Your ultimate guide to day three of the festival
IN A NUTSHELL
There’s an undeniable hint of romance versus realism when it comes to the market leaders for the Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle.
Two years ago Paisley Park was at death’s door before returning to be beaten 54 lengths in the 2018 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle as an unconsidered 33-1 shot. On Thursday he will arrive at Prestbury Park with an unlikely air of invincibility about him.
Emma Lavelle has transformed Paisley Park into many people’s idea of a Cheltenham Festival banker. He is unbeaten in four races and banished any Albert Bartlett scar tissue with a 12-length demolition of the Cleeve Hurdle field in January.
If all that weren’t enough, in Andrew Gemmell he is owned by someone who has touched the hearts of racing fans the world over. Gemmell has been blind since birth but is an infectious sports fanatic.
Cheltenham is an annual pilgrimage for hordes but believing so fervently in something you have never seen is the ultimate act of faith, and there won’t be a dry eye in the house if Gemmell gets to walk on the hallowed Cotswolds turf that is the winner’s enclosure at this sacred ground.
In Faugheen, though, there is the prospect of reality mercilessly crushing the Paisley Park fantasy.
While the old heavyweight champion isn’t landing as many punches, he is still swinging away and there could be another big scalp in him yet.
As such, there would be plenty for the romantics to savour should he complete an unlikely comeback to claim a third festival win four years after his Champion Hurdle heroics.
Willie Mullins is the kind of man who’d appreciate the goodwill that would flow Gemmell’s way if Paisley Park were to prevail, but he trades in winners. There’ll be sentiment enough for him in a Faugheen victory.
COMPLETING THE SET
Kilbricken Storm and Supasundae join Faugheen as previous festival winners tackling the Stayers’ Hurdle.
Last year’s Albert Bartlett victor Kilbricken Storm has had his chasing career put on hold by Colin Tizzard after a dismal experience on his second outing at Newbury, so has something to prove.
Supasundae, successful in the 2017 Coral Cup, was second to Penhill in last year’s Stayers’ and went on to claim the two-mile crown at Punchestown. He is a versatile sort who has been second in three Grade 1s this season.
If he were to triumph, he would elevate Jessica Harrington to an elite group of trainers which numbers just five to have won each of the four traditional championship events after her previous successes in the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup.
It’s a while since Ruby Walsh was mistaken for a teary-eyed romantic and he certainly kept emotion out of his decision-making when eschewing the mount on Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair Chase.
In 19 completed outings together, the partnership has won 15 times and been second on three occasions. When they last combined, only Altior had their measure in the Tingle Creek Chase.
The unusually dry winter has seen Un De Sceaux kept under wraps, and when the rain came the chance of his reprising a thrilling 2017 Ryanair success seemed to increase. It surely has, but Walsh has instead opted for Footpad, who ran out such an emphatic winner of the Racing Post Arkle Chase last year.
Things haven't happened for Footpad this season, so Willie Mullins has opted to go up in trip in an attempt to reignite the magic.
Noel Meade has taken Road To Respect in the opposite direction in distance, and it might be worth noting the last two times the 2018 Gold Cup fourth ran over an intermediate trip, he recorded back-to-back victories in this card’s Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate and the Ryanair Gold Cup at Fairyhouse.
Last year’s Ryanair winner Balko Des Flos likewise has to bounce back from some sub-par performances, while Henry de Bromhead also saddles the 2017 runner-up Sub Lieutenant and Monalee.
Second to Presenting Percy in last year’s RSA Chase, Monalee will be ridden by the insatiable Rachael Blackmore. Successful on A Plus Tard in the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase on Tuesday, she will be looking to plunder a breakthrough success in one of the marquee festival events, as will the similarly irrepressible Bryony Frost, who partners Frodon.
This was deemed a more realistic target than the Gold Cup for the improving seven-year-old, who has been a revelation in winning three of his four starts this season.
If he makes it four from five it would mark a first win in this for Nicholls since it became a Grade 1 in 2008.
It’s five years since Sir Anthony McCoy landed the JLT Novices’ Chase on the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Taquin Du Seuil.
Since then, the opening Grade 1 has been the preserve of the Irish delegation, Willie Mullins landing three in a row with Vautour, Black Hercules and Yorkhill, before Shattered Love obliged for Gordon Elliott last year.
With Mullins due to saddle Real Steel, Voix Du Reve and Pravalaguna and Elliott relying on Mengli Khan, that domination could well be continued.
Nonetheless, the home team look decent this time. Defi Du Seuil and Lostintranslation have been trading blows in recent months, while Kildisart has also progressed into a live contender.
Also in the mix is Vinndication. Kim Bailey had initially ruled out his promising young chaser after an indifferent awayday at Newbury the weekend before last, only to have a rethink after a more encouraging schooling session last Friday.
Keeping an open mind is a policy that has proved highly effective in the past, with Kicking King landing a famous Gold Cup triumph in 2005 after initially being ruled out of the festival.
Five years later Binocular emulated that feat in the Champion Hurdle after returning revitalised by a trip to JP McManus's Martinstown equine resort in County Limerick. Time will tell if Bailey is to be similarly vindicated.
Tuesday's gruelling edition of the National Hunt Chase was another reminder of the value of the best riders in amateur races at the festival.
In such an intense and high-pressure environment, the likes of Jamie Codd, Derek O'Connor and Barry O'Neill come into their own.
The services of those three riders, all national champions on the Irish point-to-point circuit, tend to be fiercely sought-after, so it's no surprise to see their respective names alongside the three horses at the head of the betting for the Kim Muir.
Codd, whose four wins in the last ten years make him the most successful rider in the history of the race, is on Gigginstown's Measureofmydreams for Gordon Elliott. However, neither O'Connor nor O'Neill has experienced Kim Muir glory yet.
O'Connor teams up with Ted Walsh and JP McManus for Any Second Now, while O'Neill is on the Elliott-trained Its All Guesswork, whose owner Philip Reynolds has enjoyed so much luck here in recent years with Mall Dini and Presenting Percy.
It's not beyond the bounds of possibility that Reynolds might find himself in the glare of the spotlight a day earlier than most of us expected.
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