The greatest prize in National Hunt racing is what is on offer on Day Four of the Cheltenham Festival, and on Friday at around ten to four one more horse will be etched into racing folklore. Arkle, Desert Orchid, Dawn Run, Best Mate, Kauto Star, Denman are just some of the legendary names who made this great journey, and on Friday we will add one more. Presenting Percy could provide us with one of the greatest ever stories associated with the Gold Cup. Native River is looking to achieve a fate only ever accomplished by six others in retaining the Gold Cup. Willie Mullins is still astonishingly searching for his first ever success in the race after a mammoth number of seconds, and Trim man Tony “The Harv” Martin is looking to cap off a fine week for JP McManus with last year’s third Anibale Fly.
CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP – BELLSHILL & ELEGANT ESCAPE
The Cheltenham Gold Cup is always a wide open affair, but this year’s encounter is anybody’s race. Presenting Percy arrives here on the back of two festival wins, including an immaculate display in last year’s RSA to score by a huge margin. He is a deserved favourite on the back of that and lines up this year’s Gold Cup with a win the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran in January, the same race he won on route to winning last year’s RSA. He has won over 3m5f so he will stay, and with good course form he holds all the aces.
I hope Presenting Percy wins, but his lack of experience in a field as class as this gives a slight worry. It wouldn’t give me enough worry not to back him, I just wouldn’t back him at the prices. Native River will relish everything about Friday’s race and he’s another great chance for Colin Tizzard and Richard Johnson.
Bellshill arrives here after a brilliant display in the Irish Gold Cup, beating Road to Respect by a short head in a brilliant encounter. That was only his second appearance of the season after he was blown away by Kemboy in the Savills Chase at Christmas. He shaped as if needing the run that day and after a couple of bad mistakes, fourth was not a bad placing. He was running a blinder in the Irish Grand National last season, arriving to the final fence on the bridle off top weight on heavy ground, before idling and nearly refusing to jump before finishing fourth (which turned to fifth in the stewards’ room). He put it behind him soon after when winning the Punchestown Gold Cup by three quarters of a length to previous Cheltenham Gold Cup second Djakadam. He’s a six-time group one winner, three of which are over three miles, he has festival form after finishing third to Might Bite in the 2017 RSA Chase and will not be troubled by the ground. He will stay and with Ruby Walsh in the plate, he could give Mullins a through run for his money in his bid to land National Hunts Ultimate Prize.
Another horse with good form in Grade 1s is Welsh National winner Elegant Escape. Third in last year’s RSA won by Presenting Percy, he has since finished third in a Grade 1 at Aintree won by Terrefort, second in the Ladbrokes Trophy and won the Welsh National. His last run over C&D in the Costwold Chase saw him finish second to Frodon, which has been backed up after the he won the Ryanair Chase on Thursday. He is sure to stay the trip, will have no problem with the ground and is a nice each way bet at 14/1.
The race is completely wide open with Mullins other horses Al Boum Photo and Kemboy not without a squeak, and last year’s third and Grand Naional fourth Anibale Fly sure to give you a run for your money. It really is anybody’s race.
ALBERT BARTLETT – DERRINROSS
The three-mile novice hurdling division is always intriguing and the Albert Bartlett is their All Ireland Final. The highlight of the season for novice hurdling stayers, the race always provides a unique contest. You only have to look at the price of the last four winners to understand that, with them coming at 33/1, 16/1, 11/1 and 14/1.
One horse I like here and have liked in this race for quite some time is Jim Dempsey’s Derrinross. A dual winner this season over three miles, the eight-year-old comes into this very lightly raced for his age. An eight-year-old running in novice company over hurdles is very rare, but he is the most mature of any runner in the field and that must be a positive. He was second in a bumper won by Grade 1 winning hurdler Next Destination on New Year’s Day 2017 and that was remarkably only six starts ago. He beat Sam’s Profile in a Grade 3 at Cork in October, who then went on to finish second to Battleoverdoyen in a Grade 1 at Naas before running well in the Ballymore here on Wednesday finishing fifth. He won over three miles in a Grade 2 at the Limerick Christmas festival on Heavy in a race which has produced four Cheltenham festival winners including Faugheen, Penhill, Martello Tower and Weapons Amnesty. This will be his first time to Cheltenham but in form this season, he has a good chance of scoring in the big time.
COUNTY HURDLE – WE HAVE A DREAM AND MR ADJUDICATOR
The County Hurdle is one of the most hotly contested handicaps of the week at Cheltenham and no question as to why with twenty-six going to post. Two of those going to post are previous Grade 1 winners in the form of We Have A Dream and Mr Adjudicator.
We Have A Dream was an impressive winner of the Grade 1 Juvenile hurdle at Aintree last April and was last seen winning a handicap hurdle at Kelso in February. He was fourth here in the Unibet International Hurdle in December behind Brain Power and Silver Streak, who ran on to finish third in the Champion Hurdle here on Tuesday. He beat Vision Des Flos and last season’s Supreme Winner Summerville Boy that day too and was also third behind Verdana Blue at Wincanton in November before that winner beat Buveur D’Air at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day. He has to concede a lot of weight all around but at 28/1 he could go well each way.
Willie Mullins has a great record in this race and Mr Adjudicator could continue that good run. A Grade 1 winner at last season’s Dublin Racing Festival before a gallant second in the Triumph Hurdle at last year’s festival. He has only been seen once this season and that was when he was second to recently crowned Champion Hurdle winner Espoir D’Allen. He holds course form and has ran well in three Grade 1s, including winning one of them, and at 12/1 he’s a great shout.
Bellshill – Gold Cup – 3.30 – 10/1
Elegant Escape – Gold Cup – 3.30 – 14/1
Derrinross – Albert Bartlett – 2.50 – 10/1
We Have A Dream – County Hurdle – 2.10 – 28/1
Mr Adjudicator – County Hurdle – 2.10 – 12/1