With just under a week to go before the biggest jumps festival begins at Cheltenham thought I share some of the previews for some of the major races over the four days kicking off this Tuesday through to Friday. Thanks to "The Horse's Mouth" magazine for the preview. Hopefully there might be some helpful info in finding a winner or two. Enjoy

Aside from the Champion Hurdle, there will be three other Grade One races taking place on day one of the Cheltenham Festival.

The 2016 Festival will get underway with the Sky Bet Supreme and this is where we will hear the famous Cheltenham Roar. After months and months of waiting, it’s finally here and you can be sure this race will be a cracker.

Many people will be hoping it is the start of the Willie Mullins domination as Min is currently the 5/4 favourite and has been a talking horse for some months now. First installed into the market during the summer as a 33/1 shot, this horse was the favourite for the Supreme before even running and there were some serious bets going on the Rich Ricci gelding.

Min has only been seen in Ireland on two occasions, but both times he has been mightily impressive and bolted up. The form of his opening maiden hurdle has actually worked out quite well too and it looks as though this horse can walk the walk after so much was said about him. A big step up is needed to land a Supreme of course, but Min will look to follow in the hoof beats of stalemates’
Champagne Fever, Vautour and Douvan, who have taken the last three renewals of this contest.

At the current prices, I can’t possibly recommended backing Min as he’ll be the same sort of value on the day. Actually, with this being the first race of the Festival, bookies will probably look to take Min on early on Tuesday morning. Nicky Henderson has a strong hand in this race with Altior and Buveur D’Air, who are available at 5/1 and 8/1 respectively. In terms of form in the book, you’d have to say that Altior is the pick as he has won four from four this season and bolted up in a good race at Kempton on Boxing Day last time out. He hit a bit of a flat spot on that day, but soon found for pressure and took the race by thirteen lengths.

Open Eagle was the horse behind on that day and has since shown two good bits of form. Altior will go to Cheltenham fresh and has to have a big chance.

As for Buveur D’Air, he was seriously impressive when winning at Newbury back in November and then followed up with a seven-length victory at Huntingdon in January. That was a pretty impressive performance, but for me the horse didn’t scream Supreme winner on that day. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think he’s quite got the class to be honest. The market will be interesting between the two stablemates, but I can’t have him at the current prices.

Yorkhill is another for that man Mullins and took the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown last time. He was 4/9 on that day and got the job done in really testing ground. He’s still unexposed and is a 10/1 shot right now. The likes of Tombstone, Bleu Et Rouge and Supasundae are all in with a chance as well, but one I like at a big price is Charbel.

He was an excellent winner of a Supreme Novice Trial at Musselburgh last time out and seemed to enjoy the better ground on that day. Kim Bailey’s charge only found Yanworth too good in December and clearly wasn’t quite himself when second at Doncaster in November. He’s a 25/1 shot right now and I’m not sure he’s quite good enough to win, but in the each-way market he has to have a big, big chance.

If you can get 2/1 about Min on the day, then I might just be all over that. Antepost though, Charbel looks the bet.

*****ANTE POST TIP: CHARBEL @ 25/1 each way*****

Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase The Novice Chasers go to post in race two and if Min is a favourite with a few question marks, you can’t really see many flaws in the current market leader for the Arkle, Douvan.

This horse could be something really special and was a very impressive winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last season. He’s made a seamless transition from hurdles to fences this season and looks like the banker of the entire meeting. At 2/5, I couldn’t possibly tip Douvan of course, but I will say that he is going to win this as long as he stays on his feet. His jumping is excellent; he has a huge engine and is possibly the best horse in the Mullins yard right now. That is saying something, too.

So, it’s that familiar story again of looking something in the without Douvan market and the avourite in that right now is Vaniteux. Nicky Henderson has won this race with the likes of Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig and although Vaniteux doesn’t quite have the class of those, he is a tough and talented chaser who seems to have enjoyed the switch from hurdles to the larger obstacles. I’d expect Vaniteux to run a big race here and was impressed with him at Doncaster, but think there may be a little more value in the market.

