The ground could hold the key for the Cheltenham Gold Cup with a band of rain due to reach the course on Friday morning but the forecast suggests we could get as little as 2mls or as much as 10mls. The latter would turn the ground soft, but the former would have little impact.
The Irish have had a wonderful first half of the Festival and the more rain the better for Pandorama whilst fellow Irish raider Kempes would prefer a sounder surface. He was most impressive in the Irish Hennessy on ground considered softer than ideal and in a sub-standard year he is becoming more attractive by the day.
Long Run didn’t jump well enough on his two previous starts at Cheltenham but he was magnificent in the King George and is the one to beat if his jumping holds up... but that is a big if in my opinion.
Of Paul Nicholls’ old warriors and former winners Denman looks the stables’ number one candidate with the trainer reporting he has had a small operation to improve his breathing since finishing third in the Hennessy.
The current Champion Imperial Commander (4.20) is 5 from 6 over fences at the track, goes well fresh and looks the one to beat. He could hardly be described as impressive in his sole start this term at Haydock but his trainer suggested he left a bit to work on that day and he is the benchmark on a course he obviously adores.
Zarkandar looked a juvenile hurdler going places when winning at Kempton on his British debut but the Triumph looks a very difficult puzzle to solve. Grandouet was most impressive at Ascot last time but he has 15L to find with Sam Winner (1.30) on Cheltenham form back in November and the latter has been very well backed in recent days. He is just given the vote.
The County Hurdle betting was turned upside down with the impressive win of Alarazi in the Imperial Cup on Saturday and he looks the one to beat if he is over Saturday’s exertions. Connections are chasing a 75k bonus but he won’t have things all his own way with Ebor winner Dirar who was given a pipe-opener on the level at Kempton recently a must for any short-list with his stable in cracking form. Ski Sunday (2.05) has been laid out for the race since a facile win at Kempton and in another ultra competitive renewal he is just given the vote.
Back In Focus was visually very impressive when scoring at Haydock from Court In Motion on his first start for Howard Johnson but the ground was barely raceable on that occasion and he is unlikely to be as effective on better ground in the Albert Bartlett. At a bigger price Sybarite (2.40) blundered his way around Kempton last time and could reward each way support if his jumping holds up. He is certainly one to consider when he goes novice chasing next season.
The Martin Pipe Conditional Jockey’s Hurdle has yet to be won by David Pipe and he suggested Shoegazer may be the one from the yard when I spoke to him earlier in the week. That said Willie Mullins is reported to be very sweet on the chances of Sir Des Champs (4.40) and he could have be another for the Irish.
If we’re still in trouble by the last we’re probably doomed although I have long had a soft spot for Shoreacres (5.15) who has run well in two previous Festivals and made a successful comeback on ground softer than ideal at Taunton returning from a twelve-month lay off. Keki Buku hasn’t had the best of luck over fences to date and owner Andy Stewart is very sweet on Nomechki.
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