It’s been a brilliant week of racing, as Cheltenham always is, but it’s been very tough on the betting front.
Today was my big day and it couldn’t have gone worse. Diamond King and Southfield Theatre, two of my big fancies fell, Uxizandre blew up and Jezki wasn’t good enough on the day. The only shimmer of light was Jury Duty running brilliantly in 3rd at 9/1.
These things happen, but it seems this week apart from Buveur D’Air that if I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have had no luck at all!
Today I have four bullets to fire, and definitely Djakadam is my most confident pick. I’m hoping to emulate Willie Mullins in producing a four winners like he did today after a bad start to the Cheltenham festival.
Triumph Hurdle (13.30)
A decent renewal and I really think Landofhopeandglory is worth an each way bet.
Joseph O’Brien picked this horse up from his father’s yard and it’s definitely safe to say that he was one of the best of these on the flat finishing second in a Curragh Group 2 and finishing a good fourth at Royal Ascot.
This season Landofhopeandglory quickly stamped himself as one of the best juvenile hurdlers in Ireland knocking up three quick wins culminating in a really decent win at Fairyhouse in a group three where he beat two of today’s rivals in Baupaume and Mega Fortune.
There was absolutely no disgrace when he was beaten the last twice under penalties as he would not have liked the ground at all.
Joseph O’Brien won this race last year with Ivanovich Gorbatov, and basically this horse has been given the exact same preparation as that horse. He will improve a ton for the ground and he is the value in the race at 11/1.
Selection – Landofhopeandglory 11/1
County Hurdle (14.10)
Another brilliantly difficult handicap to try and take apart, but North Hill Harvery comes here off the back of some very strong form and should take all the beating at 8/1.
This horse represents the red-hot form of the Supreme Novices Hurdle of 2016. 3 horses from that race have won this week, including my big fancy Buveur D’Air and I see no reason why he won’t follow suit.
North Hill Harvey was ninth in last year’s Supreme at this meeting, but as already mentioned that’s brilliant form. Also, if you watch the race back you can see that it was a miracle he even finished the race as he was knocked badly costing him any chance. He would have been very close to the first three in my opinion had that not happened and this form is to be taken very seriously as he could be well in off a mark of 149.
He acts really well around this course as he has won both other starts at this track, including the competitive Greatwood when last seen in November.
He takes the same route as the stables winner of this race last year, Superb Story, in winning that race and coming straight here.
Basically, I think he’s well handicapped, loves the track and will hopefully be a welcome winner for the Skelton’s and me!
Selection – North Hill Harvery 8/1 E/W
Gold Cup (15.30)
This year’s the Gold Cup is unrecognisable from the classic we were hoping for at the start of the jumps season.
Last year’s brilliant winner Don Cossack was retired, the enigmatic Vautour sadly lost his life, Coneygree couldn’t recover in time to make the contest and this year’s potential superstar Thistlecrack sadly tweaked a tendon in that epic battle that saw Many Clouds lose his heroic life.
It’s grim reading for sure, and we can only hope that Thistlecrack can make a full recovery next season.
This ever-growing injury list is a serious opening for Djakadam.
The tough 8-year-old has been second twice now in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but on those occasions, he gallantly followed home two magnificent horses who thrived around Prestbury Park as both Don Cossack and Coneygree enjoyed their ideal conditions.
People seem to say that he doesn’t quite see out the trip. I don’t agree, I just think he doesn’t see it out as well as a brilliant stayer does. There doesn’t seem to be a brilliant stayer this year.
Djakadam is in a prime position to “fall in” as everyone around him is literally collapsing, it seems as if all he must do is maintain the level he has been running in defeat for the last two renewals and that should be enough to see him home.
The challengers on paper are as disappointing on paper and they are hard to weigh up.
At 7/2 is Native River.
If you are taking 7/2 now on Native River on good ground to win the Gold Cup you should get your head checked as you’re probably on that slippery slope to insanity.
Firstly, it must be said that Native River has been a revelation this year in winning the Hennessy, the Welsh Grand National and the Denman Chase. He deserves every bit of recognition and love in the world, but making decisions based on emotions usually leads to errors in judgement and on cold hard logic he is a ridiculous price.
The fact remains that last season he was held in the four-mile handicap chase at the festival. The form of his wins this year is looking weak also, with Caroles Destrier, Raz De Maree and Le Mercurey chasing him home respectively. Each of the aforementioned horses are lovely sorts in their own rights, but they would be lapped in Gold Cups and all of them weren’t all that far behind Native River.
He needs the ground to be heavy to win which is isn’t, he has serious question marks over the form of his wins and his form around Cheltenham is also questionable. There’s too many questions to answer for the horse to be a 7/2 shot.
Cue Card is a once in a lifetime horse really who has jumped himself into the public affections due to the success and longevity of his fantastic seven-year racing career. At different points of his voyage through racing he has had more doubters than OJ Simpson, but he has proven them wrong every time.