Garde La Victorie is at 16/1 right now and has won three from three over fences, including a seven-length victory over Bristol De Mai back in October. He then won over course and distance in November before being quite workmanlike at Ludlow on really heavy ground last time. He’ll be better on a sounder surface and is consistent, a solid jumper and I would say all but certain to run a decent race here. Each-way at 16/1 he looks a good bet. I’d also take some of the 7/1 without Douvan as well.

L’ami Serge was bitterly disappointing last time out and he could be more likely to go to the JLT Novices’ Chase now. Sizing John and The Game Changer also have chances. At a huge price of 50/1, Harry Whittington’s Arzal could go close.

*****ANTE-POST TIP: GARDE LE VICTOIRE @ 16/1 EW and ARZAL @ 33/1 EW*****

This is a four mile race open to Novices and as you’d expect, it is a big test of stamina.

Now, the horses entered at this stage still have a few options for the Festival and most them are also entered in the RSA Novices’ Chase, but there is one who really catches my eye at around the 12/1 mark and that is Native River for the Colin Tizzard team. This six-year-old was a good winner at Newbury earlier on in the season where he gave a good beating to the talented Un Temps Pour Tout and the yard have always considered him as a chaser after a decent season hurdling last year. After that Newbury success he was sent off an extremely well backed 6/4 favourite for a Grade One Novice Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. The horse looked to be seriously outpaced when they really starting picking up the speed and things just happened too quickly for him at the sharp track.

In truth, he did very well to stay on for third behind Tea For Two and on that day he gave me every indication that he wanted extreme staying trips. The next day at Wetherby was disappointing as Native River was third and never really looked like winning. However, just because a horse stays so well doesn’t mean that they have to enjoy heavy ground and I thought he hated the conditions at Wetherby on that day. Personally, I’d be forgiving that run and think it may have given him a good blow out before Cheltenham. Brendan Powell gets a good tune out of the Tizzard runner but won’t be able to ride him in the four miler. That said though, the trainer has a number of talented amateurs in the yard and could even turn to one of the bigger names should they be available. At six-years-old, you feel as though there’s plenty more to come from the gelding and if we get some good in the description come the opening day of the Festival, I think Native River is a cracking EW Bet.

He won over two miles and six furlongs when only a four-year-old, so I don’t think there’s any doubts about stamina.


Day two of the Cheltenham Festival sees the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase take centre stage and we should be treated to another thrilling renewal of the race.

Day two of the Cheltenham Festival gets underway with the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, which is a Grade One held over a distance of two miles and five furlongs. As with many of these Grade Ones right now, there is a short priced favourite in the betting and it comes in the shape of Yanworth, who is around the even money mark.

Alan King’s runner has been campaigned very well this season with three runs in winnable races, where he was odds-on and clearly gained plenty of experience. He then went to Cheltenham for the Neptune Trial in January and made light work of the field, bolting up and leaving the talented Shantou Village seven lengths behind.

King has stated that this could be one of the best he has ever had and he still doesn’t know quite how good this JP McMa***-owned gelding is. He does look rock solid at the top of the market, but plenty of favourites have been turned over in this race.

Yorkhill and Bellshill are both around the 8/1 mark right now and you’d think that these two won’t be put against each other here as they go for the same yard with the same owner. Whichever one does go though has to be in with a shout.

A Toi Phil has won two from two this season and won well at Leopardstown last time out. How good he is, we don’t quite know, but Giggingstown clearly likes this horse.

The one I’m quite keen on right now though has to be Long Dog at around 14/1. The fact he was racing during the summer months seems to have put a number of people off this horse, but he’s a Grade One winner who is as game as they come and loves winning races. He has won his last six and has been given a bit of a break coming into this one. This looks the target and the current price is a big one.

In truth, other than those near the front of the market this is a bit of a confusing race as so many have multiple entries. Quite simply, Yanworth is the most likely winner and I’d expect Long Dog to run a big race.

*****ANTE POST TIP: LONG DOG @ 14/1 EW*****

2:10pm – RSA CHASE
Novice Chasers head to post for the second race of the day and this is where you need a horse with plenty of stamina. Held over three miles, this is a real test for a novice, but horses taking this often go onto compete in the Gold Cup.

With a favourite at around 5/2 in the shape of No More Heroes, you would have to say this is quite an open Grade One considering the price of some of the other market leaders. You can see why this Gordon Elliot trained gelding is heading the betting, too. He was third in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle last season and that was a decent run in what was an attritional renewal of the race.

