It’s the final day of the greatest show in the world and the Cheltenham Gold Cup takes centre stage in a week that has seen incredible performances, heartfelt stories, and joyous crowd affection.
And if you still need some help with those pesky handicaps on the final day of the Festival, Ash Symonds of Bestofbets is here to help.
FRIDAY – County Handicap Hurdle
The County Hurdle is a race I struggle to work out sometimes – last year I couldn’t see the obvious staring me right in the face and even before that I missed the train Dan Skelton of winners.
Skelton has a nice hand with Pembroke this year, certainly a horse that fits the progressive style, and has course form.
However, I’d be willing to take a different British horse with a similar profile, and that would be GIN COCO at 10/1. This is a horse I have liked since last season having finished second at the Punchestown Festival in April 2022.
Since then, an easy novice hurdle win in October started his season well, but it’s his Greatwood Hurdle second that really took me back.
Personally, I didn’t like his trip through the Greatwood – he was a bit too far back, was rushed along (using up plenty of energy) down the Cheltenham hill, and had to come wide around I LIKE TO MOVE IT, a horse who has since won the Kingwell Hurdle and improved 15 pounds, when trying to make his winning run.
I think when ridden a touch more prominently on the new course, which should suit a tonne better, he could be very dangerous.
I’ll also give a shout to another British runner in the field and that’s MILKWOOD for Neil Mulholland.
This is simply because he is handicapped to be very competitive based on his old form.
Let me read you off a list: he was third in the 2021 renewal of this race off 140, won the Scottish Champion Hurdle off 142, was second in a Galway Hurdle off 147 to the very good Saldier, and was second in the most recent Welsh Champion Hurdle off 148.
Following a fairly average run in the Elite Hurdle in November and a decent performance over the wrong trip in February off the back of a 102-day break, the handicapper has given Milkwood a chance off 141 in this year’s County Hurdle, a race that doesn’t look to have a standout performer.
He is a fiercely good traveler into his races and Mulholland is a brilliant target trainer, so if he continues to run in this rich vein of form, he could be right there at 33/1.
And to complete the trio of County Hurdle horses, it could be a first Festival success for trainer Richard Spender as at 20/1, WONDERWALL could cause a small upset.
His bumper form with Knappers Hill from December 202 reads very well and he was seven seventh in the 2021 Champion Bumper behind Sir Gerhard.
Fast forward to January 2022 and he beat City Chief while showing plenty of speed at Doncaster and was running a very good race behind Elle Est Belle a month later at Huntington before falling.
Following a respectable effort behind Sebastopol and Stage Star, the now Turners Novices Chase winner, at Newbury over fences, he returns back to two miles and hurdles off a mark of 134.
He could be very dangerous if on song at a course he shouldn’t have any issues with.
FRIDAY – Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle
The Martin Pipe. The race that caused a mass sing-song before flag fall 12 months ago, and the final piece of the puzzle for Ireland to complete their clean sweep on the final day of the Cheltenham Festival last year.
The horse who has been at the top of my list for a while is IMAGINE for Gordon Elliott, a trainer who loves to have a winner in this race.
The five-year-old Montmartre gelding has been running into nice horses all season: Hunters Yarn and Inothewayurthinkin are the main two. The former is a Supreme hope for Willie Mullins and Imagine actually reversed the form with the latter on his most recent start.
Coming into this race off a British mark of 139, Elliott highlighted this horse as one of his main handicap fancies of the week at the recent Cheltenham Festival Handicap Weights Lunch, so at 6/1, he has all the capabilities to go close.
His stable and owner mate FIRM FOOTINGS could be the one overpriced at 20/1 in the field.
Having run into Deep Cave and Grangeclare West this season, the British handicapper has left him on a mark of 134 which could be very lenient.
He won over the wrong distance last time out and a return to 2m4f should suit well with the mustard Shane Fitzgerald on board to do the steering.