1:30 JCB TRIUMPH HURDLE
Sir Erec is many people’s idea of a Cheltenham banker and the omens are good as his trainer Joseph O’Brien has already had a juvenile winner this week courtesy of Band Of Outlaws. Sir Erec holds a clear form chance, given he was a six-length winner of the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown but he is close to odds-on now and that looks worth taking on in a race like this. The last four winners have come from that Leopardstown race, but curiously not through the winners, and GARDENS OF BABYLON could continue the trend. Also trained by O’Brien, he ran second at Leopardstown and that run can be marked up considering he had to come off a slow pace. A bigger stamina test could suit and he looks worth a play.
The British horses don’t look on the same level as their Irish counterparts although Paul Nicholls’s Pic D’Orphy could be anything and his mark of 149 in France puts him right in the mix.
SELECTION: GARDENS OF BABYLON ALTERNATIVE: PIC D’ORPHY
2:10 RANDOX HEALTH COUNTY HANDICAP HURDLE
As always this is hugely competitive. A chance is taken on the previously classy CH'TIBELLO whose rating has tumbled. He competes today off a mark of 146, having been as high as 157 last season. He showed he might be back on track when finishing second to Midnight Shadow at Aintree on his previous run and he has since undergone a wind operation. He could be very nicely treated.
Western Ryder has been running well in the big handicap hurdles this season and can do so again. Whiskey Sour is also very interesting coming back to this race but the same trainer’s Cut The Mustard could be worth a try at a much bigger price. She has acquitted herself well this year and just bumped into a very well handicapped mare at Leopardstown for her latest run.
SELECTION: CH’TIBELLO ALTERNATIVE: CUT THE MUSTARD
2:50 ALBERT BARTLETT NOVICES’ HURDLE
This can be an attritional affair and is often won by a battle-hardened sort. Out of all the main market principals, LISNAGAR OSCAR looks best equipped, having had four runs over hurdles and produced a career best last time out. Second to Rockpoint in a Grade 2 over the course and distance here in December, he comes back to Cheltenham a better horse and can give trainer Rebecca Curtis her second win in this race.
Commander Of Fleet showed his battling qualities to win the Grade 1 Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle and can have a say. Birchdale and Allaho are others with potential but may lack experience.
It’s always worth having a go at something down the market in this race and at a big price Noel Meade’s First Approach could be worth chancing. He stayed on nicely when fourth in that Grade 1 won by Commander Of Fleet, and the extra two furlongs could bring out further improvement.
SELECTION: LISNAGAR OSCAR ALTERNATIVE: FIRST APPROACH
3:30 MAGNERS CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP CHASE
It seems as though Presenting Percy, somewhat remarkably, will go off favourite for the Gold Cup, despite having had just one run over hurdles this season. There is serious belief in this horse, however it will have to be some performance to win this with no match practice since last season’s RSA Chase.
Last year’s winner Native River is the solid option. The rain that has fallen at Cheltenham is a huge plus and although it won’t be as testing as last season, he will be a seriously difficult horse to pass. That said, his stablemate ELEGANT ESCAPE deserves consideration. The pair are very alike, out-and-out stayers who both won a Welsh Grand National, but Elegant Escape has the potential to improve further and is a much bigger price at 16/1. His form to finish second to Frodon, in what was an unsuitably slowly run Cotswold Chase doesn’t look at all bad now and if he can jump a little better, he should be bang there at the business end.
Clan Des Obeaux has been top class on his last two runs but he is 0-4 at Cheltenham which has to be a huge worry. Willie Mullins has four and while Ruby Walsh has elected to ride Bellshill, it can’t have been an easy decision with the profiles of Kemboy and Al Boum Photo. The latter-mentioned was very good on his sole start this season, giving weight away to Total Recall and subsequent Thyestes one-two Invitation Only and Alpha Des Obeaux at Tramore. Mullins has always said stamina is this horse’s forte and at 20/1 he represents value.
SELECTION: ELEGANT ESCAPE ALTERNATIVE: AL BOUM PHOTO
4:10 ST. JAMES’S PLACE FOXHUNTER CHALLENGE CUP HANDICAP
Stand Up And Fight is a coming horse but UCELLO CONTI is a more established figure and having found the winning habit, he could be a tough nut to crack. Gordon Elliott’s 11-year-old has a rating of 147 and warmed up for this with three straight wins. He has the brilliant Jamie Codd in the saddle as well.
Pacha Du Polder deserves serious respect considering he won the last two renewals of this. His comeback run was ominously bad but back at Cheltenham, and over this distance, could make things click.
SELECTION: UCELLO CONTI ALTERNATIVE: PACHA DU POLDER
4:50 JOHNNY HENDERSON GRAND ANNUAL CHALLENGE CUP
MIND'S EYE could be the answer to this often frantic two-mile handicap chase. He has form that ties in with a lot of the Grade 1 novice chasers in Ireland and off a mark of 142, he could be very nicely treated.
Bun Doran shouldn’t be discounted - he has an excellent record over this course and distance which counts for a lot. Paul Nicholls has a strong hand through the unexposed Magic Saint and last year’s winner Le Prezien, who returns off just a 1lb higher mark.
SELECTION: MIND’S EYE ALTERNATIVE: LE PREZIEN
5:30 MARTIN PIPE CONDITIONAL JOCKEYS’ HANDICAP HURDLE
Dallas Des Pictons has been favourite for this since winning at the Dublin Racing Festival but there is a wall of dangers to take him on. EARLY DOORS can prove the biggest one and can go two better than last year when he was third to Blow By Blow. He returns off just a 3lb higher mark and it would be no surprise if this was his target all year round.
Cartwright, another Elliott runner, should not be discounted either. He has always threatened to win a big handicap hurdle like this and the soft ground and rise in trip can see him take a leading role.
SELECTION: EARLY DOORS ALTERNATIVE: CARTWRIGHT