The bookies struck back yesterday with no favourite winning, although a couple of the outsiders were tipped up in the trade paper. Friday is a funny day. The place is packed because it's Gold Cup day and Fridays are easier to take off and make it a long weekend. But there's a lot of dross at the end of the card to end the festival, at least for me, on a bit of a low.
Anyway, here we go for finishing off with some winners!
Active Duty - only in this because he wasn't good enough to get into the juvenile handicap!
Almuhit - see Active Duty.
Ascending - well beaten last time behind a couple of leading chances here, but went close against Tekao the run before. Could fluke a place at big odds.
Blood Destiny - revelled in the heavy going last time, winning by 18L with Boodles winner Jazzy Matty a further 5L behind. Gave Sir Allen weight and a beating on Irish debut before that. He has dodged the big juvenile features that his stablemates have contested so it's hard to know exactly where he sits in the pecking order. He could be behind Gala Marceau and Lossiemouth, or Willie/owners just decided to keep the gelding away from the fillies until the championship race. Big show.
Gust Of Wind - ran fifth in the G1 Spring Juvenile during the Dublin Racing Festival, when he was third-ranked of the Mullin's sextet. That was his first run for the stable after being purchased from France. Probably has more talent than shown that day but he's near the back of the seven-pronged attack from big Willie today.
Hypotenus - not enough runs to get into the juvenile handicap. Made jumping errors on debut and couldn't beat Zenta who made an absolute horlicks of the last two flights, so I can't see him getting close today.
Jacovec Cavern - see Active Duty.
Jipcot - unseen in the UK, having only just been purchased out of France. He has corresponding ratings with the best of the French-breds here, however those figures were recorded last month whereas Gala Marceau and Lossiemouth were recording them a year ago as early 3yos. Pass.
Jupiter Du Gite - shock 66/1 winner on debut at Newbury, then went to Cheltenham to face some of the better UK juveniles and pulled too hard to run any sort of race. If they could sort that out, he might have a sneaky chance. Trainer happy there's cut in the ground for him.
Rightsotom - well beaten behind a decent one back in November but not seen since. Would be some training effort to win with that background.
Cinsa - nope, not enough runs or ability to get into the Boodles.
Gala Marceau - looked very good as a juvenile jumper in France and no doubt Kenny Alexander (owner of Honeysuckle) forked out plenty for him. Won one, lost one against Lossiemouth so far, and clearly better than anything else they have faced. A hood has been applied in an attempt to get him to settle, it's hard enough to win these races without running with the choke out.
Je Garde - filly thrown into this race at her first UK/Irish start. Stiff task!
Lossiemouth - flying filly for the Riccis and Willie Mullins. After two impressive wins in Ireland, she got shuffled back behind a tiring/error-prone leader in the G1 DRF Spring Juvenile which gave the advantage to Gala Marceau who duly saluted. I think she's still better than GM, the question is whether she is better than the other Mullins key chance, Blood Destiny.
Zenta - jumped terribly at Fairyhouse three weeks ago but still won. There's obviously a good motor in there but you can't make mistakes at this level and get away with it.
Struggling to split Blood Destiny and Lossiemouth, the 7lb allowance for the fillies is a big advantage for the latter. However it must be noted that Willie Mullins is two wins from 38 runners in this race (winners in 2020 and 2022). He has a serious hand this year which of course dilutes the figures when you enter that many!
It might come down to price - at the moment it's 7/4 the pair, I'd lean to backing whichever one is the better price.
BLOOD DESTINY/LOSSIEMOUTH, Gala Marceau
Always a baffling race with so many chances and a history of big odds winners (eight of last 15 winners have started 20/1 or higher). Younger horses have a great record (5yos have won 12 of last 24 editions, 5&6yos 13 of last 17), and 18 of past 22 winners were novice or second-season hurdlers. So in the interests of keeping it simple, that cuts it down to Pied Piper, Saint Sam, First Street, Hunters Yarn, Prairie Dancer, Path D'Oroux, Petit Tonnerre and Pembroke, and you make a case for all of them.
