It's been a fine Cheltenham for Tony Calvin's tips and the great man is looking to end the 2021 Festival in winning style with these four bets for Gold Cup day...
"As for the most likely winner, I would say it is A Plus Tard myself and he is a fair price at around 9/2 as he has everything you look for in a Gold Cup winner, bar the guaranteed stamina. But his Savills Chase win last time certainly hinted staying 3m2f wouldn't be an issue, especially on this ground."
Triumph a tough puzzle to solve
By the time you read this, Cheltenham may well have decided to water - the course will want to avoid a raft of non-runners if the ground is perceived by trainers to have dried out too much, and we got a fair few withdrawals on Thursday - and that would put a slightly different slant on Friday's proceedings.
But I am going to work on the basis of good ground for now, so let's kick off with the Triumph Hurdle at 13:20.
This race has a very similar shape to the Ballymore in that the front three in the betting have all achieved a high level of form and speed figures, and it is difficult to see anything else getting a look in.
That is probably tough on the likes of Adagio, and the Willie Mullins pair of Haut En Couleurs and Tax For Max are dangerous unexposed lurkers as well, but the big three look totally dominant to me. And the betting tells you as much.
The first-time tongue-tie would worry me were I a potential backer of the favourite Zanahiyr on his first start since Boxing Day - like the cheekpieces with Soaring Glory in the Supreme, it just an unwelcome variable - but he has looked mighty on the clock.
Tritonic has the style and plenty of substance, but Quilixios is probably the over-priced one at 9/2+ on the exchange.
An each-way bet on Quilixios was strongly considered and agonizingly rejected in the dead-eight, though that would be the way I would play the race if forced.
And I would do it in the exchange each-way market, as the original place terms stand there if there is a non-runner. Which isn't a million.
Éclair still looks tasty
Éclair De Beaufeu has been my fancy for the County Hurdle in recent days, but I thought he was a probable no-show when he drifted to 48.047/1 on the exchange ante-post market on Tuesday.
Someone obviously thought he wasn't rocking up as he had been a general 12/1 chance on the market beforehand, and that does concern me a little bit, I have to admit. Did he have an injury scare earlier in the week?
However, I have to proceed on the basis he is fit and well, so I am going to put him up at 9/1 each way, six places, with the Betfair Sportsbook.
The case for him is straightforward. He finished second in the Grand Annual last season off a mark of 149 and can race off 139 here despite the UK handicapper giving him an extra 4lb, the lovely fella.
That is still 14lb lower than his current chase mark and he was teed up nicely for this with a sixth at Leopardstown last month. He looks to have as strong a claim as any in the race.
He has plenty of form on decent ground and it is also worth noting he was still in the firing line (if weakening) when unseating at the last in this race in 2019. He actually traded at 1.84/5 in-running that day when striding clear rounding the final bend.
I have chucked a few quid on his former stablemate Mengli Khan at an average of just over 70.069/1 on the exchange as I think he is very well handicapped off 142 on his Irish form, he has shown a bit more in jumpers' bumpers recently and the cheekpieces he wore for Irish wins are back on.
I'll personally be very happy if he cops - so have a saver if you want - but Buildmeupbuttercup is my second tip and play in the race at 20/1 each way, six places.
She finished well behind the main selection at Leopardstown last time but she wasn't given anything like a hard time after travelling well throughout the race. Again, she shaped as though that was very much a prep for this, and little else.
She doesn't look obviously well treated off a career-high mark of 147 (the UK handicapper upped her 2lb) but this versatile mare will handle the ground perfectly well (she won a Listed hurdle at Gowran in October on good) and beat the decidedly useful, and mares' chase favourite, Elimay over fences on heavy a month later.
Buildmeupbuttercup is a smart stayer on the Flat and she also has Festival form, having finished fourth in this race last season, where she hit [2.1 in running] after cruising into contention approaching the last. Better ground could see her finish off her race more powerfully here on the run-in.
She is a bet at 16/1+.
No bet for a head-scratching Albert Bartlett
I have played Barbados Bucks and Fakiera ante-post in the Albert Bartlett at 14:30 - I put up the former in an ante-post column at 20/1 each way the day after his Kempton win last time - but this looks a total headscratcher now.
