Road to Cheltenham

Bill Esdaile
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ON PAPER the Irish look to have as strong a hand as ever before at this year’s Cheltenham Festival and one race they have a great record in is the County Hurdle on the final day.

Paul Nicholls won it with Lac Fontana 12 months ago, but prior to that Ireland had taken the previous four renewals and the well-handicapped Quick Jack will be fancied by many to give Tony Martin his second win in the past three years.

He must have a solid chance, but he hasn’t raced since finishing third in the Cesarewitch back in October and doesn’t have much experience over hurdles.

Gordon Elliott has done well with his runners at Cheltenham and I can see there being a plunge on his THE GAME CHANGER.

The Gigginstown-owned six-year-old was formerly under the tutelage of Charlie Swan, but has recently moved to Elliott and his form is very strong.

He was third behind Thomas Edison and Bayan in the Galway Hurdle last summer and then came out and won at Killarney the following month.

Good ground plays to his strengths and the long range weather forecast looks like he will get his ideal conditions. Bryan Cooper is likely to take the ride and I can see the current 20/1 being more like 10/1 at the off.

As is always the case in this competitive handicap, there are loads of others with a chance, but Gigginstown had four winners on Gold Cup day last year and this could be another one for the boys in maroon.

■ Pointers…
THE GAME CHANGER (20/1) County Hurdle