no outright favourite has won since 2004. Looking for an Irish horse could tip the odds in your favour, as the away team have provided six of the last ten winners - four of them trained by Willie Mullins. But Paul Nicholls has also won it four times since 1996 and siding with his former assistant Dan Skelton has also been a profitable system of late, as he has supplied three of the last five winners in Superb Story (2016), Mohaayed (2018) and Ch'tibello (2019). Inexperience need be no bar to success, with five and six-year-olds the most successful age group of late and six novices triumphing since 1996.
A three-mile novice hurdle was added to the programme when the festival expanded to four days in 2005 and such was its quality that it was promoted to Grade 1 status after just three years. The idea is to provide a breeding ground for future stars and plenty of winners have gone to even bigger and better things, with Penhill returning to land the Stayers' Hurdle and Bobs Worth taking the Gold Cup itself. But choosing between a big field of improving horses is tricky and there have been shock scorers at 33-1 (Kilbricken Storm) and 50-1 (Minella Indo) in the last three years, while the last seven favourites have been beaten. That said, it is worth looking for a class act, with seven of the last ten winners having already landed a graded hurdle. All bar one had also hinted at their stamina by winning over at least 2m5f and staying power is certainly something you want on your side. And pay close attention to Irish stables, which have provided five of the last seven winners.
It may have begun life as a Flat race in 1819 but the Cheltenham Gold Cup has been run over fences since 1924 and has become arguably the most prestigious jumps race in the world. Golden Miller's earned legendary status with five victories in the 1930s while post-war stars Cottage Rake, Arkle and Best Mate scored three wins each. But the gruelling nature of this 3m 2 1/2f slog on the New course means this is a test of resolve and stamina, as much as class - many a flashy-looking winner of the King George VI Chase, horses such as One Man or Silviniaco Conit, has come unstuck in this. Look for a horse who is proven here, as Coneygree (2015) is the only winner since 1996 not to have run at the festival previously. Young legs tend to stand the test better and no horse as old as ten has collected the prize since Cool Dawn in 1998. And Irish horses are getting harder to beat, coming out on top in five of the last seven years.
The Gold Cup is traditionally followed by a race run over the same course and distance and known colloquially as the amateurs' Gold Cup. That is not to decry the quality of the horses: Rushing Wild went on from his 1992 success in this to finish second in the Gold Cup itself while Grittar landed the Grand National 13 months after taking this prize. Paul Nicholls certainly targets the race and it is worth taking seriously anything he runs in a contest he has won with Earthmover, Sleeping Night and Pacha du Polder (twice). Proven form in the race is a definite plus-point and Salsify and On The Fringe are others to have come out on top more than once in the last decade. That said, this is not a veterans chase and only one horse older than 11 has won it since 1989. It is certainly an equal opportunities event when it comes to the riders and female jockeys have come to the fore of late, with Nina Carberry (twice), Bryony Frost, Harriet Tucker and Maxine O'Sullivan all successful since 2015.
The newest race at the festival is being run for the first time in 2021, taking the place of the novice handicap chase which has been switched to the meeting at Sandown on the Saturday beforehand. It has been introduced as part of a general policy to encourage keeping mares in training by offering them good races to go at. Although there are no direct trends to go on, past history suggests that Willie Mullins could be the man to beat. He has won the Mares' Hurdle, which was introduced to this meeting in 2008, nine times and has taken every single running of the mares' novice hurdle which suggests he is likely to have the ammunition for this Grade 2 contest.
Martin Pipe is a bookmaker's son so he may well smile at the thought that the race named in his honour is so tricky for punters to solve. Sir Des Champs (2011) is the sole successful favourite in its 12-year history and only two other winners have been returned at single-figure odds, with Indefatigable springing a 25-1 surprise last year. That is no surprise as the race attracts a big field of closely handicapped runners - with a limited weight range - who are ridden by relatively jockeys and anything can happen. That said, it is generally safest to look for a young horse - all bar two winners was five or six years old - and look out for Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott, who have been responsible for five of the six Irish victories between them. Keep an eye on anything in the familiar maroon and whote colours of Gigginstown Stud - the owners have won this four times in ten years and also had second and third in 2019.