We have 17 runners, most of the field are unproven at the trip, while at the same time lightly-raced and probable improvers for it.
Little wonder the Betfair Sportsbook are offering five places! That is a very tempting offer for each-way players, but the problem is my shortlist is about 10 deep.
A Plus Tard my idea of the likely Gold Cup winner
I have backed Native River at 16s each way for the Gold Cup ante-post but the drying ground worries me as to his chances of rolling back the years and reclaiming his 2018 crown.
I do think his Sandown win last time represents the best staying chase form we have seen this season though, so hopefully he will be able strut his stuff.
I have no need to go in again.
As for the most likely winner, I would say it is A Plus Tard myself and he is a fair price at around 9/2 as he has everything you look for in a Gold Cup winner, bar the guaranteed stamina. But his Savills Chase win last time certainly hinted staying 3m2f wouldn't be an issue, especially on this ground.
I toyed with putting him up, but you don't need to have a bet just because it is a big race.
Still in Love with this mare
We can swiftly bypass the Hunters' Chase at 15:40 - and go straight to one of the biggest races of the week for me in ante-post betting terms.
I have been boring everyone senseless about Shattered Love's each way claims in the mares' chase for a while, and my confidence has increased as the race approached, even with the ground probably a touch livelier than ideal.
But one of her better efforts came on good to yielding ground when she chased home Snow Falcon at Down Royal back in 2018, and I hope and pray that isn't going to be an issue. Or, god forbid, she is pulled out.
This is one talented mare on her day, running away with a JLT here in 2018 (and she has also run Al Boum Photo to a length, and Min to 1 ½ lengths) and two of her efforts this season suggest the fire is still burning enough to see her home in front.
She clocked a decent time when beating Cabaret Queen 10 lengths off levels at Clonmel in November and I thought her run behind Elimay last time will have set up her perfectly for this.
Yes, she was beaten 5 ½ lengths getting 5lb from the favourite - whose previous Thurles second to Allaho was obviously given a big boost on Thursday - but that was her first start since December, having missed a race in January due to lameness and I thought she shaped very well indeed. She was a 9/4 chance in places in the morning and went off at a Betfair SP of 7.48, so I think that tells the tale there.
How one firm knocked her out to 25/1 after that run was beyond me.
I am backing her again at 15/2, each-way, three places. In for a penny, and all that. In fact, she remains a bet at 5/1+.
Get with Gabynako
The 5lb well-in Langer Dan has an obvious and considerable chance in the Martin Pipe but I am all over Gabynako in the finale.
I know he is a touch shorter than I like to play at in these handicaps - and he was a point bigger with the Sportsbook on Wednesday - but I think he is a very fair bet at 8/1 each way, five places.
He was yet another horse to have used Drop The Anchor's Leopardstown handicap as a stepping stone to Cheltenham last time, so I would totally ignore that run.
Let's just say, he could have shown more there, albeit he made a complete horlicks of the second and his jockey did well to stay on board.
The case for him rests elsewhere anyway, and that is his third to Bob Olinger and Blue Lord in a Grade 1 at Naas I January.
If he reproduces the form of that run, which came in a very good time, then he will take a fair bit of stopping off a mark of 141.
The UK handicapper has given him an extra 3lb but I hope he will be saying to himself he was 7lb too light on him after this race.
Just the four plays for me on Friday, as I don't see the need to push it if the bets are not there. Good luck.
I hope and trust you finish Cheltenham week on a high. More importantly, stay healthy.
Tony Calvin P&L
MARCH (not including Thursday's results):
2020 FLAT SEASON (June 1-November): +20.8
PREVIOUS P&L (April 14 2017 to Apr 1 2020): +303.4
NB: All recommended exchange bets are settled at Betfair SP, not at prices available at time of publishing.
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Click Bet Now to view the Triumph Hurdle odds where Zanahiyr is favourite at 2.56/4
Back Éclair De Beaufeu each-way (six places) in 13:55 at Cheltenham at 10.09/1
Back Buildmeupbuttercup in 13:55 at 20/1 each way, six places, at Cheltenham at 21.020/1
Back Shattered Love each-way in 16:15 at Cheltenham at 8.515/2
Back Gabynako in 16:50 at each-way, five places, at Cheltenham at 9.08/1