It’s been a great start to the new season for reigning Champions Liverpool, but it’s just got even better for Connolly, who is the winner…
So, we come to the closing day of this year’s Cheltenham Festival, and what a ride it’s been. It certainly never disappoints and hopefully, despite a cracking day on day one with the ante-post selections (Imperial Aura and Galvin 1-2 in the Novices’ Handicap Chase), it might be that we’ve saved the best until last…
The opening race is the Triumph Hurdle, and regular followers will have 50/1 each-way about Sir Psycho, who looks the stable second string behind Solo admittedly, but the more I weigh up this race, the more I think he has an outstanding chance. I’m more than happy to let this race pass by without another selection, though if I had to play at the top of the market, Allmankind would be the pick.
While in the Albert Bartlett (Thyme Hill 5/1 and The Cashel Man 50/1) and the Foxhunters (Minella Rocco 6/1 and Shantou Flyer 12/1), again I am very content to sit where we are with those. The Grand Annual looks an absolute minefield, so it is left to the two handicap hurdles and the big one, the Gold Cup, to provide us with any remaining bets.
Sir Valentine – 25/1 EW (888, Betfred 6 places)
There are five handicap hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival, and at the time of writing, JP McManus has won two out of those five with Dame De Compagnie and Aramax winning the Coral Cup and the Boodles, respectively. Once you come to read this, he may well have added the Pertemps Final with one of his five-strong battalion.
If he does so, it is entirely possible that he could complete the clean sweep by winning the County Hurdle and the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockey’s Handicap Hurdle on Friday. His main chance in the County, looks to be with Ciel De Niege, who was a notable second in the best handicap hurdle run either side of the Irish Sea this season, the Betfair Hurdle. Hitting the front perhaps too soon and wandering around in the closing stages of the Betfair Hurdle, he also fairly charged up the hill to finish fourth in last year’s Boodles on his debut for Willie Mullins. Clearly an improved horse since then, he can take this off just a 6lb higher handicap mark.
In extolling the virtues of the Betfair Hurdle, it is worth adding a couple of big priced each-way bets on horses that featured prominently in that race also. Sir Valentine was an honourable fourth there, and granted a bit more juice in the ground and a stiffer test of stamina, he can go very well at 25/1. While arguably the best bet comes at 40/1 about Zanza, who was a close sixth in that race. That doesn’t tell the whole story, as he was the only horse to make up any kind of ground from an early hold-up position.
Delta Work – 5/1 EW (Skybet 5 places)
Time for the main event, and it is sure to be an absolutely absorbing affair. Last year’s winner Al Boum Photo is back for more, and has had an identical preparation to last season. He fairly sprinted up the hill and away from his toiling rivals, which include the re-opposing Bristol De Mai, Clan Des Obeaux and Presenting Percy.
I think Clan Des Obeaux can get closer to him, but I’m not sure he has enough improvement in him to trouble last year’s winner. So, if there is to be a new contender for the blue riband crown, then it will come from last year’s novices, and most notably one of the two horses that fought out the finish to last year’s RSA Chase – Santini or Delta Work.
Santini was impressive when beating Bristol De Mai cosily in the Cotswold Chase, and could improve again in the first-time cheekpieces and with a much better preparation than for last year’s festival. But I have been struck by the unassuming rate of improvement that Delta Work has show in his last two Grade 1 wins at Leopardstown. Winner of the Pertemps Final as a 5-year-old, he looks to have a touch of class and a we haven’t yet seen the limit of his stamina levels. He can provide Gordon Elliott with a second Gold Cup victory after the mighty Don Cossack won the race in 2016.
At 5/1 with Skybet, who are offering 5 places, he looks a knocking each-way bet to me.
Front View – 5/1 EW (888Sport 5 places)
Five O’Clock – 16/1 EW (Coral generally 5 places)
Assemble – 18/1 (Unibet 5 places)
And so, to the closer, and if you need one to put you back on the positive side of things, then look no further than Front View. Owned by JP McManus, trained by Joseph O’Brien, and ridden by Jonjo O’Neill Jr – he bears striking resemblance to the 2019 winner of this race Early Doors, who had exactly the same owner/trainer/jockey combination.
He has been given a lovely handicap mark of 139, and has some outstanding hurdle form this season, which suggests he’s been let in very lightly. Only 6 lengths off Envoi Allen on hurdle debut at Down Royal, he then beat two subsequent winners at Cork. But is was his third hurdle start that took the eye, when travelling like the best horse in a Grade 3 at Thurles three weeks ago, only to find himself tight for room between the last two hurdles. He was much better than the bare form, as he ran on again into second after the last.
If you like Front View’s claims, then you also have to like the each-way chances of Five O’Clock and Assemble, as they were first and third in that Grade 3 at Thurles. A meritorious winner, Five O’ Clock is improving rapidly, and has the assistance of Conor McNamara, who won the Irish Grand National Trial for Five O’Clock’s trainer Willie Mullins. At 16/1, he is simply too big.
So too is the 18/1 about Assemble, third home at Thurles, he was squeezed for room at a crucial point, in a similar fashion to Front View. Joseph O’Brien trains him also, and would certainly not be averse to having more than one horse hit the frame. Oakley Brown takes the ride, and his is a name that we will hear much more about in the coming seasons.