Friday is Gold Cup day at Cheltenham but the real interest for the punters is with the three big handicaps and that’s what we are getting stuck into once again here. We have value selections in the County Hurdle, The Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Hurdle and the big finale, The Grand Annual.
2.10 Cheltenham (County Hurdle) 2m1f
A Hare Breath
Not raced since December but goes very well fresh and crucially is still improving over hurdles. Course, distance and ground are not a problem and he should go very well.
Won the Fred Winter here last time and is a better horse now, though his handicap mark reflects that. Only a 5yo and still improving.
Doesn’t win very much these days but was sixth in the race last year and has been targeted at this once again. Holds each-way claims.
Willie Mullins, Graham Wylie, Paul Townend. What’s not to like? Meri Devie is an improving 5yo mare who shouldn’t have any trouble staying on up the hill.
Inexperienced but with a ton of potential to unlock; Sandsend managed a Grade 3 win on only his third career start and should take another step forward here, though he was all out to win that day.
Nick Williams’ 5yo FLYING TIGER has been highly tried this season and, while this is by no means easy off a handicap mark of 140, he would appear to be a bit better than that and could have something in hand. Fellow 5yo’s Meri Devie and Sandsend of Willie Mullins could run into the money also.
4.50 Cheltenham (Martin Pipe Conditional Hurdle) 2m4½f
Blow By Blow
A seven-year-old who is improving with time over this sort of trip and on this sort of ground so must hold a hell of a chance. Up to a mark of 144 for winning a Grade 3 Novice in Ireland but could yet still make a mockery of that.
Diese Des Bieffes
Strongly fancied and comes here off a low weight. My only reservation would be that he didn’t improve as much as I thought he would when faced with a stiff stamina test last time and this place could find him out.
Mr Big Shot
Three from three now including 2 hurdle wins and we can’t even accurately judge what sort of performance he put in last time seeing as how he won so easily. The handicapper has given him 138 but I feel that is some way short of his true ability.
Sire Du Berlais
A winner in France but not successful as yet for Gordon Elliott, though the handler is having a great festival as expected and could have coaxed the necessary improvement from him.
Diese Des Bieffes is a strongly fancied favourite, Sire Du Berlais and Mr Big Shot could for different reasons have tons of improvement to come but I feel they’ll all have to go some to get past BLOW BY BLOW. He won with ease last time and so despite the hike in the handicap he may have plenty up his sleeve.
5.30 Cheltenham (Grand Annual) 2m½f
In inexperienced chaser but one who hasn’t been out of the places yet.
Beaten favourite in this last year and in similar form, didn’t have ground to suit that day though and should show up better this time.
North Hill Harvey
Won his first two chases at Cheltenham and has remained in good form in his subsequent two so you can see why he’s favourite. His second in a Grade 1 at Sandown puts him right in the picture.
If the recent wind surgery means he can get back up to his best he has a great chance of this handicap mark.
If Vaniteux’s recent wind op does the trick he’ll go very close, while Dolos and Le Prezien have each-way chances too but for me the class of NORTH HILL HARVEY will shine through and he can take the festival finale.