Since going chasing, No More Heroes looks to have stepped things up a gear or two as he has been very impressive in all three of his races and already taken two Grade Ones. Elliot thinks the world of this horse and at 5/2, he could be decent value. Ask No More Heroes was a Premium Tip on the day.

In this magazine though, we’re after big price ante-post value and that’s why I also wouldn’t consider backing More Of That at 4/1 right now. The 2014 World Hurdle winner adds a lot to the race and he’s been very good in his two chases this season. Both have come at Cheltenham as well and he clearly loves the track. We haven’t seen him since December though and it’s well known that this horse is quite fragile. I just wonder if preparation hasn’t been as smooth as Jonjo O’Neill has let on and although he does go well fresh, I think connections would have wanted to get another run into him. On the flip side, when he won the World Hurdle, More Of That had a break from December until March. This looks a pretty hot renewal of the RSA though and I would be against him AT THE MOMENT.

Things can change on the day. Blaklion is a 10/1 shot for the Nigel Twiston-Davies team and this could be a decent each-way bet. He is as game as they come and has won two of his four chases this season, including a victory at the track over the extended three miles. There’s every chance this horse could go four miles on the opening day of the Festival, but I think he’s made for this race as Don Poli showed last year how much stamina you need to take the spoils. A little bit of rain would be ideal you’d think, but Good to Soft ground is not a problem and Blaklion makes the shortlist.

Seeyouatmidnight got the better of Blaklion last time out on heavy ground and he is one who may just need quite a bit of cut in the ground. Seventh in the World Hurdle last year, he knows how to run a decent race on the big day. There’s not much between him and Blaklion at all. You can get around 20/1 and over for the rest of field.

Right now, I’d just side with Blaklion each-way and also have a little bit on Local Show at 33/1 non-runner no-bet. He’s a real improver for the Ben Pauling yard who’s bold front running tactics and excellent jumping could be key round Cheltenham. The four miler looks more likely, but if he came here 33/1 is a big price.

*****ANTE POST TIP: BLAKLION @ 10/1*****

Held over a distance of two miles, this race requires plenty of speed and good, fast and accurate jumping. A mistake round here can be tough to recover from. Last year we saw Sire De Grugy and Sprinter Sacre fight it out for favoritism in the race, but both were disappointing on the day and in the end, the form horse did the business as Dodging Bullets took the spoils for Paul Nicholls and Sam Twiston-Davies.

In truth, it might not have been a vintage renewal of the Champion Chase, but there is an element of start quality about this year’s encounter. You might think I’m sounding like a broken record, but it is that man Willie Mullins who has the hot favourite and it comes in the shape of Un De Sceaux, who is around an 8/11 chance right now.

This horse was an excellent winner of the Arkle at Cheltenham last season and this has looked to be the race for him ever since that day. Much like last year, the French horse started his season with a fall when he was on the deck at Leopardstown, but he bounced right back to form when a comfortable five length winner of the Clarence House Chase at Ascot.

Sire De Grugy took the Clarence House on route to Champion Chase glory in 2014 and Dodging Bullets did exactly the same twelve months ago, so the race is a very good trial and you’d think the biggest danger for Un De Sceaux might just be the fences in front of him, rather than the horses behind. He’ll be one for the Mullins accumulators and is difficult to oppose, but much like in the Champion Hurdle, this is still a betting market we’re going to get involved in.

You can forget the second favourite Vautour at 3/1 here as he won’t go in the Champion Chase (although I think he’d win it), so we then go to Sprinter Sacre, a 9/2 shot to regain the race he took so breathtakingly in 2013.

Last season was a write off for Nicky Henderson’s horse. He didn’t look like the same animal that won at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown a few years ago, but has returned with a bit of the old class and swagger this campaign. His 14-length victory at Cheltenham in November was impressive and then the horse did something he’d never done before, got in a battle with a rival and one of the toughest in the game, Sire De Grugy. Nico De Boinville had to get serious with Sprinter Sacre and in fairness to the horse, he stuck his neck out and ran all the way to the line.

