It’s the highlight of the show – Friday of Cheltenham Festival week and the final day of racing. This represents punters’ last chance to land a knockout blow on the bookies and grab a big priced winner and it would be perfect timing too, heading into another enthralling weekend of sport. The races are big, the prices bulky and, if you bet wisely, the returns could be huge.
The day four schedule is made up of seven races with another three Grade 1 contests to enjoy. These are the Triumph Hurdle, Spa Novices Hurdle and the star of the show, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The latter will stop our sports loving nation and will again attract a record number of bets on the outcome. We also have a couple of Grade 3 races in the County Handicap Hurdle and the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase.
With the stage set and optimism in the air, let’s take a closer look at each of the seven legs, picking through the betting and any points of note worth taking from the record books, including which jockeys perform best in which races, and the top trainers to keep close on the day. It promises to be another thrilling ride.
Races During Cheltenham Festival Day 4
|13:30||Triumph Hurdle||Fakir DOudairies, Sir Erec, Tiger Tap Tap, Quel Destin|
|14:10||County Handicap Hurdle||Whisky Sour, Off You Go, Wonder Laish|
|14:50||Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle||Birchdale, Battleoverdoyen, Rockpoint, Derrinross.|
|15:30||Cheltenham Gold Cup||Presenting Percy, Native River, Kemboy, Clan Des Obeaux|
|16:10||Foxhunter Steeple Chase||Stand Up And Fight, Ucello Conti, Hazel Hill|
|16:50||Conditional Jockeys Hurdle|
|17:30||Grand Annual Chase||Hells Kitchen, Moon Over Germany, Us And Them|
We explode out of the traps with a Grade 1 race contested over two miles and one furlong. Open to entrants aged four years old, Farclas won the prize last year when guided home by Jack Kennedy for trainer Gordon Elliott, a man who is no stranger to the Prestbury Park winner’s enclosure. He has some way to go to match rival Nicky Henderson, however, the race’s most successful trainer on six titles – First Bout 1985, Alone Success 1987, Katarino 1999, Zaynar 2009, Soldatino 2010 and Peace and Co 2015. Barry Geraghty is top jockey on five, including Ivanovich Gorbatov in 2016.
Bookies have thrown their support behind Sir Erec this year and have him as favourite, although there’s plenty of reason to get involved with as much as 10/1 available on the market leader, Quel Destin marked as the main danger at 14/1. The former joins us from Joseph O’Brien’s yard and was seen winning during the festive period when scoring a maiden hurdle by a neck from Tiger Tap Tap at an SP 11/10 fav. At the turn of the year he had only gone over jumps once, running five times on the flat. Will that go against him on the big stage?
Another wide-open race, as you would expect at this time of year, and there’s plenty of value there to be picked at if you’re confident enough your selection will make the final field, or happy to take a bit of a chance at a higher price. Off You Go is 14/1 favourite across the board and that’ll catch the attention of value hunters looking to take advantage. The five-year-old bay gelding won three of his first eight runs, including victory over two miles at Galway late last year in a handicap hurdle. The victor came good at 10/1 that day, seeing off SP favourite Hearts Are Trumps by over a length. There’s plenty more to come from this horse and odds compilers think he’ll prove it at Cheltenham.
Whisky Sour has been chalked up as a contender and the 20/1 available on him will leap off the page, if he goes in the race. Willie Mullins’ five-year-old hasn’t popped his head in front for a while now but there’s no doubting he has the ability in him to go close here and we saw proof of that when ending second behind Dortmund Park in the Grade 1 Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown last April. He must return to the glory days if he’s to feature.
Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle
First run in 2005, the stats show Ruby Walsh and Jonjo O’Niell have dominated this race since the start with the leading jockey responsible for getting three champions home safely in Black Jack Ketchum 2006, Wichite Lineman 2007 and At Fishers Cross 2013. O’Neill had two of the three in Black Jack Ketchum and Wichite Lineman. Who will we see land the prize this year? We find a bit of a mixed bag in recent outings with three different ages in each of the last three years, as well as different jockeys and trainers, so not a lot can be taken from the trends. Is there more to be had from following the betting?
