I'm going to be at Fakenham rather than Cheltenham on Friday, but I'll be watching the action at Prestbury Park whenever I can between rides and day four of The Festival promises to be a belter.
The first three from last year's race all meet again in the Cheltenham Gold Cup (15.30), with Minella Indo taken on again by his stable-mate A Plus Tard, who was just outstayed 12 months ago, and Al Boum Photo, who had won the previous two runnings and now goes there under the radar a bit in first-time cheekpieces.
There are no obvious front runners this time, but there are quite a few strong stayers, so it's going to be interesting tactically. I can't wait to see it, and the timing of my rides at Fakenham hopefully gives me every chance.
All eyes on Rachael...
Even after the week she'd had, it must have been hard for Rachael Blackmore getting beaten last year on A Plus Tard, and especially by a horse she could have ridden. Finishing second in any race is hard enough, and I can't imagine what it's like finishing second in the Gold Cup. I'd love to see her win it this time and complete the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup double. It would be class.
A Plus Tard was unbelievably impressive around Haydock in the Betfair Chase, and although Haydock is a very different track he was only narrowly denied here last year. I'd say he has more speed than most of his rivals and a lot will depend upon how the race is run. It will be phenomenal for Rachael if she can add the Gold Cup to the two Champion Hurdles, the Grand National and all of the other big races she's already won.
A Plus Tard was caught on the line at Leopardstown last time by Galvin, who I'd beaten on Frodon at Down Royal in October. Galvin's jumping was a bit rusty that day but he was much cleaner at Leopardstown and he's a strong stayer. The further he goes the better he looks, and everyone will have one eye on him.
It's a great Gold Cup with a lot of possibilities, but my heart will be with Rachael on A Plus Tard.
The opening JCB Triumph Hurdle (13.30) looks a very strong race, and what's caught my eye is that Davy Russell looks to prefer Fil Dor, who was beaten by Vauban last time, to Pied Piper, on whom he beat Vauban the time before and couldn't have won any easier at Cheltenham on Trials Day.
Pied Piper has shown that he travels well and handles the track, and he had some pretty good Flat form before he went jumping. He's already shown a high level of form and you wouldn't know how much more there, so Davy seemingly preferring Fil Dor looks significant to me.
Mind you, Vauban carries plenty of confidence and won't be easy to beat.
Hillcrest has a massive chance
There's a very strong Irish team in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (14.50), but a lot of people will be rooting for the giant Hillcrest, who has been impressive all season for Henry Daly.
Chasing is obviously going to be Hillcrest's game before too long, and I can't wait to see him over a fence, but he's pretty good over hurdles too and has already won at Cheltenham.
A lot of them have to prove themselves at three miles, but he won over the trip at Haydock last time and looks sure to run a big race.
Unusually, the only runner flying the flag for Paul Nicholls on the final day is Bob And Co in the St James's Place Hunters' Chase (16.10). He unseated three out a year ago, when they were all ridden by professionals, but he then beat the Cheltenham second Billaway at Punchestown at Punchestown next time when his owner David Maxwell was able to get back on board.
Billaway has been second here twice now for Willie and Paddy Mullins and deserves to be favourite, but David is a very popular and enthusiastic owner-rider, and Bob And Co looked great when I saw him riding out on Thursday. They will be rooting for him back at Ditcheat, that's for sure.
Back to my rides at Fakenham
My first Fakenham ride is on my old friend Admiral Barratry for Lucy Wadham in the Prince Carlton Handicap Chase (14:25), over three miles. I've won on Admiral Barratry twice before at Fakenham, over two miles and five, and I've talked about him here before.
As I've said, he's not an obvious Fakenham type on looks, as he's a big-framed horse and very strong, but he loves it there. You have to sit and suffer for the first mile or so and wait for him to come to you, but when he does he can take off, and his last mile is usually his best, so the longer trip really shouldn't be a problem. He's definitely got the ability if the race is run to suit him.
I then ride Justified, who I'm getting to know pretty well, for Neil King in the Walter Wales Memorial Handicap Hurdle (15:05). It's his first time in a handicap, and it looks to me as if he's on a very fair mark. He's the complete opposite to Admiral Barratry, as he's very petite, but he seems to enjoy his jumping and he's quite accurate.
He came home like a train after looking outpaced over two miles at Fakenham last time, and he's up half a mile in distance this time, which should suit. He keeps digging in and keeps galloping, so he ought to go well.
Finally I'm on Goodnight Charlie for Caroline Fryer over three miles and five furlongs in the Hellesdon Leather & Cloth Furnishing Company Handicap Chase (16.25). I've never ridden her before, but I've seen her and ridden against her many a time over the years and she's a proper stayer.
She's been pulled up on her last two starts, but she won over this course and distance in January, front running, and she's only a pound higher.
So that's it for me at what we call the 'Fakenham Festival'. Three rides, and they all tick quite a few boxes. If you are struggling to find winners at Cheltenham maybe you could make a few quid following me at Fakenham. I'll be giving it a good go and I'm hopeful I won't be driving home empty handed!
Listen to the Cheltenham Festival Day 4 Preview