That said, can he win another Champion Chase? Well, I’d have to have my doubts. Don’t get me wrong, I could have all the money I have on Un De Sceaux and I’d struggle to moan too much if Sprinter did manage to regain his crown. He’s been winning Grade 2 races this season and Un De Sceaux really did demolish Sire De Grugy last time out. What I’d love to see is Sprinter serve it up to the favourite turning for home, and then let the best horse win. If you fancy him, I think you’ll get 9/2 on the day and with a favourite that is tough to take on, I don’t see much value with Sprinter Sacre. I’d be betting with my heart, and not my head.

Dodging Bullets is around the 12/1 mark right now and was disappointing when beaten on his seasonal reappatrance at Newbury in February. Many were expecting Nicholls’ runner to come out on top here and although the trainer says he will come on a lot for the run and some better ground, you could see that he wasn’t happy with the performance. A lot of improvement is needed to land a Champion Chase and right now, there look to be better options. Gary Moore is likely to have Sire De Grugy and Traffic Fluide entered here, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the latter go for the Ryanair Chase, which is looking like a very winnable race right now.

It’s tough to make a case for Sire De Grugy too. I can’t have him at all in the Champion Chase. Simonsig is still in the betting, but he’s as fragile as they come and I’d actually be surprised to see the horse on the track again. So, what does that leave us with? Something has to finish in the frame and the one I think can do just that is Special Tiara for Henry De Bromhead. He’ll look to take on Un De Sceaux in the early stages and was third in the race last year. I’m not saying he’s got much improvement to come, but he’s one of those horses that always seems to run big races in Grade Ones and was unlucky not to land the Tingle Creek back in December. He’ll come here well on the back of a break and 14/1 could be huge for a horse proven and still with plenty of ability. Felix Younger, God’s Own, Somersby and Vibrato Valtat are all involved in the betting right now, but I can’t see them doing much.

The Champion Chase is an interesting one this year, but I fully expect to see Un De Sceaux take this with Special Tiara hitting the frame at a big price. He might just go off shorter than 14/1 on the day, too.


The Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham is something to behold, as the course is unique and a nightmare for many jockeys to ride on. A number of different types of fences, such as a Grand National Fence, A Cheese Wedge and many more will be jumped and there are three different circuits to complete.

It is always a fantastic watch and like any other race at the Festival, it will attract a big field and many of the big trainers will be looking to take the spoils. However, there is a certain trainer who has dominated Cross Country races – mainly in Ireland – over the years and that is Enda Bolger. He trains his horses for these types of races and gets sent a number of horses from top owner JP McMa***, who enjoys winning this encounter.

This season, they have the hot favourite in the shape of Josie’s Orders, who won the Punchestown Cross Country and has followed up with two wins here at Cheltenham in both November and December. Luckily for the horse, this year the Cross Country will be run off level weights, so they don’t have to worry about his rising handicap mark and you’d think he is going to take all of the

I haven’t been keen on backing favourites in this magazine, but I may even suggest the 5/2 on this eight-year old represents some value, as there is every chance there will be a serious plunge on the horse in the day. It’s likely that he will be facing a number of rivals that he has already beaten towards the end of last year and will remain on decent terms with them. The spin at Navan over hurdles last time out would have been a prep run and only that for Josie’s Orders and one of the main factors which I haven’t even mentioned yet is that he will get the services of the best jockey around over these fences – Nina Carberry. Carberry is superb on the Cross Country course and no-one rides it better. She is as cool as you like and along with trainer Bolger, they make the perfect team.

Balthazar King will be back from a lengthy lay off and took this race back in 2014, but I have to say I’d rather be taking the 5/2 about Josie’s Orders than I would the 6/1 about Phillip Hobb’s runner.



Day three of the Cheltenham Festival sees the World Hurdle take centre stage and this three-mile contest will be another cracker. For a division that has been described as quite weak in recent years, you could say this is a decent renewal with plenty of interesting runners.

