As we enter the second half of the week, finding winners should be getting easier as the evidence starts to build up.
Interpreting it all is another matter entirely, of course! For example, A Plus Tard surely looked set for a big run in the Close Brothers on Tuesday after Duc Des Genievres had hacked up earlier in day in the Arkle. Henry De Bromhead’s gelding had beaten 'the Duc' at Naas in December.
I will definitely take A Plus Tard’s win as a big positive for his stablemate Monalee in an outstanding renewal of the Ryanair Chase on day three.
De Bromhead was tempted by the Gold Cup with Monalee, but last year’s RSA Chase runner-up has never looked like a stayer.
After an outstanding run over two and a half miles in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park, when he gave 7lb and a good beating to last year’s Gold Cup third Anibale Fly, this looks the right race.
Not that it will be easy as Frodon, who has an outstanding record on this New Course and is a personal favourite, comes into the race in the form of his life and, like Monalee, also likes to race handily.
Likewise former winner Un De Sceaux who was beaten a year ago by Balko Des Flos. However, Balko has not been in quite the same form since and lines up as the De Bromhead second string this time.
Given his outstanding record, it is significant that Ruby Walsh opts for Footpad, last year’s runaway Arkle winner. Yet he has been struggling this season with overreach issues. Footpad might be the most talented runner in the race but it is hard to fancy him on his recent form.
Another to swerve the Gold Cup is Road To Respect who shares the highest rating of 169 with Frodon and is indeed given utmost respect in what promises to be one of the races of the week and one run a right gallop.
I am expecting it to be fought out by the girls with Rachael Blackmore given a narrow nod over Bryony Frost.
In fact, it could be a big day overall for the ladies as Emma Lavelle not only has an outstanding chance in the Stayers’ Hurdle with Paisley Park, she could also win the Pertemps Final too, over the same distance, with Flemcara.
Flemcara is a real, doughty stayer and showed as much with a convincing win at Exeter for which he has been raised a reasonable 4lb.
Obviously Sire Du Berlais has clearly been laid out for the race and is a worthy favourite but Flemcara has a decent each-way shout, along with Champers On Ice who lurks dangerously towards the foot of the handicap.
I did originally fancy Keeper Hill for the Pertemps but he goes instead in the Stayers' in which Paisley Park stands out.
He won the Cleeve Hurdle here in great style and although Faugheen is rated just 1lb lower in the ratings, it is surely asking too much for the great, but ageing, wonder horse to become the first to win both the Champion and Stayers’ Hurdles. Isn’t it?
I was considering Kilbricken Storm as a genuine each-way alternative to the favourite but one clue this week that seems to be blindingly obvious is the indifferent form of the Colin Tizzard horses over the first two days – they have all been beaten, and beaten badly, and you just wonder whether all is well.
It also puts me off Lostintranslation in the opening JLT Novice Chase as he takes on old rival Defi Du Deuil for the third and deciding time.
Defi got the verdict at Sandown after Lostintranslation had the call here at Cheltenham.
However, I have a feeling that Vinndication could reverse Sandown form with both of them.
Vinndication missed out on the Festival last year but after good wins over fences at both Carlisle and Ascot, he actually started favourite in the Scilly Isles at Sandown only to spoil his chance by jumping to the right. The sparkle seemed to be missing as he tried to pick up the front two.
It may be that he is not good enough but I am prepared to give him another chance. Interestingly, this will be the first time that he has raced left-handed so some clean, straight jumping, please.
Note that David Pipe has won the Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate three times in the past nine runnings (father Martin won it four times) and Eamon An Cnoic looks to have decent prospects of another Pond House success.
He returned to form after a wind operation at Chepstow, having run well when fifth in the November Gold Cup.
Indefatigable has a bit to find in the Tattersalls Dawn Run Novices’ Hurdle but she is said to have thrived recently and can go well at a price (around 25/1) in a wide-open race in which Epatante is favourite on reputation rarther than form.
Finally, Jonjo O’Neill can notch up a single with Sky Pirate in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase.
Sky Pirate would have gone close here in November when falling at the second last and had a nice warm-up in the fog at Exeter. Goodness knows what happened there but the trainer was satisfied.
Unfortunately, Patrick Mullins is claimed to ride his father’s Livelovelaugh but had been keen to renew his partnership with Sky Pirate. His replacement, Tommie O’Brien, rode a winner at Stratford this week.
1.30 VINNDICATION, 2.10 FLEMCARA (EW), 2.50 MONALEE, 3.30 PAISLEY PARK, 4.10 EAMON AN CNOIC, 4.50 INDEFATIGABLE (EW), 5.20 SKY PIRATE