Cheltenham Festival Concludes With Gold Cup Day

March 16, 2023

Ahoy Senor, one of those who will vie for Gold Cup glory (JTW Equine Images)

Friday 17th March 2023 – Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup Day, March 17

By Jack & Tom Williams

The final day of the 2023 Cheltenham Festival is known as Gold Cup Day, with all eyes on the big race of the entire meeting at 3:30, the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1). Outside of the big race, we see two Grade 1s, one for juveniles over the minimum distance and one for future stayers over hurdles or fences, as well as the big race of the year for point-to-point jockeys, the Foxhunters Challenge Cup immediately after the Gold Cup over the same distance. It is also fiendishly competitive, with handicap hurdles over 2 miles and 2 and a half miles, that are essentially cavalry charges, with usually a well-handicapped star of the future taking the prizes. 

Race 1 1:30 Friday: JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1) 2 miles 1 Furlong

The JCB Triumph Hurdle is a race originally run in 1939 at the now-closed Hurst Park Racecourse, Surrey, and is solely for four-year-old colts, geldings and fillies. Previous winners include dual-Grand National winner Tiger Roll in 2014 and multiple Grade 1 winner Defi du Seuil. It was also the race in 2020 that is now infamous with National Hunt Racing fans, for being the race in which Goshen made a bad mistake at the last hurdle, and in the process of getting his legs sorted out, accidentally locked his hooves together and sent jockey Jamie Moore sprawling into heartache, with Burning Victory subsequently picking up the pieces and taking an unlikely victory.

Looking ahead to this year’s renewal, and a host of horses entered in both the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle on the Tuesday are also entered in this Grade 1. Those include the Paul Nicholls-trained Afadil, who many would say disappointed after their Scottish Triumph Hurdle success when finishing sixth behind Bo Zenith at Haydock less than two weeks later, which may well answer the sixth-placed finish. Bo Zenith is also engaged in this and the Fred Winter, but I personally feel stronger form is present in others. 

Blood Destiny is the current favourite after a very-dominant performance at Fairyhouse, whereas Lossiemouth was previously the favourite for this race, and whilst scoring in 2 races this season, she lost her unbeaten tag at Leopardstown when behind Gala Marceau, whom she had beaten by 7 ½ lengths on the previous run. 

Comfort Zone won the Grade 2 Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow in December before beating Scriptwriter at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day in January. The latter disappointed at Kempton at the end of February, and would need to scrub up on his jumping, and is opposable. Overall, I am siding with Lossiemouth, as in December at Leopardstown she was very impressive, drawing clear on the level, and the size of the run-in was similar to what she will experience at Cheltenham. 

Race 2 2:10 Friday: McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle (Premier Handicap) 2 miles 1 furlong

Pinkerton (left) will pursue his first Cheltenham win (JTW Equine Images)

The second race of the day is the first of the aforementioned cavalry charges, and is a race usually competed in by those who have run in races in Britain such as the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham in December, the big handicap hurdle on the same card as the Long Walk at Ascot (it used to be the Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle, but God only knows what it is called nowadays!) and the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury in February. At this stage, it is usually, just like the Martin Pipe later on the card (5:30), it is just simply too far out to nail colours to the mast of one horse, and as well as this, at the time of writing (22:30 on Thursday 9th March 2023) it is snowing in the UK, and we simply do not know if the going at Cheltenham will be soft, good to soft, heavy or good. What is certain though, is it will not be good to firm by any means.

What is surprising though is that 2 performers who would usually be seen in the Grade 1 Champion Hurdle on the Tuesday, Zanahiyr and Sharjah, are also entered here. Add to that Il Etait Temps and Pied Piper, and this has the hallmarks of a cracker. Betfair Hurdle winner Aucunrisque is entered in this, although whether they will take up a novice hurdle assignment is yet to be answered, Hunters Yarn would be of interest if not taking up his Supreme Novices’ Hurdle engagement and Metier will have to pray it rains every single day between now and race time on Friday to even stand a chance.

The one horse I like, and who should get a run, is Pinkerton, who despite potentially needing soft ground, only needs a couple to come out to guarantee a run in the race (currently number 31, maximum runners of 26), is very consistent, having placed 3rd on seasonal reappearance at Down Royal in November, behind Nibiru, who has subsequently placed 2nd behind the highly regarded Gaelic Warrior. As a result, I feel a mark of 141 is incredibly lenient, and he can come in at 25-1.

