Day Four - The Irish Angle
Donn McClean looks forward to the final day of the Cheltenham Festival and identifies Ireland's main contenders.
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This Prestbury Cup idea wasn't bad on the face of it, given that there were more Irish-trained winners than British-trained winners last year for the first time ever at a Cheltenham Festival. 1/5 Britain, said some bookmakers for the inaugural running of the event, 1/8 said others. They'd be value at anything better than 1/20, said some (Irish) judges.
Three Irish winners on Tuesday kept the competition alive, and Faugheen's win in the Neptune Hurdle on Wednesday made it 4-4. But then the British cut loose. Five winners before the bumper (the first six home in the Bumper still only amounts to one winner) and six more winners on Thursday before an Irish 1-2 in the Kim Muir made it 14-6 to the home team, and even seven Irish winners out of seven on Friday would still see us come up short. The British have this one with an innings to spare. Eight and seven.
The Irish could win the Gold Cup, mind you. Bobs Worth is a colossus, it is really difficult to pick holes in the case for him, but Last Instalment should probably not be as far behind him in the betting as he is. Hopefully there will be sufficient cut in the ground for connections to allow him take his chance.
It isn't that he doesn't handle good ground. Actually, the best run of his novice season was when he beat First Lieutenant by six lengths in the Topaz Chase at Leoapardstown's Christmas Festival, and that race was run on good ground. It is just that his legs are fragile, and his owners do not want to risk their horse on ground that may not be safe for him.
Off the track for two years, the Gigginstown House horse ran a nice race on his return in the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles, and he stepped up on that markedly to win the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown last month. He was weak in the market before that race, and trainer Philip Fenton thought that he would come on for the run, but he put up a really taking performance to win impressively, jumping superbly and bounding clear from the final fence.
It is desperate luck for Bryan Cooper than he misses the ride, but it is a big opportunity for Brian O'Connell, who rode Last Instalment so adroitly in the Hennessy. On a line through First Lieutenant, he does not have much to find with Bobs Worth at all, and he is over four times the favourite's odds.
The Irish make up seven of the 16 runners in the Triumph Hurdle. Guitar Pete and Tiger Roll represent the form from the Spring Juvenile hurdle, the race that has produced two Triumph Hurdle winners (Our Conor and Countrywide Flame) and two runners-up (Unaccompanied and Hisaabaat) in the last three years, and they could be the pick of the Irish this year.
Guitar Pete remains progressive. Rated just 64 on the Flat at his peak, he is a different horse over hurdles, as he proved when he won the Grade 2 juvenile hurdle at Leopardstown on St Stephen's Day, and again when he won the Spring Juvenile Hurdle.
However, it may be that Tiger Roll is better value at a bigger price. Gordon Elliott's horse lost his hind legs a little on landing over the final flight in that Spring Hurdle, but for which he would have got a lot closer to Guitar Pete than he did. More than that, however, winner of a maiden hurdle at Market Rasen for Nigel Hawke in November, that was his first run for Gigginstown House and for Gordon Elliott, and it was just the second run of his career. It is reasonable to expect appreciable improvement, and that could be sufficient to see him go close.
The Irish challenge for the County Hurdle is also numerically strong, and Arctic Fire could be the best of them. Willie Mullins' horse has shaped for a while as though he would be well-suited by a fast-run two-mile handicap hurdle.
A keen-goer and an impressive winner of his maiden hurdle at Tipperary in October, he ran a cracker in the Royal Bond Hurdle, held up in rear and getting going late, but picking up nicely to get to within a length and a half of The Tullow Tank at the line. Ruby Walsh takes over in the saddle today for the first time since his maiden hurdle win, and a rating of 141 for his handicap debut is fair.
Selections (best value bets among the Irish):
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