BILL ESDAILE PREVIEWS THE TRIUMPH, COUNTY HURDLE, ALBERT BARTLETT AND MARTIN PIPE
THERE may be 17 runners declared for this afternoon’s JCB Triumph Hurdle (1.30pm), but the race has been billed as a three horse affair for weeks now. Our Conor, Far West and ROLLING STAR have taken it in turns recently to head bookmakers’ lists, but I fancy Nicky Henderson to land his sixth Triumph with the latter.
My selection has only raced once over hurdles in this country and those who follow trends will tell you that Zarkandar is the only Triumph winner of the last 30 years to have such a profile. However, he won over hurdles on his debut in Auteuil last year and showed a turn of foot here in January that immediately marked him down as the one they all have to beat.
He lowered the colours of Paul Nicholls’ well-fancied Irish Saint that day and it was clear from the lack of market support for Rolling Star that he was expected to need the outing. Yet, he pounced late and showed a lovely attitude to settle the contest in a matter of strides.
The Irish have not landed this contest since Scolardy in 2002, but the word from across the sea is that Our Conor will end the desperate sequence of results. There is no getting away from the fact that he was a hugely impressive winner of the Grade One Spring Juvenile Hurdle, but I have got a sneaky feeling that he may not have the stamina for this.
Far West may prove to be the biggest danger to Rolling Star, as he showed last time he has the required mix of both speed and stamina. However, the feeling is that he may not quite have the class of our selection, who is a confident pick at around 4/1.
Finding the winner of the 28-runner County Hurdle hasn’t proved easy in recent seasons as three 20/1 winners and a 50/1 shot in the last six years shows. COTTON MILL was left in the Stan James Champion Hurdle at the five day stage, but connections decided to go down the handicap route instead and he must be supported at 6/1 with Paddy Power.
Now, it sounds crazy recommending one at such a short price in a monster field, but he has stamina in abundance and his second to My Tent Or Yours in the Betfair Hurdle doesn’t look so bad now after that one’s narrow defeat in Tuesday’s Supreme Novices Hurdle.
I’m also going to recommend a speculative each-way wager on Willie Mullins’ MIDNIGHT GAME at 25/1 with Coral. I marked him down as a potential County Hurdle horse when he was beaten by Cause Of Causes in a muddling three runner affair at Navan in January. He’ll settle much better in a big field and although he’s at the wrong end of the weights, he’s right out of the top drawer.
It’s strange to get to the last day of the Cheltenham Festival without AP McCoy riding a winner and the champion jockey will be desperate to break his 2013 duck aboard At Fishers Cross in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (2.40pm). He’s got an excellent chance of following up his defeat of The New One here on Trials Day and the runner-up that day franked that form with a stunning win in the Neptune on Wednesday.
With rain forecast, McCoy and trainer Rebecca Curtis will be full of confidence, but I’m certainly not going to get stuck in now his price has collapsed to below 3/1.
Regular readers of this column may have followed my advice to back BALLYCASEY at 6/1 for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh and I’m certainly not going to abandon him now. Coral are dangling a real carrot by offering 9/2, considering he’s as short as 3/1 in places, and I’d happily go in again.
Ballycasey stayed three miles well enough in points and although his hurdling victories have come in bottomless conditions, he’s expected to improve now he faces a sounder surface.
The penultimate race this afternoon is the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle (4.40pm). All eyes will be on son of the legendary trainer David Pipe’s Gevrey Chambertin, who has been mightily impressive this season. However, that’s been in full view of the handicapper and carrying top weight will be no easy task.
I’m interested in the Gigginstown Stud-owned pair EDEYMI and TONER D’OUDAIRIES at 8/1 and 10/1 respectively. Now, I freely admit I know nothing about pilots SA Shortall or KM Donoghue, but I respect Gordie Elliot and Tony Martin enough to trust that they both can ride.
Both selections finished second in their respective assignments at last year’s Festival and have politely been laid out for this afternoon. It’s fair to say that both will put up a bold show and I wouldn’t put anyone off the reverse forecast.
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ROLLING STAR 1.30pm Cheltenham
COTTON MILL e/w 2.05pm Cheltenham
MIDNIGHT GAME e/w 2.05pm Cheltenham
BALLEYCASEY 2.40pm Cheltenham
EDEYMI e/w 4.40pm Cheltenham
TONER D’OUDARIES e/w 4.40pm Cheltenham