Cheltenham Festival 2015

AP Gets His Just Deserts

There were more highly touted horses and certainly more popular bets. But no single win will be as popular on a purely personal level than A.P. McCoy’s thoroughly impressive pillar to post victory on Uxizandre in the Ryanair Chase. There weren’t many talking up Alan King’s horse beforehand unless they were mumbling to themselves out of everyone’s earshot, including the bookmakers. Sent off at 16/1 McCoy sent his mount out confidently and bar a late push from Barry Geraghty on board the well backed Ma Filleule, Uxizandre held on comfortably for a five-length victory. There really isn’t much more to be said about the Antrim man before he retires, but we’ll all try for the next few months anyway. Uxizandre’s trainer Alan King put it simply and accurately, “We’ll not see AP’s like again, the winners, the dedication – I’m just delighted to have played a small part in it.” And, that’s just it. Whatever about the man or woman on the street, it’s the regard A.P. McCoy is held in by his peers that testifies to how much of a true great he is.

In yesterday’s feature, the World Hurdle, Cole Harden, in a feature of the earlier races on the card took to the front early and never relinquished his position. Gavin Sheehan stayed composed on the Wayne Greatrex outsider to take the honours from the very well backed Paul Nicholls duo of Saphir de Rheu and Zarkandar. Irish hopes never really materialised as Lieutenant Colonel and Jetson failed to come into it.

Early on, the last of the Mullins ‘guns’ was on show in the JLT Novices Chase and how he impressed. Vautour, who had question marks over him after an awful day in Kempton in December, put the field to the sword in the most spectacular manner possible. If this was a boxing match the ref would have stopped it once horse and pilot, Ruby Walsh landed safely over the last. Frankly there were times during the race where it looked like Vautour would clear a castle turret let alone a Cheltenham fence.

We’ve all been astounded by the quality on show from the Mullins’ team this week. Unless someone discovers a new planet; preferably near Carlow; in the next twelve months, where National Hunt racing is hugely popular then Willie Mullins has a problem. A fantastic problem but a problem, nonetheless. Where does he find space for all these ludicrously talented horses? Douvan, Un de Sceaux, Faugheen, Don Poli and Vautour today all showed incredibly well this week. And, given Annie Power’s dominance prior to coming unstuck on Tuesday you can be sure she’ll have something to say at the Festival in the coming years. Speaking of which, after Tuesday’s drama, perhaps some kind soul will set up an Annie Power hotline or counselling group to help people get over the ‘horror’ of losing an accumulator. Poor girl is after crushing so many dreams and she doesn’t even know it!

If you listened to us yesterday then unfortunately things didn’t go so well. Vautour provided our favourite performance of the festival in securing the JLT Nocies Chase but none of the rest of our selections even came close. Such is life. Onwards and upwards. In any event, if you’ve stuck with us since Tuesday then you’re still well up for the week, after a successful first two days. We’ll get you back on track today, hopefully.

Friday 13th March 2015 – Feature Race – Cheltenham Gold Cup

This is it folks. The one we’ve certainly been waiting for. As intriguing a Gold Cup as you could wish to hope for in our opinion, even without the superstar draw of the likes of Denman and Kauto Star. We could go on for longer than a piece of string but suffice to say it’s a nightmare of a race to call. Ten of the eighteen strong field have won Grade Ones and two previous winners feature in Bob’s Worth (2013) and last year’s victor, in controversial circumstances, Lord Windermere. Davy Russell’s mount seemed to infringe on On His Own’s path to the line but the stewards, even after confirming as much, still awarded the victory to the Jim Cullotty trained 20/1 shot. If you have ten minutes, watch the race and subsequent enquiry on YouTube. It’s incredible drama, about as good as we saw in any sporting event last year

Lord Windermere returns after a typically underwhelming year as a 16/1 shot to regain his crown. That sounds crazy but in three races in Ireland since the start of the season he’s done nothing to suggest a repeat of last year. Cullotty, three time winner of the Gold Cup aboard the legendary Best Mate, is a very astute trainer however and his charge is yet to be beaten in Cheltenham in two attempts. His yard, as at this time last year, is out of form but you can be assured his star has been aimed for a monster tilt at glory tomorrow, where we imagine he’ll do nine-tenths of his running from the rear of the field.

After the champ, we have the favourite, Silviniaco Conti. Despite winning the King George at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day very handsomely, we have our reservations. Firstly, the two horses he led home that day, Dynaste and Al Ferof, both of whom unfortunately missed the festival, are not true three mile horses, a prerequisite for Gold Cup contenders. Further to this Paul Nicholls horse has had some trials and tribulations in the Cheltenham centrepiece, falling in 2013 and failing to capitalise last year in a race that was there for the taking. That’s not to say he hasn’t improved but at 4/1 there’s better value out there.

Holywell is a past winner at the festival and a really honest horse, Willie Mullins’ Djakadam hugely popular after his impressive recent victory in Gowran and Carlingford Lough, ‘emotional bet alert’, with A.P. McCoy will merit plenty of attention. Bobs Worth as well will be a popular selection on a day where it appears the Prestbury Park turf has softened up a little. Meanwhile, Many Clouds has garnered considerable respect in Britain for many of the same reasons as the first of our selections, Road to Riches.

The Noel Meade trained, Gigginstown owned, Road to Riches has, for quite some time, been on many peoples’ radars. An extremely progressive horse he has followed up a fine victory in the Galway Plate last August with equally impressive wins in Down Royal and more recently in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown in December. A horse like this does not bide his time for the festival or wait in the long grass. He’s developed nicely and proven that he goes on pretty much any type of ground. He comes of course with the caveat of being unproven up the treacherous hill, but we’ve seen a few lay that concern to rest already this week.

The other one we like is the Mark Bradstock trained Coneygree. He destroyed an admittedly weak field in Kempton at Christmas but it was his all the way victory in the Denman Chase, in February that really made us sit up and take notice. Though expected to go in the RSA before this superb performance, trainer and owner ensured he kept his entry in the blue riband event. Was he avoiding Don Poli? Perhaps. Does he have a chance this afternoon? Absolutely. In any event the two will no doubt get to settle the argument somewhere down the line. Like Road to Riches, Coneygree faces by far and away the toughest challenge of his chasing career to date. Nonetheless, today we trust in youth to get the job done.

Obviously it’s all about the Gold Cup today but we like Quick Jack, less value now than at the start of the week in the County Hurdle as an each way prospect. And, in the following race, the Albert Bartletts Novices we’ll be having a little twist on Martello Tower who we still like on the form lines.

The last race in the festival has been named, for one year only, after A.P. McCoy who suits up on board Ned Buntline. Unsurprisingly there’s been a big move for the great man’s mount in his last ever Festival ride. Ruby Walsh, as uncompromising and cold as his great rival has a great chance aboard Blood Cotil. Neither man will give an inch but we like Blood Cotil, a great each way prospect at 8/1 in a very unpredictable race, it must be said.

Remember that the ground has softened slightly if you’re betting today. More importantly, do not miss the great spectacle this mid -afternoon. Ensure you’ve an important appointment to attend. We know we do. The curtain has almost come down on another fantastic week’s racing. We hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have.

Friday Picks

2:05 – County Handicap Hurdle – Quick Jack e/w @ 13/2

2:40 – Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle – Martello Tower e/w @ 10/1

3:20 – Cheltenham Gold Cup

  1. Road to Riches
  2. Coneygree
  3. Holywell

5:15 – AP McCoy Handicap Chase – Blood Cotil e/w @ 8/1

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