Last year, Cole Harden sprung a little bit of a surprise when making all under the excellent Gavin Sheehan for trainer Warren Greatrex. It was a first Festival success for both the jockey and the trainer and they’ll be hoping for a repeat success here. However, there looks to be a potential star in the line up this season as Thistlecrack is your even money favourite and is going to be very tough to beat. Colin Tizzard’s charge has to be one of the most improved horses in training and is a worthy favourite right now after three wins from three this season. Those wins have come in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and then in two Grade Ones – the Long Walk at Ascot and the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham. On that day at Cheltenham, he absolutely bolted up under a motionless Tom Scudamore. Both Tizzard and Scudamore were left saying they don’t know how good this horse is and that makes him extremely exciting. He loves this trip, clearly goes at the track, hasn’t yet been off the bridal this season and has bundles of class. That is what makes Thistlecrack tough to oppose. There seem to be no flaws in him and you could argue that he’s still a decent
price at 5/4.

From an ante-post point of view though, I couldn’t be backing him as you’re sure to get this kind of price, or possibly even bigger, on the day. The Willie Mullins pair of Vroum Vroum Mag and Annie Power are next in the betting and we’re only likely to see one of these in the World Hurdle as the stable won’t want the Mares’ going up against each other. Actually, Annie Power could go for the Mares’ Hurdle on the opening day and Vroum Vroum Mag has the option of the Ryanair Chase, which may be a more winnable race this season. In truth, neither of these appeal to be in the mark as they’re pretty short and I’d rather see them lining up before putting some money on either.

Alpha Des Obeaux is around the 8/1 mark in the betting and was impressive at Gowran Park last time out. He looks like a horse that is improving, but I do wonder if he does enjoy a bit of cut in the ground and won’t want too much Good in the description. More horses appeal to me at bigger prices at this stage, although I’d say this horse is a contender.

Cole Harden – the reigning Champion – is another around the 8/1 mark right now and he could be one going off a fair bit shorter on the day. Greatrex has openly admitted that the 2015 World Hurdle winner has been trained with this very day in mind and he’s not concerned with disappointing runs at both Newbury and Cheltenham. He had a similar preparation last year though as he was well beaten in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January before winning well in the World Hurdle. Sheehan will be positive on Cole Harden once again and he does make some appeal. However, you would say it is a better renewal of the race this year and the other jockeys may not let him have his own way in front.

More Of That and Nichols Canyon are entered, but we’re unlikely to see them in action here. If the latter runs though, he is a BIG player. Aux Ptits Soins won the Coral Cup on his British debut last year off what was a really low weight and that was the last time we saw him. He’s clearly had his problems, but there’s no issue with him going to Cheltenham as a fresh horse. This is, however, a Championship Grade One and not a handicap and he’ll have to be a serious animal to take this.

Prince Of Scars was a winner of the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown last time out, beating Alpha Des Obeaux. However, that might not be form worth taking literally and the 20/1 on offer does seem to be about the right kind of price. He has won three on the spin though and is clearly improving, so can’t be overlooked.

Saphir Du Rheu was second in this race last year and then was superb when winning over fences at Aintree back in April. He was then trained for the Hennessey Gold Cup in November and managed to finish fifth on that day, but was disappointing in truth and went out like a light, as he did behind Thistlecrack in the Long Walk Hurdle. A break, a wind operation and some better ground could see this horse improve and he does have course and distance form. Paul Nicholls can get them back fit and the price could be generous here.

Kilcooley is a 25/1 shot for Charlie Longsdon and this horse was seriously impressive when beating Rock On Ruby by 13 lengths at Wetherby back in October. He has suffered a setback since then, but could be a huge price if turning up here and may just get the services of Richard Johnson too.
This is a horse that is still unexposed over this kind of trip and has to be a big player. As does the Nicky Henderson trained Whisper, who has been poor on two occasions this season, but clearly comes into his own in the spring and has run well in the World Hurdle before. The vibes from the Henderson yard are that this horse has been doing plenty of the right things at home and goes here
with a big chance. It’s 33/1 about the old boys At Fishers Cross and Bobs Worth.

When you take Thistlecrack out of the equation, this is seriously competitive and decent betting heat. At the prices right now, I think that KILCOOLEY and WHISPER have to be considered. Both are at 25/1 and tick quite a few boxes. They’ll do for me and let’s hope we can get 7/4 about the favourite on the day.

