It doesn’t get any bigger than this. The Gold Cup is the pinnacle of our sport and the race all jockeys, trainers and owners want to win. I was lucky enough to win it twice – with Kicking King in 2005 and Bobs Worth in 2013 – and they were two of my greatest days in the saddle.
1:30 Triumph Hurdle
Willie Mullins has an incredibly strong hand in this with the first four in the market, but for me it is between Lossiemouth and BLOOD DESTINY. Lossiemouth would have beaten Gala Marceau in Leopardstown given a clear passage and I just have a feeling that if Blood Destiny had been dealt the same cards in that race he would have coped better. You need resolution in these conditions and for me Blood Destiny might have a bit more of that.
Lossiemouth is a really classy filly who shows a lot of pace and Willie was keen to protect her last time out. Everything she had done prior to that had been very impressive but she hasn’t had to dig deep. I love everything about Blood Destiny and the way he goes about things. He has to give her 7lbs but he might just have that extra strength on this soft ground.
2:10 County Hurdle
The County Hurdle will always have a special place in my heart as it was my last ride and winner at Cheltenham with Saint Roi in 2020. He was very good that day and then State Man won as he liked last year. He was absolutely thrown in off a mark of 141 – he’s now rated 167!
I highly doubt there’s another State Man in this year’s field, but I do think PEMBROKEhas a big chance for Dan and Harry Skelton. Dan has won three of the last seven runnings and this horse will definitely enjoy the softer ground. He didn’t quite see out the trip over two and a half miles here the last day, so the drop back to a strongly run two miles will be perfect. He looks to be on a fair mark and can go well.
FIRST STREET is an interesting each-way contender. Classy horses have gone well in this in the past and no-one is better than Nicky [Henderson] at preparing one for the big day. First Street ran well behind Marie’s Rock on soft ground in the Relkeel and although he was well beaten in the Kingwell last time, he has had a wind op and wears a first-time tongue tie. I can see him outrunning his 20/1 odds.
Willie also does well in this race and Hunters Yarn looks the obvious one from Closutton. He could have run in the Supreme and you imagine he is still ahead of his mark.
2:50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
There have been some upsets in this race over the years, but I think the market has it right with CORBETTS CROSS and Three Card Brag. There have been some strong vibes from the Elliott camp about Three Card Brag and he looks to have been laid out for this. He’s a real stayer and should thrive if it becomes a war of attrition.
It is hard to get away from Corbetts Cross, though. He has won his last three and JP [McManus] has added him to the squad. I think he’s a big horse for the future and would just about side with him.
3:30 Gold Cup
GALOPIN DES CHAMPS is one of the most exciting horses in training and he should be very hard to beat in this. The only real worry is stamina and the ground definitely makes that more of a question mark. There is no reason to say he won’t stay but he has to go and prove it. He has relaxed much better this season which will be a help in seeing out the trip. He is a very worthy favourite.
PROTEKTORAT is the value alternative each-way. I don’t see much between him and Noble Yeats on their Cotswold Chase run, but he is a bigger price. He is proven in the race, having finished third last year, and the ground will suit him much better this year.
That probably won’t be the case for last year’s winner A Plus Tard, or Bravemansgame and Stattler. It dried out quickly 12 months ago, but I can’t see that happening and you’re definitely best to look for those horses who have a preference for softer conditions. Minella Indo loves it round here and Ahoy Senor ran well the last day.
It’s a really interesting race but I’ll stick with the favourite.
4:10 Hunters Chase
This isn’t really a race I have much of a view on. David Christie was so unlucky last year when Winged Leader got chinned by BILLAWAY right on the line. He is back for revenge with Vaucelet, though, and he is well fancied by many. I would stick with last year’s winner Billaway. He is a real stayer and even though he’ll have to improve on his form from this season, he’s been here and done it. He also beat Vaucelet in Punchestown last April.
I’ll also be cheering on my old pal Brain Power for Warren [Ewing], but the ground would be a concern for him.
4:50 Mares’ Chase
Allegorie De Vassy is potentially a very good mare but I am concerned about her jumping. She has a tendency to be a bit erratic and Cheltenham is tricky enough without that flaw. This also isn’t a novice race so she’s coming in against more seasoned mares which will ask her a question.
IMPERVIOUS was really good when winning a Grade 3 novice chase in Punchestown in January against the geldings. She beat Journey With Me that day and he followed up in Naas on Sunday. I would favour her over Allegorie De Vassy purely because of jumping.
5:30 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle
The Martin Pipe is always a race Gordon [Elliott] likes to target, as he used to ride for Martin, and he runs six this year. The two with the best chance look to be IMAGINE and Cool Survivor. Imagine was second to Hunters Yarn last month and looks like he will appreciate stepping up in distance. Cool Survivor has already won over three miles on heavy ground, so they are two horses with different profiles, but I would just go with Imagine.
Might I is interesting off top weight for Harry Fry and Lorcan Murtagh. He had some really strong form as a novice last year and should still be ahead of his mark. The worry is if some of the Irish horses have even more up their sleeves.