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2018 Cheltenham Festival tips - The five best bets for Cheltenham Festival week

Native River can win the Gold Cup.

Brian Healy highlights his five best bets across all four days of the Cheltenham Festival week.

With the Cheltenham Festival only a few days away, the excitement surrounding the best four days’ racing in the horse racing calendar is reaching fever pitch.

Already there is lots of talk of bankers and big-priced fancies across social media, internet forums and betting shops as punters around the country share opinions on every race that will go to post throughout the Cheltenham Festival week.

28 hugely competitive and classy contests will unfold as the week progresses, and Brian Healy gives his five top picks across the Cheltenham Festival races.

APPLE’S JADE (8/13, William Hill) - OLBG Mares’ Hurdle

Probably not the most original of choices, but it is hard to see Gordon Elliott’s defending champion being turned over in this contest, and the Saddler Maker mare ought to be hard to beat.

Gordon Elliott’s star is unbeaten since losing out to Limini last February at Punchestown, and her haul of wins since include defeating that rival and the now-retired Vroum Vroum Mag in gritty fashion. She had to dig deep to get back up near the line, having looked beaten jumping the last, and that attitude has stood her in good stead.

A winner of all three starts, including the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown over three miles, the tough-as-teak mare doesn’t know when she is beaten, and she will be hard to pass in this contest. She isn’t flash, but she is a genuine sort who will have no issue with conditions, and back at her optimum trip it would be a huge shock if she failed to collect.

ELEGANT ESCAPE (12/1, Paddy Power) - RSA Chase

Colin Tizzard’s charge has been the subject of some support on the lead-up to the Festival, and there ought to be some further improvement to come from the Dubai Destination who is yet to finish outside the first two in five starts over fences.

Two of those five starts have seen him score wins at Newbury - beating the reopposing Black Corton - and Exeter in February where he ran out an easy winner over Ramses De Teilee. Beaten by Black Corton inbetween those successes, the sharp track at Kempton was probably against him, and he can do better on a more galloping course.

Runner-up on his sole start in a point-to-point, where he was beaten only one length behind Samcro, he showed good ability over hurdles which included finishing seventh in last season’s Albert Bartlett. But he has quickly made up into an even better chaser, and likely to have further improvement to come, he could run a big race in an open renewal of this contest.

THE LAST SAMURAI (6/1, Ladbrokes) - Cross-country Chase

Enda Bolger has no equal in this contest, and the Irish trainer is sure to boast strong claims; it may be worth chancing THE LAST SAMURAI () though despite his lack of experience in this discipline.

Kim Bailey's Flemensfirth gelding has finished runner-up in a Grand National, finding only Rule The World too strong in the 2016 renewal of the Aintree spectacular, having previously won at Kempton and Doncaster. He had won a point-to-point for Sean Doyle in Ireland, and he was prolific over hurdles and fences for Donald McCain, and the ten-year old could be the sort to take well to this unique test.

He hasn't won since beating The Druid's Nephew in the 2016 Grimthorpe Chase, after which he ran at Aintree; but he has performed well this term, finishing runner-up over the National fences again when chasing home Blaklion in the Becher Chase, and when fourth to Definitely Red in the Cotswold Chase.

This test of stamina and jumping could well suit the son of Flemensfirth who would be making his first foray into the cross-country sphere; but he may well thrive in the discipline, and taking on some aging stalwarts who might prove vulnerable, he can post a big run.

WE HAVE A DREAM (10/1, Paddy Power) - Triumph Hurdle

Nicky Henderson could hold the aces in this race, and his Apple’s Shakira has done nothing wrong in impressively racking up four straight wins, including one in France for previous handler Emmanuel Clayeux.

3-3 for Henderson, the Saddler Maker filly is a full-sister to the top-class Apple’s Jade, and she ought to post a big run in defence of her unbeaten record. However, it has to be questioned what she has beaten thus far, and the yard’s other big hope in the race in We Have A Dream could be the one to keep onside, and his chances have largely flown under the radar with all the attention focusing on his more fancied stablemate and impressive recent Kempton scorer, Redicean.

The Martaline gelding has improved markedly since joining this yard from France, winning all four starts over hurdles in decisive fashion, including the Grade One Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow in January, which last year threw up Defi Du Seuil to win the corresponding race on Festival Friday.

He had previously won the Summit Juvenile Hurdle - won by Peace And Co prior to victory in this race in the 2014/15 season - and he was last seen running out an easy winner at Musselburgh where he saw off Act Of Valour by four lengths.

He surely has better to come, and conditions ought not to be a problem although a better surface would be welcome; but it was heavy ground at Chepstow, so prevailing underfoot conditions are unlikely to prevent a bold showing from the four-year old who could represent value against his stablemate who receives a handy allowance.

NATIVE RIVER (11/2, William Hill) - Cheltenham Gold Cup

Last season, Colin Tizzard’s charge was one of the most improved horses in training - not that he was any mug previously - and the Indian River gelding stepped up on a promising return over hurdles to rack up a hat-trick of wins which included a tremendous weight-carrying performance to take the Welsh Grand National, having won the Hennessy on his previous start.

A straight-forward win in the Denman Chase saw him thrust into the Gold Cup picture where he ran a blinder to finish third, staying on stoutly once headed and only just denied the runner-up spot.

Subsequently found to have injured himself in the race, he has missed the remainder of last season and the bulk of this term due to a ligament problem; but he made a taking return to action when successfully defending his Denman Chase crown at the expense of Cloudy Dream and Saphir Du Rheu.

There is an argument to make which can pick holes in that form; Cloudy Dream looked a non-stayer in the ground, while Saphir Du Rheu was making his own return and probably needed the outing.

That point can similarly be made of Colin Tizzard’s charge who should improve for the outing, and it was more the manner of his success than what he beat on the day that was more impressive. He will arrive at Cheltenham a fresher horse than was the case twelve months ago, and with proven stamina and ability to handle a range of underfoot conditions then his chances of claiming the Blue Riband are clear to see.    

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2018 Cheltenham Festival tips - The five best bets for Cheltenham Festival week

Brian Healy highlights his five best bets across Cheltenham Festival week.

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