Path D'Oroux won his bumper and maiden hurdle before getting chucked in the deep end against Marine Nationale (pulled up, no explanation in stewards' report) and Facile Vega (4th, beaten 28L in G1 Future Champion Novice). He returned to a more realistic level at Navan the next time to win but that race fell apart (he was the only finisher out of front four in the market). Always have a lot of respect for the Gavin Cromwell stable.
Prairie Dancer is interesting at massive odds. He won a decent handicap at Listowel in the autumn but struggled in higher grade in November/December on wet ground. Perhaps he does need firmer ground and it's also a concen that JJ Slevin, his regular rider, has gone to Down Royal today rather than hang around for the final day of the Festival.
Saint Sam ran second in the Boodles here two years ago as favourite then unseated last year in the Arkle (not his fault at all). He'd been facing the likes of Blue Lord and Edwardstone over fences, so he was dropped back to hurdles this campaign. Three starts, all as fav, for a win, a fifth (behind Blazing Khal and Sire Du Berlais), and a second 12 days ago at Leopardstown. His issue has been pulling hard in small fields - that should be resolved today with a hectic pace in a this full field. Mullins has won six of the past 13 editions, he's high in the weights but classy enough to deal with it.
Pembroke is the overnight fav and it's not hard to see why. Dan Skelton has won this three times in the last seven years, his hurdling career is off to a flyer with two wins and a second from four runs. He didn't get up the hill that well here in January in the Classic Novices but I'll put that down to the longer trip, he drops back 3f here.
First Street ran State Man to a length and a quarter here last season but goes up 10lbs on that run. After winning the Gerry Feilden at Newbury, he stepped up in trip to take on Marie's Rock in the Relkeel here on New Year's Day (third, beaten 6.25L, gave her 5lbs), then dropped back to just under two miles for the Kingmaker at Wincanton where he finished could only finish third of four and was swiftly despatched for a wind op. Assuming that works and he's ready to go, he's a solid chance - although it's worth noting Nicky Henderson is 0/35 this century!
Of the older contenders, Filey Bay has E.Mullins next to his name and must be respected while Pinkerton could be a sneaky Irish hope at a better price - consistent, likes big fields, lightly raced.
SAINT SAM, Pinkerton, Pembroke, Path D'Oroux
Affordable Fury - won his maiden at Galway in October, was then pitched into Graded races and has been way out of his depth.
Chianti Classico - winning easily but in much weaker races. Pass.
Corbetts Cross - four hurdles runs for a debut second and three wins, but over a range of distances. JP McManus snapped him up out of the Eugene O'Sullivan yard and then dropped him back from three to two miles to win a G2, succeeding in a great duel to the line from the final flight, against a very promising one called Found A Fifty, 16L ahead of third. The one to beat.
Dawn Rising - a brother to Irish Derby winner Sovereign, he showed a bit of talent on the Flat for Coolmore but now switched to hurdling, he's not bad at this caper either. His two wins have been bookended by thirds behind Champ Kiely (third in Wednesday's Ballymore) - but the last time in the G1 Lawlors, he looked flat which might be solved by the extra half-mile and thus slower pace, but I'd prefer to let him run without me.
Embassy Gardens - fourth behind Good Land in a maiden over Xmas (just behind Search For Glory), he then took on a Novice hurdle at Thurles and won by 35L as 5/6 fav. Don't get too excited though, the second & third favs ran poorly so it's guesswork about how good or bad that result truly is. Paul Townend will ride so you could assume he's top pick of Willie's trio.
Favori De Champdou - a rare one who is very season at the trip, having run three times over 2m7f and won them all. He's shown enough pace at the end of those races to suggest there's still more to come. Jumps well, stays well, ticks the boxes.
Hiddenvalley Lake - suffered his first defeat under Rules narrowly last time when conceding 6lbs to Monty's Star in a G3 at Clonmel, resuming after two months off. Fair chance that was a prep run for this race. Respect.
Idalko Bihoue - won his maiden, went straight into the Challow on New Year's Eve, finishing third behind Hermes Allen and You Wear It Well. Next up was a G2 at Doncaster but he never got going and pulled up a long way out. Perhaps the ground was too firm (officially good). If you can forgive that, he's a big price with a hope.