*****ANTE POST TIP: KILCOOLEY EW @ 25/1 and and WHISPER EW @ 25/1*****

Day three gets underway with the JLT Novices’ Chase, which is held over two miles and three furlongs and will be another cracking Grade One. In this race last year, we saw the performance of the Festival with Douvan putting in an outstanding round of jumping to make all and bolt up.

We might not have the same star quality as we did last year, but Bristol De Mai is an exciting favourite for the Nigel Twiston-Davies’ team. This horse just never seems to run a bad race and has improved with each start this season. His 32-length win in a Grade 2 at Haydock was really impressive and he then made all in the Grade One Scilly Isles Chase at Sandown last time out. This horse just seems to love jumping and he is exactly the type you need to win a race like the JLT.

Of the current favourites in the Grade Ones at Cheltenham, I’d say that Bristol De Mai does look the best value and he’s one who could actually go off a bit shorter than the 7/2 he is right now. There’s not much Cheltenham form with this horse, but he should have any problems at the track.

More Of That is in the betting, but won’t be going for this and Outlander is an interesting 6/1 shot. He won comfortably at Leopardstown last time out and is a perfect three from three over fences. Willie Mullins’ charge seems to be improving all the time, but it would be a concern that he has only won on testing ground and his record in the spring isn’t the best.

The value could lie with Shaneshill, who only found Douvan too good in the Supreme last year and made a promising start to chasing when winning at odds-on at both Thurles and Naas. He was then disappointing – when all of the Mullins’ horses were – when beaten by Vaniteux at Doncaster. On that day though, he looked to be crying out for a step up in trip and 10/1 could be value in a race that will suit the horse. He’s got plenty of class and is a decent EW bet.

Sizing John is a chaser with improvement to come and has met Douvan in three of his last five races. On the times he hasn’t though, Sizing John has won and has a chance here. I’d rather be with Shaneshill at the same price, though. To be honest, there’s not much more in the market I’m that keen on backing.

*****ANTE POST TIP: BRISTOL DE MAI @ 7/2 and SHANESHILL EW @ 10/1*****

This might just be the most puzzling race of the Festival so far. Held over a distance of two miles and four furlongs, the Ryanair Chase is worth plenty of money and usually a cracking Grade One.

There’s such a confused market with this race right now though as there are so many doubts about those at the top of the market. Vautour, Valseur Lido, Road To Riches, and Vroum Vroum Mag are all single figure prices at the moment, but you’d have to be unsure about whether this is the main target for those horses.

Vautour looks like going for the Gold Cup, Vroum Vroum Mag is a very short price for the Mares’ Hurdle, and while the Giggingstown Pair both have entries in the Gold Cup too.

You’d think that maybe one of Valseur Lido and Road To Riches would go for this and they could end up favourite for the race. Which one though, I don’t know, and I think this is a race to look further than those at the front of the market. If I’m honest, I’ve been left scratching my head with this race a bit.

The likes of Smashing, Vibrato Valtat and Dynaste don’t appeal to me right now and I have to say I keep coming back to Josses Hill at 14/1. He did look back to his best when winning well at Kempton on soft ground over this trip last time and you only have to look at his Festival record to see he runs some big races here. Second in the Supreme to Vautour and then third in the Arkle, Josses Hill is a
top quality horse that may just be a big price at 14/1. He’d be the one for me at this stage, but I wouldn’t be going overboard to be honest.

*****ANTE POST TIP: JOSSES HILL EW @ 14/1*****


The fourth and final day of the Cheltenham Festival takes place on Friday and hopefully by this stage, we’ll be playing with the bookies’ money. The feature race of the day is the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Considered the biggest race of the Festival by many and a real highlight of the Jumps campaign, the Gold Cup is always a cracking encounter and sees some of the best horses in training go up against each other. Last year we saw the most extraordinary performance in the Gold Cup as Coneygree jumped and galloped his rivals into submission and became the first novice in over 40 years to take the race. He had his problems before this and was always considered a bit of a fragile horse, but put up a stunning display of jumping to make all, which is extremely tough to do in a race of this nature. Unfortunately though, the horse’s injuries have come back and he has been ruled out for the season, which is a real shame. You’d think he would be head of the market if he was still involved.