Race 3 2:50 Friday: Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 3 miles 110 yards

Stay Away Fay (center) hopes to be in front passing the winning post (JTW Equine Images)

The final Grade 1 over hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival is a 3-mile novices’ hurdle for horses whose aspirations are for the staying/marathon trips over fences or hurdles. Registered as the Spa Novices’ Hurdle, introduced in 2005 when the meeting became 4 days in total, and nicknamed “The Potato Race”, due to the sponsor being a well-known potato producer, the race has produced winners of 2 Gold Cups (Bobs Worth won this race in 2011 before Gold Cup glory in 2013, Minella Indo won in 2019 at 50-1 before claiming the blue riband event in 2021) and staying hurdles such as the Stayers’ Hurdle (Penhill won the Albert Bartlett in 2017 before winning the 2018 Stayers’ Hurdle). Firstly, and I will allow Tom to say this first bit; he is absolutely flabbergasted that a certain Gordon Elliott has not made this race the priority for a certain American Mike.

(Pretty much stole my thunder here Jack, but here goes;)

As the previous sentence states, I pretty much nailed my colours to the mast for this race ever since I saw him in the Tattersalls Cheltenham May Sale in 2021. This chap is a huge, strapping gelding that will make a fine chaser. And when he won at Down Royal in November by 6 and a half lengths over 2 and 3 quarter miles, I was confident that this lad would be going over 3 miles in due course. 

So, you can imagine my surprise when he then runs over 2 and a half miles, and then 2 miles, going in what I feel was completely the wrong way. It’s like a marathon runner switching to running the 100 metres – absolutely incomprehensible. 

Trainer Gordon Elliott reportedly stated to assembled press at his Media Day that he would be running in the 2m 5f (4200m ) Ballymore Novices Hurdle, instead of the longer Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle over 3 miles. And that has left me crestfallen, as I genuinely think this horse over 3 miles would have been absolutely banker of the week material.

Mark my words, Ladies and Gentlemen – If he turns up in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle, he wins it at a canter. 

However, in the presence, or rather lack of, American Mike, I have a suitable alternative…

The River Don at Doncaster is run over 3 miles and is seen as a good trial for this race as it produces a hardy type of horse, well suitable for the brutality of the big one at Cheltenham. The winner of the corresponding race this year, Maximillian, has already been noted by his trainer Donald McCain as going to Aintree instead. Therefore, we need to look down the field to fine a suitable horse. 

And you do not need to look far, as the second placed horse is one to take from that race. 

His name is Stay Away Fay, and I was taken with how hard he fought despite not getting the best of jumps at the last. A winner on his 4-year-old point to point debut at Lingstown in December 2021, the 6 year old son of Shantou made a winning hurdles debut at Newbury in November before placing second in a Grade 2, only going down by a length at the end. 

He looks to be the one to take from the race and will be a smashing chaser in due course. And 20/1 is an absolute steal, given how even 50/1 shots have won the race in the past. 

If American Mike doesn’t turn up in this race, he is your best super sub for the race. And I cannot wait to see him over a fence next season!

Race 4 3:30 Friday: Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1) 3 miles 2 furlongs

The showpiece race of the 2023 Cheltenham Festival is of course the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Golden Miller, Arkle, Kauto Star; all have won multiple Gold Cups, with Golden Miller the top dog with 5, all between 1932 and 1936. The last to do the King George VI Chase / Cheltenham Gold Cup double was Long Run, but Cue Card came agonisingly close in 2016 to doing just that, when crashing out 3 from home, seemingly travelling the best at the time. As has been typical with most Gold Cups of previous years, it has hardly been smooth sailing for a few of the contenders.

Last year’s winner A Plus Tard has had one run this season; a disappointing pulled-up at Haydock in the Betfair Chase in November, before being declared a non-runner due to ground at Leopardstown subsequently in December. This is not an ideal prep, and as a result, even odds of 15/2 for a previous Gold Cup winner will not be tempting myself.

Cotswold Chase winner Ahoy Senor has disappointed three times this season before he got things to click at Cheltenham in January, with a fifth on reappearance in the Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby being followed by a 3rd in the Grade 2 Many Clouds Chase at Aintree and a fifth in the King George VI Chase. His Aintree conqueror, Noble Yeats, had the fortunes reversed at Cheltenham, but looked good at Aintree, however the 2022 Grand National hero to myself looks like he needs a longer trip, and would certainly get that if the ground comes up soft, as his stamina is very much proven for obvious reasons. 

