It’s always seemed strange to us that while some major overseas meetings finish with the best race, such as the Classic in the Breeders’ Cup, the Cheltenham Festival always has a lower-key ending away from terrestrial TV.
We’d love to see the conditional jockeys who put it on the line here in the Martin Pipe get more exposure too, but in any event, it doesn’t change that this is a big betting race and one last chance to beat the bookies.
All 24 runners should line up and that makes things hard for us, though these six may have a say including an old favourite.
Joseph O’Brien hasn’t really been a factor at the meeting this year, but he has a chance in the final race with his Banbridge.
Improving just nicely in five hurdle runs to date, the six-year-old Doyen gelding steps back up to a trip we reckon is really his best having stayed on nicely to win over two miles last time. Mark McDonagh rides.
Shane Fitzgerald rides Chemical Energy for Gordon Elliott and after an initial autumn campaign, the horse has been kept for the Festival and might yet reap the rewards.
In the near sixteen weeks since he’s been seen in public Chemical Energy will need to have improved in all truth, his one-and-a-half-length win at 7/4 in a novice hurdle at Fairyhouse not reading overly well. His mark of 137 however isn’t too restrictive and the trip may help.
Earlofthecotswolds would be a popular winner given his name and he’s a bit of a stalwart already on the track, even as an eight-year-old.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ runner, ridden by Jordan Nailor, has taken in four bumpers, fourteen hurdles and seven chases so far.
He has also run four times on the all-weather on the flat and won well at Kempton just six days ago, a performance that may yet see him turn up on All-Weather Championships Finals Day at Newcastle on Good Friday.
After winning over hurdles at Newbury in November, he finished sixth at Kempton and assuming he’s a better hurdler now then he has a major shout.
Jordan Gainford is winning plenty of fans and he takes the ride aboard Hollow Games for Gordon Elliott. Just four hurdle runs have been taken in so far and he was third to Ginto in a Grade 1 race on his third start.
The talent is there for sure, what we have to work out now is whether his handicap mark is suitable in the context of this race and in truth it may be just a tad high.
I A Connect
Another one for Elliott, this time with Fergus Gregory up top. A classic improver, I A Connect has got better with each run so far and there’s no reason to believe he won’t take another step forward in this event.
If he does, then his official mark of 136 looks more than suitable and he must be considered a very big danger indeed.
Dan Skelton’s Langer Dan was ordinary at Market Rasen last season after a wind operation, finishing behind Ajero.
He put that behind him in the Imperial Cup however, romping home at Sandown before taking in this event and looking for quick a big-race double.
He didn’t quite manage it, running very well in second place under Lorcan Williams behind Galopin Des Champs of all horses.
He’s been kept fresher this year. He was once again behind Ajero, this time at Taunton, but missed Sandown and comes into this event just 2lbs higher than he was last year.
Given the time that has gone by he must be considered the leading hope here and he certainly is for us. Williams takes the ride again.
Given how fit he is from the flat, as well as how well he won at Kempton Park, Earlofthecotswolds comes into contention for this race for sure.
I Am Connect is one that looks about as well-handicapped as any other among the large bunch of horses who haven’t had to run in a cut-and-thrust event of this nature, but more solid is LANGER DAN.
He is proven in this sort of event. An Imperial Cup winner before running second in this race last year, he’s had a quieter prep this time around but that may very well work in his favour.