The final day of the 2013 Cheltenham Festival features the sport’s Blue Riband event, the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.20), the race that everyone interested in racing dreams of winning.
After an almighty struggle to win a Gold Cup since he began training way back in the late 1970s, Nicky Henderson finally bagged the prize and brought the curtain down on the era of Kauto Star and Denman, when his Long Run won it as a six-year-old in 2011.
Despite being below his best last season, the French-bred gelding still made the Gold Cup frame, and having never finished out of the money he remains a serious player today.
Even so, this race has long favoured improving horses and so stablemate Bobs Worth looks the one to be on today. A measure of his class was in winning the Hennessy Gold Cup off top weight, much as Denman had prefaced his own Gold Cup with. Throw into the mix that he loves Cheltenham and is 4/4 at the track and he will take plenty of beating.
Very honourable mentions go to Silviniaco Conti, who has done everything right so far this campaign and looks a big threat, though with Paul Nicholls’ runners just one or two per cent below par plus a couple of hard races under his belt this time and not Cheltenham form for us to work with, we will take him on.
Irish hopes rest with Willie Mullins-trained Sir Des Champs. He still has it to prove, but he has been laid out for this all season and now with Tony McCoy stepping in for the mount at the 11th hour, he looks sure to be a very warm order and may even go off favourite.
David Bridgwater is also very keen on the chances of The Giant Bolster, who also made the frame in this at a big price last year and is they go a good clip then he will be doing his best work up the hill.
The Triumph Hurdle (1.30) kicks off the final day and Henderson can fuel confidence for the big one later on the card by picking up his fifth win in this race with Rolling Star. Our Conor would look a serious danger if the forecast rain gets into the ground, while the same applies to Ditcheat representative Far West.
In days of yore, the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle (2.05) was the meeting’s ‘getting out stakes’ but these days it presents punters with a second conundrum in succession and amid the English versus Irish battle we’ll take outsider Kian’s Delight to win it for Wales and Peter Bowen.
The Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (2.40) could be McCoy’s first success of the meeting and as both favourite and one who carries the colours of J P McManus, there would be no more popular winner. Our Vinnie could be the main danger.
The Gold Cup for the amateur riders (CGA Foxhunter Chase, 4.00) follows the Blue Riband itself and this can again be fought out by the first two home last year, Salsify and Chapoturgeon and an interest in both should prove profitable.
Legendary multiple champion trainer Martin Pipe is recognised once again with the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (4.40) looks as difficult as ever. Martin’s son David usually has a very strong hand in this race but this year he saddles only Gevrey Chambertin, who is progressive and looks to have strong claims.
However, Nicky Henderson’s Ma Filleule looks well suited by conditions, is very consistent, and is taken to score with Make Your Mark possibly the best of the Irish.
Finally, Henderson would love nothing more than to bring the curtain down on a fascinating Festival than to win the race named after his father Johnny, the Grand Annual (5.15), which is just about the toughest two-mile handicap chase of the whole season.
The Seven Barrows handler has no less than six of the 24-strong field running for him and Kid Cassidy might arrive late on the scene under Paul Carberry and give them all something to think about.
Even so, Tom George is double-handed and jockey Paddy Brennan is very keen on the chances of Rody, who can go close along with stable companion Parsnip Pete, who is very attractively-weighted with just 10-5 on his back.
Just about all over for another year then and now it’s time to sit back and enjoy steeplechasing’s greatest prize. After a dismal Thursday, for what it’s worth, my selection is Bob’s Worth.