DIG out your cash for one of the bankers of the meeting in the JCB Triumph Hurdle. SIR EREC looks a class act.
He was a Listed winner on the Flat when trained by Aidan O’Brien and he was only beaten a couple of lengths by top stayer Stradivarius on Champions’ Day at Ascot.
There wouldn’t be many better Flat horses to have gone hurdling as a four-year-old. If JP McManus is going to be able to pick up such well-bred horses from Coolmore regularly he’ll probably land on another Istabraq at some point.
I’m not saying Sir Erec is going to be a Champion Hurdler but he’s looked very special since switching to the winter job.
His jumping has been good in winning both his hurdles starts and it can’t do any harm that trainer Joseph O’Brien won the Festival’s other juveniles’ prize – the Fred Winter – with Band Of Outlaws on Wednesday.
Stablemate Gardens Of Babylon was runner-up behind Sir Erec at Leopardstown last month. He was beaten six lengths but it’s far from impossible that he could fill the forecast spot again. That just shows how dominant the favourite is.
Tiger Tap Tap ran Sir Erec to a neck on his debut but he was left trailing by his old rival when only fourth last time out. It’s another pointer to the strength of the Irish challenge.
Quel Destin has won his last five races. Those wins came in small fields and his Grade 1 defeat of Adjali by a neck gives him plenty of ground to make up on Sir Erec.
Pentland Hills won nicely at Plumpton. Cheltenham is a long way from there – physically and metaphorically – and soft ground has to be a concern.
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THE drinks are on WHISKEY SOUR in the Randox Health County Hurdle. He was third behind Mohaayed in this race 12 months ago having landed a Grade 1 novices’ hurdle earlier in the season.
He’s much better off at the weights this time and has clearly been saved for a shot at this race.
He ran a fine race when sixth in the Ebor on the Flat last summer before his form tailed off in the autumn. It’s no problem that he’s not run since November as his best form has come when fresh.
Willie Mullins also runs Mr Adjudicator in a race he’ won four times in the last nine years. Paul Townend’s mount has been seen since chasing home Espoir D’Allen at Naas in November.
That form doesn’t look too bad after the winner went and won the Champion Hurdle.
Éclair De Beaufeu is interesting. He wasn’t troubled to follow up his Limerick win at Fairyhouse in January. The Ladbrokes Hurdle he finished fourth in at Leopardstown’s Irish Festival was red hot and it wouldn’t surprise me if he had more improvement in him.
Monsieur Lecoq is progressing quickly. He won easily at Sandown on his handicap debut and he returned to that track on Saturday to run a screamer when runner-up in the Imperial Cup. The more rain there is the better his chance is.
Western Ryder is a reliable hurdler. Sadly, that’s his problem. He’s not quite good enough to win a graded hurdle but the handicapper can’t cut him any slack due to his consistency.
Last year’s winner Mohaayed – forced to shoulder top weight – is another vulnerable to anything less exposed.
There’s no doubt Crooks Peak is a promising horse with a bright future. He’s not at all badly weighted but he’ll find this a very different test to the races he’s been winning.
It’s worrying he was last of the finishers in last year’s Champion Bumper at this meeting. The ground is sure to be too soft for last month’s Taunton winner Capitaine.
DERRINROSS is the boss in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. He is the epitome of what you need to win this war of a race. He’s got more stamina than Pheidippides and has the attitude of a gladiator.
It’s in his favour that he failed to win in three starts last season because that gives him the experience you need for this brutal contest.
Since stepping up the 3m he’s won both his starts and this tougher test is right up his street.
Lisnagar Oscar looked good when running away with a Haydock Grade 2 last month. I’m not convinced the form of that defeat of Ask Ben is particularly strong but he could do no more than win as he did. The much softer ground is my biggest concern.
Conditions might not be ideal for Dinons, either. He rattled up a five-timer on decent ground last year and it can’t be a coincidence he’s been kept away from testing going.
Gordon Elliott has a much better chance with Commander Of Fleet. His only defeat in three starts came over 2m and there was a lot to like about the ground it out to beat Rhinestone at Leopardstown last month. He’s a danger.
This is a race for battle-hardened novices with plenty of experience so I’m against Nicky Henderson’s pair Birchdale and Dickie Diver.
Birchdale was slightly lucky to follow his Warwick debut win when benefitting from Brewin’upastorm’s last hurdle exit at Cheltenham in January.
That was over 2m4f and, although he shapes as though he’ll have no problem with the step up to 3m, that does mean he’s got stamina to prove today.
I’m more worried about Dickie Diver lasting the distance. He ran Lisnagar Oscar to a head on his debut and cruised home at Chepstow on his second start. He looks smart but this is a race when experience and guts are more important than class.
Allaho is another towards the top of the betting with the wrong profile. He pulled worryingly hard when winning on his hurdles debut at Clonmel last month and it’s difficult to see him getting home if he does that again.
GO for the great Escape in the Magners Gold Cup. I was booed off stage in several Cheltenham Festival preview nights after putting up ELEGANT ESCAPE to land the top prize of the week.
That hasn’t put me off as I think he’s got a fine chance of causing an upset. Here’s why.
He carried 11st 8lbs to win the Welsh National over Christmas. The only horses have carried that sort of weight to Chepstow glory were his stablemate Native River, Synchronised, Master Oats and Carvill’s Hill.
That’s three subsequent Gold Cup winners and one who was more than good enough to lift one.
The manner of his Welsh National success was also impressive. He looked in control the whole way round and it was only the drop to 3m1f on decent ground that caught him out when runner-up behind Frodon in the Cotswold Chase here in January.
Stamina – not speed – wins most Gold Cups and Tom O’Brien’s mount has got it by the truck load. Any more rain would be a bonus but the conditions will suit him regardless.
