One trainer, one jockey, one horse and one race to watch on festival Friday
At recent Cheltenham Festivals, Paul Nicholls has often found himself picking up wins late in the week. Some of those were unexpected, too, given the prices the likes of Solar Impulse, Ibis Du Rheu, Pacha Du Polder and Le Prezien were sent off at for their victories.
However, this time around the Ditcheat trainer's week was always going to revolve around Friday. Nicholls is having a fine domestic campaign and is battling for the jump trainers' title once again, but King George winner Clan Des Obeaux is by far his highest calibre runner of the week in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.30), a race Nicholls won most recently with Kauto Star in 2009.
He is set for a busy day with ten runners on the final day. A trio of Triumph contenders, Quel Destin, Ecco and stable debutant Pic D'Orhy kick off the afternoon (1.30), while Capitaine is his only County Hurdle representative (2.10).
Following Clan Des Obeaux's Gold Cup run, Pacha Du Polder bids for a third win in the Foxhunter (4.10), before Le Prezien, Magic Saint and Brelan D'As (all Grand Annual, 4.50) and If You Say Run (Martin Pipe, 5.30) aim to add some more festival success to their trainer's extensive CV.
Sean Bowen only has one ride on the concluding day, but it could prove a breakthrough one if he manages to win the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle on Lisnagar Oscar.
Bowen, who was not riding at Cheltenham on Tuesday or yesterday, has won 351 races since his first victory in December 2013 and is highly rated in jumping circles.
The partnership he has forged with the Rebecca Curtis-trained runner, who emphatically won a Grade 2 at Haydock last month, could lead to a first festival success for the talented jockey.
For many punters Sir Erec is the banker of the week. His Triumph Hurdle date is one of the most anticipated stories entering the Friday of the meeting, with the colt having made a smooth transition from the Flat.
Should he deliver for favourite backers, it would be a second official festival win for his trainer Joseph O'Brien, following the victory of Band Of Outlaws in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle on Wednesday.
The showpiece race of the Cheltenham Festival looks as competitive as ever. Last year's Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup champion Native River will try to become the first horse since Best Mate to win the Magners-sponsored showpiece in two consecutive seasons.
Against the Colin Tizzard-trained star are 15 rivals, headed by King George victor Clan Des Obeaux and last year's RSA winner Presenting Percy.
Native River conquered the likes of Might Bite and Anibale Fly 12 months ago and they are back for another crack, while Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins, seeking his first win in the race, saddles a quartet of interesting contenders.
It's a race that simply cannot be missed.
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