This however, is a battle too far, even for the brave Cue Card.
He’s 11 years old now, and the last horse older than 10 to win the Gold Cup was What a Myth in 1969. Some stats are strong for a reason, and this stamina sapping race is made for younger legs and Cue Card is in the twilight years of his career.
Only the cold hearted could begrudge Cup Card a Gold Cup victory, but in all logic and probability he is too old, and it appears his chance for glory was lost last year with that fall four out when he appeared to be travelling sweetly.
After this we have Sizing John, the winner of the Irish Hennessy, at 7/1. I can’t see any situation where Sizing John wins a Cheltenham Gold Cup.
I was delighted to see him win last time out, a big race win he more than deserved, but the horses that were close to him in the finish aren’t anything special and were too close to warrant backing this horse for Gold Cup glory.
Simply, it was a poor renewal and he’s too short in the betting.
I was at a preview night lately, where Gordon Elliott’s assistant trainer Olly Murphy said that Empire of Dirt probably should have beaten Sizing John in that Irish Gold Cup, but for a mistake at the last and Empire of Dirt is “nowhere near good enough to run in a Gold Cup” and won’t run.
Empire of Dirt was too close to Sizing John, as was Don Poli and More of That and I’m willing to completely dismiss that form, and in turn, the chances of those four rivals were they to turn up. Empire Of Dirt was also a never nearer fourth in the Ryanair today and it’s questionable form.
Outlander was a brilliant winner of the Lexus Chase at Christmas, beating Djakadam and arguably carries some of the best form to this contest from that win. However, Djakadam simply didn’t fire that day. Djakadam is best fresh, and had beaten Outlander comfortably over a shorter trip in the John Durkan Chase three weeks prior and simply hadn’t recovered in time.
Outlander is a good horse, but something about him makes me believe that he’ll struggle to hold that form with a fresher Djakadam, but he definitely holds each way claims.
The remainder haven’t a chance, although there could be the potential for the bolt in blue at juicy odds from Champagne West.
Everything points to this being Djakadam’s year.
He’s the right age at 8, and scarily might actually have some improvement to come as he reaches his peak age. He’ll be a better horse at Cheltenham this year for a quieter build up to the showpiece as last year he went into the Gold Cup off the back of a nasty fall. This year his preparation has been ideal and he’ll improve for that. The Mullins team had some Thursday at Cheltenham, with 4 winners and he should go very close here!
I firmly believe that this is a very poor renewal of the Gold Cup and if he runs to the level of his last two placed efforts he will go mightily close. He has the least amount of improvement necessary to take the showpiece and I think he will.
The only potential upset comes from Champagne West.
Champagne West comes into this after a really impressive Theystes Chase win. This is the same race that Djakadam won before finishing second in his first Gold Cup. It must be remembered that Djakadam won that off 145, but Champagne West won this year’s off 154, and beat a better field. He jumps well and could be suited to Cheltenham. At 16/1 he might be worth an each way if that takes your fancy
I don’t think he’s good enough to beat a horse of Djakadam’s ability, but Djakadam has flattered to deceive in the past and it might be wise to cover him with a lively outsider like Champagne West!
Selection – Djakadam Win 3/1 & Champagne West E/W 20/1 (Small)
Martin Pipe Conditionals Hurdle (17.30)
In 2014 I came into the Friday at Cheltenham as dumbfounded and bereft of ideas as I am this year. The only difference was in 2o14 I hadn’t backed any winners at all!
That was one of my finest day’s punting ever, and it all began with Lac Fontana winning the county hurdle. Today he runs off the exact same mark as that day and has to be a bet at 16/1.
Firstly, he’s only 8 and there is life in him yet.
Lac Fontana was brilliant when completing a hat-trick in early 2014, winning at Cheltenham twice, including the County Hurdle before he went on and won a Grade 1 novice event at Aintree.
Basically, from that point onwards he was on a mark too high and just seemed to struggle with injuries etc. On his day he’s very good as in 2014 at the festival he beat Arctic Fire, who he meets today again, a horse who went on to finish second in a Grade 1!
He’s reportedly a very difficult horse to get fit and clearly Paul Nicholls has had a race like this in mind for him. He has looked to have struggled in both runs since back from an absence, he clearly needed the first run and a run over three miles would have stretched him last time at Newbury when he travelled a lot kinder through the race and just emptied at the finish.
These runs were used as fitness exercises I imagine and he’ll improve a ton for them. He should also improve for the better ground and a return to Cheltenham, a track he seems to really enjoy. It also must be mentioned that he ran a great race when ninth, after being impeded, over this trip in the Coral Cup in 2015 also.
Paul Nicholls rarely leaves the festival without a winner and I wouldn’t be surprised at all were it to be Lac Fontana in a more than winnable race at very decent odds.
Selection – Lac Fontana 16/1 E/W
Thanks for reading these all week for those of you that have. Means a lot, and it should be much better winner-wise next year. Just been one of those weeks!