We mark your card for five of the best races on the final day of this year’s festival, with the Cheltenham Gold Cup taking centre stage.
Owner JP McManus scored with a 1-2 in the Champion Hurdle and he has another strong hand in the JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1) with Charli Parcs and Defi Du Seuil at the head of the market. Defi Du Seuil is current market leader and he’s undefeated in five starts over hurdles including three wins at Cheltenham.
A big field is a new challenge but he travels well in his races and on the form he’s shown so far he ought to put up a good show, despite his better performances coming on softer ground. Charli Parcs needs to bounce back from his Kempton run last time out when he fell behind Master Blueyes who reopposes but Charli Parcs was going best in the race when he came down. Alan King’s runner has improved at a steady rate over hurdles and he could land some each-way money with his trainer holding a good record in the race.
The Irish have won three of the last four renewals and another JP McManus owned horse, Landofhopeandglory, looks like an interesting runner returned to better ground. He was useful on the flat for the trainer’s father and the heavy ground didn’t suit last time. Mega Fortune improved for the first-time cheekpieces over hurdles when last seen and the track ought to suit in what looks like a fascinating renewal.
Things could get even better for the Irish in the County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) having won seven of the last 10 of this with five of them being trained by the Mullins team.
He saddles Renneti and Arctic Fire in this year’s race and both of them would have chances but there are stronger representatives from over the Irish Sea.
Paul Nicholls has a strong chance for the home team and it may well be significant that he runs just one this time in Diego Du Charmil who was an impressive winner at Musselburgh when last seen.
Former assistant to Nicholls, Dan Skelton, had his first Festival success in this race last year with Superb Story and he comes back looking to defend his title with a strong team.
North Hill Harvey looks his best chance and he won the Greatwood Hurdle here in November. Winter Escape was fancied and favourite for that race but disappointed when the ground went too soft and on a better surface now, he could be interesting off a decent mark.
Winner of last year’s Albert Bartlett (Grade 1) and long-time favourite for this year’s Stayers’ Hurdle Unowhatimeanharry was valiant in defeat yesterday and that winning trainer and jockey team up with Any Drama here. He’s been impressive on his last couple of starts but he may want slower ground than what he will get here.
Elliott’s charge, Death Duty, arrives with a big reputation having been impressive in his hurdles wins so far. There could be even more to come with this step up in trip but the ground must be a concern with all his form coming in soft conditions. He won’t have it that easy and fellow Irish contender Augusta Kate, the sole mare in the line-up, was running Death Duty close last time but she fell at the last.
When looking for a Cheltenham winner, many will say looking for previous course form is the single most important factor and Wholestone has been tough to beat this year, especially at this course. He’s won three of his four races here, finishing runner-up on the other occasion and he’s proven over the trip and on the ground. He holds every chance of giving Nigel Twiston-Davies his first winner of the Festival.
The Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase (Grade 1) is the National Hunt calendar’s Blue Riband event and Djakadam has been unlucky to have run into two very smart winners in the last two renewals. He gave Coneygree a fantastic race in the 2015 renewal just failing to catch the Bradstock horse up the run and he was unlucky last year in the lead up to the Festival when he fell a few weeks prior and had to have a rushed preparation.
He still managed to finish second to the now retired Don Cossack but there’s a suspicion he wasn’t 100% that day and this could well be his year. Cue Card looked like the winner for a long way last year before falling and it would be some story to see him win the race after an up-and-down season. Cue Card’s trainer also runs Native River in the race for different owners and it will be interesting to see if he jumps as well against classier opposition than what he’s been facing in handicaps this year.
More Of That would be a contender on the best of his hurdles form but he does have a tendency to bleed while Noel Fehily rides Minella Rocco and the jockey could record a unique Championship Treble after already winning the Champion Hurdle and the Champion Chase earlier in the week.
Winner of the Foxhunters for the last two years, On The Fringe returns to defend his crown but he’s without his normal partner in the saddle Nina Carberry. Jamie Codd is an able deputy though and he already has two winners at this year’s Festival; they will be hard to beat if returning in the same form. His win last year was overshadowed somewhat by the horse that finished fifth Pacha Du Polder, but she loses the services of Victoria Pendleton this time around. This will have been the long-term target for the horse and if ridden more aggressively he may be capable of finishing a couple of places better this year for the Paul Nicholls’ stable.