David Cleary plunges into the Festival antepost pool one last time, surfacing with a few thoughts on the final day's card...
"Harambe was runner-up to Getaway Trump in the valuable novice event at Sandown last April, won the Greatwood on his second start back this season, then was closing when brought down at the last in the Betfair Hurdle. That last run suggests he's still on a competitive mark and the New course at Cheltenham, on which the County is run, ought to suit him ideally."
The Gold Cup dominates the final day of the Cheltenham Festival, and if you aren't ahead by this stage there is certainly tough going to get into the black. Aside from the feature there is the Foxhunter, three of the week's toughest handicaps and two Grade 1 hurdles which have had a tendecy to throw up a surprise or two over the years.
To begin at the beginning and what - famous last words - may be the most straightforward to unravel, the Triumph Hurdle. The market here is dominated by a quartet of runners who stand out ahead of the rest on form, with for once the British-trained candidates looking to have the edge over their Irish counterparts. However, the striking thing about Allmankind, Goshen, Solo and Aspire Tower is that all four have been front runners, the first two in particular making the most of their stamina from the front.
Goshen is undoubtedly a smart young hurdler, but his jumping right is a concern on a left-handed track and the possibility the ground won't be testing enough is a worry too. Allmankind has a similar level of form, a revelation in three starts over hurdles, clearly never faced with a test sufficient to bring out his stamina in his Flat career. He's been a free-goer in all his hurdles to date but he stayed on really strongly in the mud at Chepstow last time.
Solo made a really taking British debut when winning the Adonis at Kempton, so impressive, in fact, that his being supplemented for the Champion Hurdle was floated. He pulled his way to the front when winning unchallenged at Auteuil on his previous start and is much more likely than the other three of the market leaders to adapt his style successfully. Solo looks the right favourite at this point.
Aspire Tower has also been out forcing the pace in his races, though whether he would have won at Leopardstown last time is questionable. He fell at the last, seemingly leaving the race to Cerberus, who had been runner-up to Allmanlkind at Chepstow. However, Cerberus idled in front and allowed A Wave of The Sea to come from well off the pace and land the Grade 1 prize.
That was the third meeting between A Wave of The Sea and Cerberus and there isn't a lot between them on form. Both are still also in the Boodles, but so do most of the Triumph entries that have run three times. With the way the race is almost certain to be run, a strong stayer from off the pace with plenty of experience looks what is required and A Wave of The Sea fits that bill at 14.5. Hopefully trainer Joseph O'Brien sees things the same way.
Redford set for leading role in Albert Bartlett
The other Grade 1 hurdles, the Albert Bartlett for staying novices has thrown up some big-priced winners in recent years. It is such a singular race, that form from earlier in the season, almost always in far more steadily-run races, doesn't always hold up. If conditions are testing then the smart chaser Ramses de Teillee, who has done so well since switching back to hurdles as a Grand National prep, would be very interesting. He will just keep galloping and others will just crack against such an experienced runner.
However, the current weather forecast is tending away from a mudbath for the Festival, so Ramses de Teillee may not be so effective. In the circumstances, one that looks a bigger price than he should be is Redford Road. He looked one of the best staying novices around when winning the Bristol Novices' over the same course and distance as the Albert Bartlett in December. He dropped back in trip and was turned out too soon when well held next time, but it's the earlier run on which to judge him.
Redford Road looks like he will be well suited by the demands of this race, he's been given a break since that last run and this race is his only Festival entry, unlike so many of the others.
Champagne to finish? Well, would be nice
With no plans to ever again have a bet in the Foxhunter, let's conclude with three impossible handicaps. The Martin Pipe, the new 'getting-out stakes' for 2020, is a hard race to know just what might run, with Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins block entering. Of the top 24 in the weights (those currently guaranteed a run), these powerhouse stables have 15 of the entries. Last year's fourth Champagne Court, who made the cut off a BHA mark of 126, is currently at no 85 in the list, despite a mark 8 lb higher.
One horse that is closer to being sure of a run than most is Champagne Well. He has a handful of other entries, but they are races where he's either flying too high or not going to get in. Therefore, hopefully, the Martin Pipe is the plan. Champagne Well hasn't had many chances in races of this type, but was a good third in the EBF Final a year ago. Since then he's been overfaced in graded novices for the most part, including behind Redford Road in the Bristol and Ramses de Teillee at Doncaster last time. His stamina ran on empty in the latter and the drop back in trip in a well-run race ought to be right up his street.
Greaneteen, unbeaten over fences, looks the right favourite for the Grand Annual. So, finally, the County Hurdle, where Harambe looks an interesting candidate. Harambe has had three runs in big-field handicaps so far. He was runner-up to Getaway Trump in the valuable novice event at Sandown last April, won the Greatwood on his second start back this, then was closing when brought down at the last in the Betfair Hurdle. That last run suggests he's still on a competitive mark and the New course at Cheltenham, on which the County is run, ought to suit him ideally.
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A Wave of The Sea at 14.5 in the Triumph Hurdle
Harambe at 36.035/1 in the County Hurdle
Redford Road at 28.027/1 in the Albert Bartlett
Champagne Well at 28.027/1 in the Martin Pipe