Odds makers have Battleoverdoyen as their ante-post favourite but there’s a level of uncertainty in the market with some firms offering as big as 14/1 while others prefer to play their cards close to their chest and trade 5/1 on the same outcome. Such a difference will ensure plenty of attention and, as any experienced punter will confess, the chance to back a 5/1 shot at 14/1 shouldn’t be passed up lightly. Others in the current field worth a mention are Rockpoint at 16/1 – 12/1 in places – and Derrinross 20/1 – 12/1 in places.
Cheltenham Gold Cup
Race of the day and what the whole week has been about. The Grade 1 Cheltenham Gold Cup is a 3m 2f contest open to entrants aged five years old and above. The record books have Golden Miller as the race’s most successful horse on five titles, but they were won between 1932 and 1936 and we’ve seen nothing dominate – horse, jockey, trainer or owner – in recent years. It’s one of the most competitive races on the calendar and that shows in the results.
Native River was crowned champion 12 months ago for Richard Johnson and Colin Tizzard, delighting backers who had him at 5/1. He beat favourite Might Bite into second that day, with Anibale Fly an eye-catcher back in third at 33/1. Presenting Percy is a big race horse in every sense of the words and just loves it around Prestbury Park. He’s no bigger than 9/2 to add the Gold Cup to his list of honours. Main rivals in the betting come in the shape of Native River 5/1, Kemboy 8/1 and Clan Des Obeaux, yours at an attractive 8/1. It’s worth knowing favourites don’t have a great record in this race, winning only one of the last five.
Shantou Flyer is the one to be on at the moment, according to those who draw up the prices, and he’s current market leader with no bigger than 7/1 on the line. Richard Hobson’s hope is an experienced sort and went into the year with 38 previous outings under his belt, made up of six wins, a dozen seconds and a couple of thirds. The nine-year-old gelding ended in the silver medal position four times on the bounce, including behind Coo Star Sivola in the Ultima Handicap Chase at last year’s festival, beaten a neck that day. The team will be back for more and there’s every reason to believe they’ll see this race as the best way in.
Pacha Du Polder has won each of the last two runnings of the Foxhunters Chase, landing the prize in 2017 under the ride of Bryony Frost and Harriet Tucker last time. There will be no hat-trick, but punters will be keen to look out for Paul Nicholls who is the race’s joint-leading trainer with Richard Barber on four wins. He has a great chance to secure his place in the record books with a fifth celebration, Earthmover and Sleeping Night the others on his list when scoring in 2004 and 2005.
Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle
Waiting until we get a clearer picture of who will actually run in this race looks to be the wise option here as, heading into January even bookmakers are at a loss to name the main contenders. The likes of Lone Wolf, Danny Kirwan and Moonbeg Worldwide have been mentioned and are quoted, but without any real conviction and it’s anyone’s guess if either of those three will feature in the final list. The best option at this stage is to look at the trends and hope to find a few clues that could point us in the direction of this season’s champion.
This race was first run in 2009 when won by Andytown for Nicky Henderson and Felix de Giles. Since then no jockey or horse has won the race more than once. Willie Mullins ranks as the top trainer in the field with three prizes, gifted to him by Sir Des Champs in 2011, Don Poli 2014 and, most recently, Killultagh Vic in 2015. Mullins is also responsible for half of the last four champions, so should always be kept close when flicking through the field of this year’s runners. Champagne Classic came out on top last year for Gordon Elliott and James Slevin.
Hells Kitchen is 16/1 early favourite with traders to add his name to the list of Grand Annual champions and many with a shrewd eye will see that as a price well worth taking a chance on. The eight-year-old gelding out of Harry Fry’s yard won three of his first 10, placing on another four occasions and that form shouldn’t be taken lightly. He was spotted in the winner’s enclosure during the festive period when landing a competitive handicap at Ascot over 2m 2f, beating pre-race favourite Janika by more than two lengths.
Moon Over Germany is another worth keeping an eye on in the early exchanges and he has enough quality about him to spring a surprise at 20/1. Henry de Bromhead’s eight-year-old was second at Leopardstown in December when contesting a beginners’ chase over 2m 1f, well beaten by Paloma Blue who scooted home a six-length victor. Moon Over Germany will come on for the experience and there’s still plenty of improvement left in him but we must see at least one solid performance between now and the festival if backers are to be convinced he’s worth taking a punt on. The price may appeal to each-way backers who will get 1/4 the odds a place 1-2-3-4.