Our expert takes a look at the seven feature races being run on the final day of the Festival, as the eyes of the sporting world descend on Cheltenham to see who will lift the Gold Cup on Friday afternoon.
Friday’s predicted going – Good
1:30pm JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m1f
Considering what he has achieved this season, winning one Grade title and being narrowly beaten into second in two other high-profile races, Bapaume looks over-priced at his current mark and represents excellent each-way value. Mega Fortune and Master Blueyes have triumphed in high profile trials for this race, but the finger of selection hovers over the two J.P. McManus entrants at the head of the betting.
Defi Du Seuil has the seasonal form a Cheltenham record to back up his claims, but now the ground is drying up, CHARLI PARCS will be a totally different prospect to the sluggish faller we saw at Kempton last month. On good December ground, he cut a magnificent figure when dispatching Master Blueyes with apparent ease. Nicky Henderson thinks Charli is something special, but the youngster will have to prove it on the grandest stage of them all.
1:30pm Cheltenham selection – CHARLI PARCS (7/2 bet365)
2:10pm Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m1f
Ivanovic Gorbatov is sure to be heavily backed in the build-up to this handicap as he looks to return to form and claim a second Festival title in a row, after storiming to the Triumph Hurdle title in 2016. North Hill Harvey was excellent when winning the Greatwood here earlier in the season and has been put aside to prepare for this race, as Dan Skelton looks to retain the title he won last season with Superb Story.
Both have to be considered strong contenders, but sitting just behind them in the betting is AIR HORSE ONE and he looks excellent each-way value at his current price. Harry Fry's charge put in an excellent performance to win a large-field handicap at Ascot on his last appearance, storming clear and holding strong under pressure to claim a hat-trick of seasonal wins. He ran on well for sixth off a heavy weight in a handicap here at Cheltenham at the start of the season. This is obviously much higher in quality, but he will carry over a stone less on his back today than he did back in November, he's in excellent form and that little bit of Cheltenham experience will do him the world of good.
2:10pm Cheltenham selection – AIR HORSE ONE each-way (14/1 bet365)
Daryl Jacob riding Wholestone to victory at Cheltenham for the third time this season last month.
2:40pm Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1) 3m
Death Duty is considered by many to be a banker for the Albert Bartlett title and it’s easy to see why when you look through his seasonal form card. Augusta Kate was looming up on his shoulder when she fell at the last in the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Hotel Hurdle, when the two clashed horns at Naas on their latest outing. Willie Mullins’ has endured a torrid Festival, but he will fancy his mare’s chances.
We all know course form is vitally important at the Festival, which is one of the reasons why WHOLESTONE makes an extremely strong case for this prestigious title. Nigel Twiston-Davies usually gets his charges primed for Cheltenham and Wholestone has won two competitive races over course-and-distance earlier in the season, beating West Approach in a Class 2 before staying strong to land the Grade 2 Bristol Novices’ Hurdle.
His latest triumph was his third of the season as Prestbury Park, where he beat several Neptune hopefuls over two-and-a-half miles to land that Grade 2 title. His price has dropped significantly since then, but he has an excellent chance of claiming a fourth Cheltenham win of the season.
2:40pm Cheltenham selection – WHOLESTONE (11/2 William Hill)
3:30pm Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1) 3m2½f
Outlander has been an incredibly consistent performer for the last few years and his Lexus Chase victory was long overdue. Sizing John has made a rapid progression into Gold Cup challenger, but he, along with Outlander, will have to improve again if they want to win this mammoth title.
Cue Card will have the whole crowd on his side and he looks to bounce back from that fall last year. Sadly, there is a fear his best years are behind him and, even though he looked as good as ever at Ascot, winning this would be a big ask. Willie Mullins has been talking up Djakadam’s chances and if Mullins’ stable were having a good Festival, he would surely be the favourite. Taking everything into account, the best bet in the Gold cup has to be NATIVE RIVER.
Many would use the fact that he has only really run in handicaps this season, but some of the greatest chasers of all time have dropped down to win handicaps off top weight, just like Native River has done this season. For a seven-year-old, he has a fantastic engine and will stay the trip all day. He bolted home after a four mile slog in the National Hunt last year, but just gave himself too much to do to overturn Minella Rocco’s lead.
Richard Johnson will position him at the front of the field alongside Smad Place and just let him pop over his fences. If someone tries to up the pace, he will go with them and just plug on until he sees the finish line. He’s in fantastic form, he’s an excellent jumper and is equipped with all the staying power and battling qualities you need to be crowned the best chaser on the planet.
3:30pm Cheltenham selection – NATIVE RIVER (7/2 Ladbrokes)
4:10pm Foxhunter Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase (Class 2) 3m2½f
On The Fringe is the hot favourite to repeat his history-making heroics of last summer and win this title for the third year in a row. Wonderful Charm brings Graded winning quality into the race and Pacha Du Polder is an inform outsider to watch out for, but the dangerous, unknown quantity in the field is Jack Barber’s ASK THE WEATHERMAN.
William Biddick has chosen to ride this eight-year-old ahead of Wonderful Charm, which has to be a huge pointer towards how much quality this point-to-pointer has. In company with Biddick, the pair have won their last eight point-to-point outings in a row, with his average margin of victory a staggering 16 lengths during that unbeaten run. He’s won on good, soft and heavy ground, he’s won on left and right handed tracks and he won easily on his first trip to England, when cruising to victory from the front at Wincanton last month. If he is allowed to dictate the tempo from the front, even the great On The Fringe could find it difficult to stay with him.
4:10pm Cheltenham selection – ASK THE WEATHERMAN (7/1 bet365)
4:50pm Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (Class 2) 2m4f
This year’s Martin Pipe is looking like one of the tightest, most-difficult to predict handicaps of the entire week, especially since The Storyteller was withdrawn with injury. Battleford and No Comment hold definite title chances at the head of the betting, but an each-way punt is the only realistic plan of attack in this race.
Runfordave will be a danger for the in-form Gordon Elliott and Lizzie Kelly is bound to give course-and-distance winner Coo Star Sivola a confident ride. However, Nicky Henderson won the first running of this race back in 2008 and his charge RATHER BE looks like a very exciting prospect. He ran Triumph entrant Coeur De Lion incredibly close on unfavourably heavy ground on his last outing, after easily holding off decent fields in his first two starts of the season. He will love the better ground and Charlie Deutsch will be looking to ride his sixth winner in the last two weeks.
4:50pm Cheltenham selection – RATHER BE each-way (14/1 Paddy Power)
Pairofbrowneyes (second right) challenging for the BetVictor Handicap Chase at Cheltenham.
5:30pm Grand Annual Chase (Grade 3) 2m
Dandridge will be looking to go one better than the runner-up finish he recorded in this race last year, as Dodging Bullets and Le Prezien cast a large shadow behind him in the betting, with their Graded winning pedigrees. Theinval has been in good form this season and could be worth an each-way wager, but looking further down the field, PAIROFBROWNEYES represents excellent each-way value.
Barry Murphy’s eight-year-old went off as a 4/1 shot here at Cheltenham in the BetVictor handicap chase in the autumn and looked on course for brilliant victory before he was headed on the line by Un Beau Roman. The fact he hasn’t managed to win yet this season could put a few punters off, but he has finished second four times in high profile handicaps in Britain and Ireland, running on well to claim a runner-up finish on his maiden Graded outing last time out. He has been widely overlooked in this race, despite running well at Cheltenham already this season and he looks nicely unexposed in the bottom half of the weights.
5:30pm Cheltenham selection – PAIROFBROWNEYES each-way (25/1 bet365)