Bravemansgame is looking to follow up his Charlie Hall and King George VI wins, however he did not take to Cheltenham on his run 2 years ago in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) at the Festival.

Course form seems to be important, which rules out Capodanno, whereas connections of Conflated seem insistent he will run in the Ryanair Chase the day before. He does not strike me as staying the trip, anyway, having only won at 3 miles on a level track (Leopardstown); 3 miles 2 furlongs around Cheltenham is very different.

The same can be said about current favourite Galopin Des Champs, and even though he won at 2m 4f in the 2021 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, he fell at the last in last year’s Turners Novices’ Chase when clear, so as a result, he does have chinks in his armour, despite how good he has been this season, with two wins out of two runs so far. 

Coole Cody is completely outclassed, Eldorado Allen is not guaranteed to stay the trip (2022 Charlie Hall second and 2022 Denman Chase win were both at 3 miles on flat tracks), Envoi Allen is running in the Ryanair Chase alongside Conflated and Franco De Port looks more suited for a Grand National, plus he would prefer it to be heavy. Fury Road is another Ryanair bound, whilst Ga Law fell at the last on his only try at 3 miles in the Sky Bet Handicap Chase at Doncaster in January. 

Galvin looks certain to head to the Cross Country Chase on the Wednesday (but form is not up to it this season), Hewick, whilst hugely admirable for connections, does look outclassed and should look towards the Grand National in April and 2021 Gold Cup victor Minella Indo will look to emulate Al Boum Photo (victorious in 2019 and 2020) by starting his season in the Savills New Year’s Day Chase (Grade 3) before going on to Gold Cup glory. 20-1 looks a huge price for a horse who loves it around Cheltenham, having been 1st, 2nd, 1st and 2nd in his 4 visits.

Protekorat (JTW Equine Images)

2022 Betfair Chase victor and Gold Cup third Protektorat will need to put a below-par effort in the Cotswold Chase behind him, Royal Pagaille looks out of it this time around, Shishkin is Ryanair-bound, Sounds Russian missed an engagement at Kelso last weekend so potentially may not quite be fully wound-up for this, Stattler on paper looks like he wants further (but is not to be discounted after his victory in last year’s National Hunt Chase over 3m 6f), however he was second behind Galopin Des Champs at Leopardstown off level weights and was only a neck second to Minella Indo giving him 8lbs on seasonal reappearance at Tramore. Finally, connections of The Real Whacker will make a late call over whether he runs in this race or the Brown Advisory on Wednesday. 

My verdict for this race is as follows; Galopin Des Champs should not be favourite for this, and with his fall last year when safely clear, and his stamina question mark, I have to go with a horse who will have boundless stamina, is proven at the track, and for me fits the bill; Stattler. His Tramore second is better than it appears; not only was it his first run of the season and he was giving Minella Indo 8lbs, but anyone also who has watched racing, or indeed been racing at Tramore, will know that the final fence is very close to the winning line, and there is not much of a home straight, instead a slow turning clockwise bend, favouring inside horses as a result. That position was filled by Minella Indo, and so to only go down by a neck, having jumped slightly right 2 out, is a very good performance indeed, and so he gets my vote to keep the Gold Cup in Irish hands, with Minella Indo second and Bravemansgame third. 

Race 5 4:10 Friday: St James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase (Class 2) 3 miles 2 furlongs

The race immediately following the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup is a race more commonly known as the “Foxhunters” and is strictly limited to amateur jockeys and horses who compete solely in Hunter Chases and point-to-point races across the UK and Ireland. For those of you who are unaware of what point-to-point racing is, it is effectively the amateur version of National Hunt Racing and is sometimes called racing “between the flags”, as back in the day, no tapes were used, and starts and finishes were conducted using flags.

Point-to-point horses tend to be of lower ratings than most National Hunt horses, however many previous good National Hunt horses take very good prizes in the point-to-point sphere, namely Shantou Flyer, who is a previous Cheltenham Festival placed horse, having been placed in the Ultima Handicap Chase, Kim Muir and Foxhunters on multiple occasions. Last year’s winner Billaway will be hoping for less dramatic circumstances than his last gasp win, closing down the home straight to nail Winged Leader close home. Black Op, a previously frustrating horses for punters, seems much happier over pointing, with the form of 2 wins this season looking very good. 