However, that doesn’t mean that this has turned into a weak Gold Cup as the staying chase division is really strong right now and this has been one of the most talked about races of the entire Festival. Willie Mullins is the man somewhat dominating the top of the market right now as he has three of
the top four in the betting and surprisingly is still searching for his first win in this race.

Vautour is the horse that tops the market around the 4/1 mark and has to be considered as a big player after his stunning performance in the JLT Novices Chase here last season. Mullins’ charge seems to produce his best performances at Cheltenham and when going left handed and you could argue he did very well to finish second in the King George at Kempton Park on Boxing Day. Some will say that he was a non-stayer on that day, but I disagree. I think Ruby Walsh would ride the race a little differently if given the chance to and owner Rich Ricci still believes that he wasn’t 100% on that day. Ground could be key for Vautour as you don’t think he’d want a real slog over this kind of distance. If it’s nice spring ground, he could take plenty of beating as he undoubtedly has bundles of class and after his JLT win last year, Walsh said this horse could go any distance he likes. He’s Versatile and deserves his place at the top of the market.

Mullins and Ricci also have the 5/1 shot Djakadam here, who was last seen running in the BetBright Chase – a trial for the Gold Cup – here at Cheltenham. He was going well on that day and then made a poor jumping error. That cost him his place in the race and Djakadam hit the deck. Now, you never quite like to see a horse come to Cheltenham on the back of a fall, but reports are that he is none the worse for it and this seven-year-old does have course and distance experience after an excellent second in the race last season. That would’ve been a tough race for him, but the horse looked very good when winning over two miles and four furlongs at Punchestown back in December. I just have my doubts over whether he is quite good enough in this strong Gold Cup.

Mullins third big hope comes in the shape of Don Poli and what can we say about this horse? Well, the truth is we still have no idea how good he is. He’s probably the laziest horse in training, but does often get the job done and looks as though he’ll relish a gruelling stamina test. You could argue that Don Poli’s best performance came in the RSA Chase here last season when winning by six lengths but even then, he gave Brian Cooper a tough time and was on and off the bridle. He is a tricky ride and the debate goes on as to whether Don Poli is lazy or just really slow. I’d go with the former and personally think it’s tough to have this horse out of the frame come Gold Cup day.

Brian Cooper certainly has an interesting choice to make as he has the option of this Mullins horse, or the Gordon Elliot-trained second favourite, Don Cossack. The Don is the only horse in the top four not trained by Mullins and might just have the best chance of winning here. He took a fall in the King George when turning for home and although he was being pushed along, many felt he had the measure of the eventual winner Cue Card at the time. It was the sort of fall that you don’t really like to see, but it is one the horse should learn from and unlike most, I didn’t see too much wrong with his performance over two and a half miles at Thurles last time out. He didn’t enjoy the trip or the ground and simply got the job done. A nice little confidence booster.

Don Cossack came into his own in the spring last season and smashed his rivals at Aintree and Punchestown. He beat Cue Card by 26 lengths at Aintree and then Djakadam by seven in Ireland. Better ground has to be the key to this horse and I actually wouldn’t be too disheartened if Brian Cooper chose Don Poli over Don Cossack. I just wonder if someone like Davy Russell would suit him better as although Cooper is a fine jockey, I’m not sure he and Don Cossack suit each-other too much. This has been the plan with the Giggingstown horse for some time now and at 9/2, he could just be the best bet in the Gold Cup at this stage. As he gets older, the horse looks more and more of a stayer, but he still has that bit of class needed. The Cheekpeices will go on here and they’ll be a real help.

Britain’s best chance of retaining the Gold Cup comes in the shape of 6/1 shot Cue Card, who has won the Betfair Chase and the King George this season. I’ve written this horse off too many times this season and regretted it, but I’m going to stick my neck out and say I don’t think he can win a Gold Cup. I just think that the opposition will be too strong here and he’ll find it tough to hold the form with Vautour, let along beat the rest of the field.

Smad Place has to have a big chance at 12/1, but has come up short in races like this in the past. Alan King, however, has had an excellent season and it would be dangerous to let this horse get an early lead. It’s then pretty big prices about the rest, but I’m sure you’ll agree this is a superb Gold Cup field.

For us, it’s all about DON COSSACK right now and he’d be one of my strongest ante-post fancies.

