ONE of the first names I look for in big handicap hurdles is Jessica Harrington. She is an outstanding trainer, particularly of hurdlers, and CITIZENSHIP must have a huge chance of giving Ireland a third straight victory in the County Hurdle.
Willie Mullins has landed this race for the past two years with Thousand Stars and Final Approach, while Citizenship won the same valuable race at Leopardstown in February that the latter won last year. Harrington won this race in 2003 with Spirit Leader and she can repeat the feat with Citizenship (7/1 with Coral) who has just sneaked into the field at the bottom of the weights.
Snap Tie is a very interesting runner for the Philip Hobbs team as he was seventh in the 2009 Champion Hurdle and third in the Supreme Novices’ the year before that. He hasn’t stepped foot on a racecourse since October 2009, but he will have done plenty of work at home and could be very well-handicapped.
Moon Dice is another Irish runner that should go well, but he has to carry a lot of weight which could scupper his chance, so the other one I’ll be throwing a few quid on each-way is Gordon Elliott’s PLAN A, who went off a hot favourite for last season’s Fred Winter.
The five-year-old was sixth behind Citizenship last time which was a good run and he has a decent chance of finishing in the frame. Paddy Power and Coral both offer 20/1 and that is a very fair price. I’d also side with him in a match bet with Sporting Index against the likes of Ted Spread and Ifyouletmefinish.
We’ve already had a couple of bets in the Albert Bartlett, but unfortunately Folsom Blue has been pulled out. SEA OF THUNDER runs for the Gigginstown House Stud and we have him at 14/1, while he’s now no bigger than 8/1 with Coral. I think he has a cracking shout of finishing in the places, but there is one horse in the line-up that is going to prove very hard to beat.
BOSTON BOB is three from three for Willie Mullins and the trainer hasn’t concealed how highly he rates this son of Bob Back. On all the Cheltenham previews in Ireland everyone has been singing this fellow’s praises and he looks the Irish banker of the last day. There will, of course, be those looking to get him on Betfair, but he looks special and I expect him to have too much for this field.
Mount Benbulben is a big price at 7/1 with Coral, but I worry about the ground for him and the same is true with Brindisi Breeze. Paul Nicholls likes Rocky Creek a lot, but I’m not keen on him and may look to lay him for a place on Betfair.
I don’t have a good record in the Foxhunters and it’s not a race I particularly like. That said, we backed SALSIFY a few weeks ago at 8/1 and he must have great claims of winning this race for Ireland. He’s now a best price 13/2 with Coral and he’s won three of his last four races.
Donald McCain is having an incredible week and he highlighted CLOUDY LANE before the Festival as one of his bets of the meeting. That’s good enough for me and having already won the Kim Muir here back in 2007, he is worth keeping on side at a general 6/1.
Chapoturgeon is another who has won at the Festival before and he holds strong claims for Richard Barber, while On The Fringe and Barbers Shop wouldn’t be without a chance either.
The Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle is one of the most competitive races of the entire week and Bourne for the McCain stable is joint favourite. He was very impressive at Ascot last time, but I’m not sure Cheltenham is going to suit him as well and I’ll be looking to take him on.
David Pipe would love to win this race, for understandable reasons, and Street Entertainer looks his best hope. He’s been very well backed over the past few weeks, but is now too short at 13/2 with Coral.
The two I’m going to back are TONER D’OUDAIRIES and OPEN HEARTED. Gordon Elliott trains the former for Gigginstown House and the five-year-old ran a cracker at Leopardstown. He goes on any ground and is worth a punt at 8/1 with Paddy Power.
Open Hearted is owned by the Queen and trained by the bang in-form Nicky Henderson. A winner of four of his five career starts, he is still unexposed and it would raise the roof if there was a royal winner. Jeremiah McGrath is a top jockey and the 14/1 on Betfair is too big for this improving sort.
The Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase, otherwise known as the ‘getting out of jail stakes’, brings the Festival to a close and it looks a typically open renewal. There are loads with a chance, but the two who interest me the most are KUMBESHWAR and TARA ROYAL.
Alan King has suffered a few disappointments this week, but his horses have been running well and Kumbeshwar was only just touched off in the Fred Winter last year. He’s looked progressive over fences and first-time blinkers could be the making of him. This is a very gutsy horse and he is a cracking each-way bet at around the 14/1 mark.
Tara Royal hammered his rivals at Musselburgh last time and McCain will be hopeful of a big run off just 10st3lb. I thought he’d be shorter than the 20/1 available on Betfair and he is definitely worth backing.
Kid Cassidy could be a big plunge horse for the Henderson team and their horses are always worth following in this race, but I’m not sure he jumps well enough. I also wouldn’t put you off Ferdy Murphy’s De Boitron who finished fourth in this last year and has been dropped a couple of pounds.
CITIZENSHIP 2.05pm Cheltenham
PLAN A e/w 2.05pm Cheltenham
BOSTON BOB 2.40pm Cheltenham
CLOUDY LANE 4.00pm Cheltenham
TONER D’OUDAIRIES e/w 4.40pm Cheltenham
OPEN HEARTED e/w 4.40pm Cheltenham
KUMBESHWAR e/w 5.15pm Cheltenham
TARA ROYAL e/w 5.15pm Cheltenham
SEA OF THUNDER e/w 14/1 2.40pm Cheltenham
SALSIFY e/w 8/1 4.00pm Cheltenham