Letsbeclearaboutit - finished behind Hiddenvalley Lake (4th, 8.75L) and Favori De Champdou (2nd, 4.25L) before finding a weak maiden on heavy ground to romp in by 22L at Punchestown. Has plenty of Flat ability, ran second to Sir Gerhard and Kilcruit in his bumper days. Will stay all day.
Monty's Star - two hurdles runs, second to Shanbally Kid in a Navan maiden followed by a narrow G3 win at Clonmel over Hiddenvalley Lake, in receipt of 6lbs. By Walk In The Park, he's half-brother to Monalee who loved the Festival, running second twice and fourth another two times in the proper G1s. In short, he's a blue-blood and you can expect there is plenty more to come from him. The lack of experience concerns me but last year's winner won on only his second hurdle start, so it's not impossible!
Rock My Way - five year old, two hurdles runs, still a lot to learn. Would break a lot of trends by winning.
Saint Palais - a novice at hurdling and chasing? Four from six over fences, but 0/6 over hurdles. I don't get why he's here...
Sandor Clegane - a handy bumper horse last season who was soon pointed towards distance hurdling, being by Fame And Glory. He ran third in a DRF G1 behind Good Land six weeks ago, behind the handy Good Land (fourth in the Ballymore). Extra trip will only benefit him.
Seabank Bistro - started odds-on against Corbetts Cross two starts back but could only run second (winner had advantage of 5lb claim). Finally won his maiden the next time at his third attempt, but his ratings progression through his three maidens was minimal.
Search For Glory - battled on well to finish third behind Monty's Star in a Clonmel G3 last time, just his second hurdle run. Gordon Elliott is 0/9 in this race, can't back him with just two jumps runs under his belt.
Shanbally Kid - beat Monty's Star in his maiden, who then went on to win a G3 at his next start. To win a three-mile G1 hurdle, you usually need more battle smarts than just two runs' worth.
Stay Away Fay - just the two runs over hurdles, talented but needs more experience.
Thomas Mor - wants dry ground, has been beating pretty weak fields.
Three Card Brag - not convinced he'll stay, at least at any great speed. His last win was in a very slow time and he goes up half a mile. They say he's bred for it but the eye says...
Weveallbeencaught - beaten a long way behind Good Land and Sandor Clegane in the 2m6f G1 Novice at the DRF but came home with a cut on the fetlock. Started 5/4 when beating 66/1 shot Rock My Way in his maiden at Cheltenham. Pass.
I backed The Nice Guy at a great price last year so therefore logic says I must be successful on this race every year! :) Corbetts Cross is the one to beat but I'll happily throw in Monty's Star and Sandor Clegane as well.
CORBETTS CROSS, Monty's Star, Sandor Clegane
Ahoy Senor - ran second in the Brown Advisory last year then won the Mildmay at Aintree, but hasn't kicked on since. He's been beaten in the Charlie Hall, Many Clouds and King George Chases before winning the Cotswold here in late Jan. That's a long way short of this.
A Plus Tard - won this race by 15L last year in a similar strength field, simply bolting up the hill. But since then, we've seen him once, supposedly fully primed for the Betfair Chase in November and he flopped badly without any obvious excuse. If in fine health, he'd be favourite. Do you trust the trainer or not?
Bravemansgame - brilliant chaser, winning eight of his nine races over fences, the defeat coming in the Mildmay at Aintree last season, then he was despatched off for a wind operation so we probably excuse that run. His two runs in open company have landed the Charlie Hall and the King George so it's tough to crab him, although the margin in the latter was flattered by his main rival unseating at the last when he was likely to trail in second. The best chance for the home team.
Conflated - a multiple G1 winner in Ireland who has only crossed the Irish Sea twice, falling here in the Ryanair, and a second in the Betway Bowl at Aintree, both last year. Finished third behind Envoi Allen in the Champion Chase at Down Royal (3m) then won the G1 Savills Chase over Xmas, but none of those rivals reoppose here - it was a fairly poor field for a G1. I don't think he's up to these if they're all running close to their best.
