CHELTENHAM handicaps are always complex puzzles to unravel, but in the McCoy Contractors County Hurdle (1.55pm) punters might as well just back Dan Skelton or Willie Mullins’ runners.
Incredibly it’s 3-3 between the two yards in the last six years with no-one else having a look in since Paul Nicholls won it with Lac Fontana in 2014.
Mullins won it last year with the unexposed Saint Roi and his lightly-raced Ganapathi looks like going off favourite.
Given his connections he has to be greatly respected, although this will be the quickest ground he has ever experienced and a completely different test.
Fitzdares are offering money back as a free bet if you finish second to a Mullins runner in the first four races, so a nice piece of insurance if you fancy something else. Full details can be found at www.fitzdares.com/offers.
I can see the Skeltons making it 4-3 as THIRD TIME LUCKI looks to have outstanding claims.
An excellent fourth in last year’s Champion Bumper behind Appreciate It and Ferny Hollow, he has won three of his five starts over hurdles.
I would have been interested in him each-way in Tuesday’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, so I simply have to back him off a mark of 143 at 15/2 with Fitzdares.
Although disappointing at Musselburgh last time, the race wasn’t run to suit him and a strong pace on a testing track like this should be perfect.
It’s always worth having a couple of bullets to fire in a big field handicap like this and I will also be backing ECLAIR DE BEAUFEU at 10/1 for Denise Foster.
This will be his third visit to Cheltenham and he is 10lbs lower than when second in the Grand Annual 12 months ago.
He handles decent ground and I thought he ran a really eyecatching race when a staying on sixth in a valuable handicap hurdle at Leopardstown last month.
There’s another Mullins favourite in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (2.30pm) in the shape of Stattler, who is owned by the sponsors.
This has clearly been the plan for a long time and he shaped really well behind Gaillard Du Mesnil at the Dublin Racing Festival.
He shouldn’t be far away but I just favour the horse who finished two lengths behind him that day, FAKIERA, now under the care of Foster.
Admittedly, he’s quite a quirky horse but he has loads of experience and he always does his best work at the end of his races which is a big help in the Albert Bartlett.
He looks a decent bet at 5/1 with Fitzdares.
Third Time Lucki e/w 1.55pm Cheltenham (Friday)
Eclair De Beaufeu e/w 1.55pm Cheltenham (Friday)
Fakiera 2.30pm Cheltenham (Friday)