It just has to be Cue

Bill Esdaile
Follow Bill

FOR the best part of three weeks I had been relishing the chance to headline tip First Lieutenant in this afternoon’s Ryanair Chase after it became fundamentally clear connections were bypassing Friday’s Gold Cup with him.

However, his price has collapsed over the last few days and the 11/2 available less than two weeks ago is now just 5/2 in places. He’s now simply too short.

First Lieutenant is owned by Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary and the only reason he is not lining up in the Gold Cup is that his owner is already represented by leading fancy Sir Des Champs. Trainer Mouse Morris has tried without success to convince O’Leary that the longer trip of Friday’s race would suit better, but the lure of winning his own race has proved too much.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think First Lieutenant is the one they all have to beat as he’ll love the drying ground and has a magnificent Festival record. He has been trained the same way for the last few seasons, namely plenty of runs before Christmas before a decent break and an assault on Cheltenham.

Those two runs include a win in the Neptune Investment Hurdle over this trip two years ago and a gallant second to Bobs Worth in last year’s RSA Chase. However, the fact that his price has shortened and that only eight have been declared makes me tempted by Blue Square Bet’s 7/2 about CUE CARD.

Colin Tizzard has his stable in cracking form and must be confident of a bold showing from last year’s Racing Post Arkle runner-up after saddling a winner here on Tuesday. The drying ground now places less emphasis on stamina and the small size of the field means he’ll have a better view of the front – something that seems key to a bold showing.

He would be a very confident selection without Champion Court in the field, but his presence means he’s unlikely to get an uncontested lead and that’s a slight worry. Yet, Cue Card has already performed with credit at three Cheltenham Festivals and I expect him to finally be led back to the winner’s enclosure.

Last year’s winner Riverside Theatre was given an unbelievable ride by Barry Geraghty 12 months ago and he is reportedly over his recent bout of ulcers. He runs very well fresh, but I still don’t feel Cheltenham plays to his strengths and I anticipate Cue Card and First Lieutenant will be too good.

Finding the winner of the 24-runner Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Chase for amateur riders is a task more fitting for Sherlock Holmes than my good-self, but I’ll give it my best shot anyhow. It often pays to side with the best pilots as the likes of Derek O’Connor, JT McNamara and Jamie Codd would have had the choice of five or six potential rides.

On that basis, my eye is immediately drawn to O’Connor’s mount SUPER DUTY, who was talked about at one point as a potential outsider for yesterday’s RSA Chase. The Donald McCain-trained seven-year-old hasn’t been out of the first two in all nine of his completed starts and was only just touched off by David Pipe’s Goulanes at Wetherby last time.

My selection was a winner over these fences back in December and looks just the battle-hardened type to put up a bold show in this contest. A slight worry would be the fact that only four of the last 33 winners were aged seven or younger, even though those of that generation have been favourite in three of the last five renewals (and second favourite on the other two). That negative aside, he looks a rock-solid proposition and should be backed at around 5/1 with Blue Square Bet.

Jonjo O’Neill’s Alfie Sherrin is interesting now that the ground is starting to dry out, while I’ve got a sneaky feeling that Frisco Depot will show up well for Charlie Longsdon if Sam Waley-Cohen can stay in the saddle.

The Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase (5.15pm) was originally scheduled to take place on Tuesday, but the frozen course was deemed un-raceable. The marathon contest over the banks has been rescheduled to be run as the last race on the card this afternoon and I’m switching from Arabella Boy, my selection of two days ago, now that the ground is drying out.

Instead, I’m siding with Jessica Harrington’s BOSTONS ANGEL, at a whopping 9/1 with Coral. Regular readers of this column will remember that the nine-year-old landed us a nice touch when winning the RSA Chase at this meeting a couple of years ago.

Admittedly, things haven’t gone that well since that wonderful afternoon back in 2011 and he hasn’t won any of his 10 starts since. However, the switch to cross country fencing seems to have rekindled his enthusiasm and he ran a corker over this course when second to another of today’s mudlark rivals, Outlaw Pete, in November.

He now meets that rival on eight pounds better terms on his preferred decent surface and he looks sure to reverse that form.

One that could go well at a big price is A New Story, although I’m not sure he’ll appreciate the drying ground. The 15-year-old is making his sixth appearance in this contest having never finished out of the money (form figures of 3-4-1-3-2). There is a suspicion that the years may have caught up with him, but he’s not one to rule out.

■ Pointers…
CUE CARD 2.40pm Cheltenham
SUPER DUTY 4.40pm Cheltenham
BOSTONS ANGEL e/w 5.15pm Cheltenham