*****ANTE POST TIP: DON COSSACK @ 9/2*****

The four-year-olds go to post for the first race of the day as the Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle takes place. This can often be a tricky race to find the winner in and if I’m honest, these don’t look to be the best bunch of juveniles that we’ve seen.

However, it’s a Grade One at Cheltenham so there’s still plenty up for grabs and Ivanovich Gorbatov tops the market at around 9/2 right now. The Aidan O’Brien trained horse was much shorter than this heading into his race at the start of February, but he was then well beaten when fourth of eight. Now that day at Leopardstown saw a number of strange results, but you’d want to be seeing a little bit more from the horse if he were to be good enough to take the Triumph Hurdle and after that, I don’t think there is any juice in his price whatsoever.

Owners Simon Munir & Isaac Souede had the first and second in this race last year with Peace and Co and Top Notch. This campaign, they have another strong hand again with Fixe Le Kap and Sceau Royal both available to back at 8/1 and Footpad – who beat Ivanovich Gorbatov last time out – a 12/1 shot.

Nicky Henderson, Alan King and Willie Mullins train these three horses, so they’re clearly in fantastic hands and looking at Fixe Le Kap to begin with, he looked very smart when bolting up at Warwick last time out. Now, he was expected to do just that after his Newbury win and was sent off 30/100 for the race, but it was the way in which he put the race to bed that was so impressive. To bolt up by 28 lengths isn’t easy, no matter what the opposition is and he wasn’t exactly given a hard time in the race. He certainly strikes me as a horse that has a big future.

Sceau Royal was last seen winning well when long odds-on at Huntingdon in January and one thing that really strikes me about this horse is how well he jumps. He is so quick, professional and accurate over his fences and that is key in a Triumph Hurdle. King has been in fine form all season and another big plus for me is that this four-year-old has been to Cheltenham and won when getting the better of Adrien Du Pont in December.

You can get Footpad around the 12/1 mark and you get the feeling that he may have even surprised connections with his win last month. How he’ll act on better ground is unsure and I’m not sure he’ll even end up in this race. Others worth considering at the minute are Connetable, Gibralfaro and Who Dares Wins.

For me though, Sceau Royal is just about the best on offer and 8/1 is a fair each-way price.


This three-mile hurdle race for Novices’ is often a real test of stamina and you need a horse with a big engine to take this.

One of Britain’s best hopes of a winner at the Festival looks to come in the
shape of Barters Hill, who is a 5/2 shot right now and deserves his place at the top of the market as he is unbeaten and has taken a Grade One. This horse has a funny way about going about his business as he always seemed to get a bit outpaced, but finds loads for pressure and as we’ve seen on every one of his appearances to the racecourse, gets the job done. Ben Pauling feels there is more to come from this horse and he’ll love this test of stamina you’d think.

Bellshill clearly wasn’t himself at Leopardstown last time out when going out like a light under Ruby Walsh and you wonder if this would be the right race for him. I wouldn’t be backing him on that last show.

Ballydine couldn’t beat Barters Hill last time out and I would be surprised if he can reverse that form for the Charlie Longsdon team. You’d think he might be competing for a place at best.

Blue Et Rouge got the better of Bellshill and Tombstone last time out and that was a good performance from the JP McMa*** horse. He has an entry in all three novice events and it’s tough to know which one he will go for at this stage.

Gangster looks sure to line up in this one though and has won both his starts this season for Giggingstown and Brian Cooper. The win at Fairyhouse on testing ground last time showed that he can cope with this stamina test and there should be plenty more to come from this improving six-year-old. Good ground wouldn’t be a problem either and at 16/1, he could be good value.

Another who I may just be keen on backing at this stage is Nicky Henderson’s O O Seven. He won at Musselburgh over three miles last time out and showed a very good attitude to get the better of Fagan there. It was a bit of a doubt as to whether he’d stay three miles, but the horse seemed to relish it and he’ll be a better animal on a sounder surface. 25/1 could be a big price about this horse,
which does fit some of the criteria needed to win this race.

The Albert Bartlett is possibly a race with more questions than answers at the minute, but both Gangster and O O Seven might just be decent plays against the favourite, who is very strong.


Good luck to anyone having a bet over the four days. Will post my first day's selections come Tuesday evening