Cheltenham De Vaige looks held on his rating of 117 against many of these, despite how good his run behind Just Your Type at Cocklebarrow looks. Wins came easily for Dandy Dan but regrettably his class was not enough to beat Vaucelet, whereas the form of Famous Clermontincludes some very notable scalps, including Envious Editor (due to run at Bangor-on-Dee on Sunday 12th March), Virak (high class horse previously trained by Paul Nicholls and a prolific point-to-point horse) and Sixteen Letters, who was second to Viroflay at Larkhill in their feature race of the year, the Coronation Gold Cup. That form is incredibly strong, and he gets my vote. 

Ferns Lock is unbeaten, however has not gone as far as at Cheltenham, Myth Buster blotted their copybook at Cocklebarrow when falling, making it an easier win for Olive Nicholls aboard Rhythm Is A Dancer, and she rides Shantou Flyer; a notable jockey booking. Premier Magic has won 4 out of his last 5 starts, however in those 5 starts comes a “Pulled Up” and the scene of that was last year’s race, so as a result I am avoiding him. 

Rocky’s Howya has some very nice-looking form, but how well that reads is open to interpretation of his 12-1 odds, especially against the form of Vaucelet, who was very good winning at Down Royal and was second to Billaway at Punchestown in April 2022. Winged Leader has picked up where he left off, so he warrants major respect, as he is unbeaten this season, but I do like the chances of Famous Clermont, and if he remains a good each way price, I will take that very nicely.

Race 6 4:50 Friday: Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase (Registered As The Liberthine Mares’ Chase) (Grade 2) 2 miles 4 furlongs

The penultimate race of the Cheltenham Festival is a 2-and-a-half-mile Mares’ Chase, introduced in 2021, and been won by Colreevy and Elimay subsequently, for trainer Willie Mullins. I have to be honest; it is not a race I particularly focus on too much, mainly because I am still fuming that to incorporate this race into the Festival, the 2m 4f novices’ handicap chase on the Tuesday was gotten rid of, and moved to Sandown on the Saturday prior.

The handicap chase is a much better alternative, and personally, the less focus on this, the better. Willie Mullins has another strong hand in Allegorie De Vassy, who has won 2 Mares’ Novices’ Chase by 19 lengths each time, and looks capable of a huge run, but does have a tendency to jump slightly right, which may cost her valuable ground. Galia Des Liteaux was regarded by trainer Dan Skelton as his best chance of the week at a recent Cheltenham Festival Stable tour, however her PU behind Thyme Hill in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton in December does cause concern, as the trainer remarked on soft ground at the Festival she would have a live chance, but the ground was soft at Kempton. 

Impervious has won multiple Graded events, but on balance I feel Allegorie De Vassy has stronger form on a par with Brandy Love, and for that reason she would be my pick.

Race 7 5:30 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (Class 2) 2 miles 4 furlongs

The final race of the Cheltenham Festival is a race named in honour of Martin Pipe, 15-time Champion Trainer, with notable horses such as Cyfor Malta, Pridwell, Miinehoma, Make A Stand, Hors La Loi III and Tiutchev. The race is specifically for amateur jockeys, and is again an absolute minefield, although the last two runnings have been won by Willie Mullins with Galopin Des Champs, favourite for the Gold Cup and Joseph O’Brien with Banbridge, who is fancied for the Turners Novices’ Chase on the Thursday.

Again however, a problem with this race is that any number of weight can be taken off by conditionals, so until the final declarations are made on Wednesday, we simply will not know what the weights will look like. Might I has been up against seasoned campaigners, whereas he found 3 miles a bit far currently, but may get there in time, and Cool Survivor has good form behind fancied Ballymore entrant Good Land. Imagine is top of the betting, and with placed efforts in Listed and Graded races, a mark of 139 could be very lenient indeed. 

No Ordinary Joe was well beaten in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury in February, whilst Iroko is very much on the up, and is a very nice prospect for something like staying chasing next season. I am not sure how well the form reads behind, but 10-1 looks a decent price. That would usually be a great each way alternative to a win favourite, however, Imagine is great value, and he takes my vote.

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