His third in last year’s RSA Chase gives him ground to make up on Presenting Percy. I’ve no doubt he’s a better horse this year and his preparation has been excellent, while Percy’s hasn’t.
He’s only been seen once – and that was over hurdles. I can’t believe he hasn’t had problems but who knows?
His trainer won’t keep punters in the loop. Silence always breeds suspicion and I just can’t advise backing a horse with so many unknowns buzzing around him.
Clan Des Obeaux is more of a threat. He’s the young improver having run away with the King George when Thistlecrack, Native River and Might Bite were among those in behind.
He has to prove he can repeat that effort over a longer trip and on a different track but there’s no doubt he’s got the class for the job.
Native River could easily become the first dual winner since Kauto Star. I’m just worried his titanic battle with Might Bite 12 months ago might have left a mark on him. It certainly has Might Bite.
Templegate’s top tips for Gold Cup day
1.30 Cheltenham – Sir Ered (nb) (Click here to compare the best prices and place your bet)
2.10 Cheltenham – Whiskey Sour (treble) (Click here to compare the best prices and place your bet)
2.50 Cheltenham – Derrinross (nap) (Click here to compare the best prices and place your bet)
3.30 Cheltenham – Elegant Escape (Click here to compare the best prices and place your bet)
4.10 Cheltenham – Caid Du Berlais (Click here to compare the best prices and place your bet)
4.50 Cheltenham – Marracudja (Click here to compare the best prices and place your bet)
5.30 Cheltenham – Defi Bleu (Click here to compare the best prices and place your bet)
FOLLOW the Ber in the St James’s Place Foxhunters. CAID DU BERLAIS was a close fifth behind Pacha Du Polder in this race 12 months ago but that was on horrible ground. Today’s conditions won’t be that bad and it gives him a great chance of picking up this prestigious trophy.
He was a smart chaser when trained by Paul Nicholls. Rose Loxton – a long-time member of Nicholls’ staff – now has this 10-year-old.
He went over to win the equivalent race at Punchestown by a country mile last spring. This term he’s only had one race but that point-to-point success was a nice win prep for today. His jockey Will Biddick is one of the top amateurs so Caid Du Berlais has plenty in his favour.
Pacha Du Polder – still trained by Nicholls – goes for his third win in this prize. Harriet Tucker got him home last year despite dislocating her shoulder so it’s hard to think he hasn’t got a chance.
He was beaten a country mile at Haydock on his sole start of this season but he didn’t appear to be in much form when arriving at the Festival 12 months ago.
Irish trainer Enda Bolger won this twice with On The Fringe in recent years and his Stand Up And Fight. He won well at Down Royal over Christmas but was beaten in a point-to-point last time out. I’m not sure he deserves to be favourite.
Ucello Conti has stronger claims. He was still in with a shout when unseating four from home in last year’s Grand National and he’s looked good since switching to hunter chases.
Prolific point winner Hazel Hill has been in fine form and is another to consider.
Shantou Flyer was only beaten a neck under heavy weight in last year’s Ultima Chase at this meeting.
He’s bossed small fields to win his last two starts but he’s clearly got no problem with the demands of a race like this. If he’s in the mood he should go well.
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He was touched off in the Castleford Chase at Wetherby over Christmas and is still nicely weighted on his best form for Paul Nicholls.
He’s now with Dan Skelton and he’s gradually been working his way back to form. The decent pace will suit him well and he’s got a good record at Cheltenham.
Magic Saint has done well in three starts since joining Nicholls from France. His Wincanton win in a five-runner was done in the manner of a smart two-miler but there has to be a doubt about whether he will cope as well with the rigours of this contest.
Not Another Muddle is improving fast. He’s taken really well to fences and the way he won at Sandown last month suggests he’s up to a race like this. The likely strong pace will help and he’s a horse with a bright future.
Last year’s winner Le Prezien is only a pound higher in the weights this time. Paul Nicholls’ hope would obviously be very interesting on that form but his jumping fell apart when well beaten at Sandown last month.
Brelan D’As has looked good since dropping to 2m. He’s well weighted on his Fakenham defeat of Whatswrongwithyou loves it soft. He might have won a bit too far when taking apart a small field at Fontwell three weeks ago but he has the potential to take a race likes this.
I would have fancied Caid Du Lin on better ground. If it does dry out this morning he would have to have a chance on his Ascot success in November.
The strong pace will help and he’s not been handicapped out of it.
GORDON ELLIOTT has bagged the Martin Pipe Hurdle for the last two years. I reckon he is going to get the hat-trick up but it’s not the most obvious one.
Dallas Des Pictons has to have a leading chance after following his second to Wednesday’s Ballymore winner City Island with victories at Punchestown and Leopardstown.
I’m expecting him to go well but, perhaps, not quite as well as DEFI BLEU.
My fancy ran well in Grade 2 hurdles before bombing out when upped to the top level behind Commander Of Fleet at Leopardstown. That doesn’t bother me as he sat too close to a hot pace and it means he’s sat on a nice weight today.
Early Doors was third behind Blow By Blow in this race 12 months ago. He’s not been in the same form this time but that’s hardly surprising.
Joseph O’Brien has thrown him into Grade 1s against Apple’s Jade this term and he’s not been disgraced. The return to a handicap – despite shouldering top weight – makes him a player.
Acapella Bourgeois is the interesting one. He hasn’t run for more than a year but that’s never stopped Willie Mullins training Festival winners.
He’s a smart chaser but had plenty of hurdles form a few years ago. The handicapper has given him a right chance and I expect him to be in the thick of things.
Pym is another likely contender in the same colours as Altior. He only scrambled home at Kemtpon last time but the bigger field will help him.