Eldorado Allen - won the Denman and the Haldon Gold Cup last season but this time around he's progressively been finishing further behind with his RPR declining each time. Nope, think he is past his best.
Galopin Des Champs - five from six over fences (odds-on every time), with the one blip being here last year when he was a dozen lengths clear and fell at the last in the Turner. Hard to gauge just how good his recent Grade 1 wins since that fall have been, he scares off the opposition - from this field, Stattler is the only one to have taken him on. He has won easily at his two starts at three miles, no reason to think a bit further would stop him.
Hewick - a remarkable story having been initially purchased for €850, was a handy jumper for most of his career then in the last 18 months, he has won the Durham National, the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown, the Galway Plate and the American National (Hurdle) at Far Hills. You'd think he's still a level short of winning the best race in the world for chasers but the dream is still alive for the connections.
Minella Indo - has an exceptional record at the Festival - won Albert Bartlett in 2019, 2nd in RSA 2020, won Gold Cup 2021, 2nd in Gold Cup 2022. But he's now a 10yo, and no 10yo has won this century, although four of them won from 1988-1998. He might be aged ten but his racing career is quite young, just the 19 races overall. After last year's Gold Cup, he went to Punchestown and was pulled up - only the second time he'd done that, both in the same season, both times with new gear (cheekpieces and tongue tie repsectively) and obviously hated it. He was given a break until New Year's Day when he won the Tramore G3 (8L ahead of Stattler) that Al Boum Photo regularly used a prep race. In that race he recorded an RPR of 160. In previous seasons, his last run leading in has rated 161 (2021) and 163 (2022). He can still win.
Noble Yeats - the Grand National winner who now has to run in Graded company as he'll never get into a handicap again, bar the National. He won a Listed race at Wexford followed by the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree (beat Dashel Drasher, Ahoy Senor and Sounds Russian), and was then pointed at the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in late January. He finished third, 2.5L behind Ahoy Senor & Sounds Russian, conceding weight to both of them (three & six pounds respectively) but finished ahead of Protektorat (level weights). He's performing better now than he did to win the National (in RPRs), he's not far off this - in three of the past 10 years, he'd either win or be less than a length away. Only two horses have won the Gold Cup-National double, none have done it this way around.
Protektorat - ran third last season, beaten 17.5L behind a Plus Tard, 2.5L behind Minella Indo. He was unplaced as favourite in the Betway Bowl at Aintree three weeks later, logic would suggest the Gold Cup took plenty out of him. He resumed by winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock when odds-on favourite A Plus Tard flopped, then went to the Cotswold Chase and simply ran out of puff, trailing in fourth of five finishers. I need to see more to convince me he is up to this level.
Royale Pagaille - fifth in last year's Cup but also a long way back in two subsequent runs. Seems to save his best for Haydock and/or heavy tracks. Doesn't get either of those factors here.
Sounds Russian - lightly-raced 8yo who has stepped up to another level this season, but those ratings are still a way off the top echelon. Placings in G2/G3 races such as Meyrick and Cotswold Chases don't compute to winning this championship event.
Stattler - quality chaser with form around the big guns. He won the NH Challenge Cup at the Festival last year, and his two runs this season have been placings behind Minella Indo (beaten a neck, giving the winner 8lbs) and Galopin Des Champs (beaten 8L in the Irish Gold Cup at Dublin Racing Festival, early Feb). Very honest but not brilliant enough to be a topliner.
The favourite is brilliant, but he's never faced a crack field with depth to it. He could just run a way from them like A Plus Tard last year but the Gold Cup is nearly always a gutbuster - I'm inclined to risk him at the price. He might even be a win or bust option.
The money has come already for A Plus Tard but I'll lean towards the other De Bromhead star Minella Indo. It's rare for a horse to regain the crown after losing it but he's the one with the uninterrupted preparation - I think he's a much better bet each-way at 18/1 than win only at 9/2.
MINELLA INDO, Bravemansgame, A Plus Tard