Cheltenham Festival: Friday: a whistle-stop guide

Trust in Djakadam to go one better than last year
Trust in Djakadam to go one better than last year

Asking the question: can they handle the break-neck speed and unique course of the Cheltenham Festival, Jack Houghton thinks the Gold Cup will go the way of last year's runner up...


"With last year's winner absent, and a weak looking Gold Cup outside of the first three in the betting, I'll be getting stuck into Djakadam"

JCB Triumph Hurdle

This looks a very tight race on paper, with a whole host of them having returned competitive handicap and speed ratings. An Aidan O'Brien representative obviously causes interest, but it's hard to justify the currently available odds of 6.25/1 on form alone, even if these conditions will suit him better. Zubayr's Kempton win reads well on the clock, but my preference is for the marginally faster showing by Sceau Royal over course and distance in December, who I will be backing at Betfair SP.


Vincent O´Brien County Handicap Hurdle

On first sight this is a terrifying race to approach, with so many runners offering difficult-to-interpret form. Take Montbazon. Twice placed at the Festival in 2012 and 2014, but rarely seen since, and with his best form not evident for nearly two years, he doesn't look the most reliable of punts. But when you consider that his last run showed signs of something approaching a return to form, that he is carrying very little weight, and that if he could get anywhere near the level he showed in those Festival outings the rest of these would be lengths behind him, his likely Betfair SP of over 30.029/1 looks big.


Albert Bartlett Novices´ Hurdle

Only one piece of Festival form on offer here, courtesy of Up For Review, but that run wasn't anything to write home about, so there have to be doubts about him being suited by this challenge. More interesting for me are Champers On Ice and Shantou Village, who have both run fast times on the course, albeit on very different ground to what they are likely to face here. A small split-stake interest is called for.


Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup

Although Cue Card and Don Cossack have returned - according to handicap ratings - marginally better performances in their careers than the best Djakadam has offered, it's notable that the latter-named saved his best when running second in this race last year, whereas the other two have both failed to return a speed or handicap rating at Cheltenham that is on a par with what they've done at other courses. With last year's winner absent, and a weak looking Gold Cup outside of the first three in the betting, I'll be getting stuck into Djakadam.


St. James´s Place Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup

I want Pacha Du Polder to win because I like Victoria Pendleton, but that's probably not the basis on which to have a bet.


Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys´ Handicap Hurdle

It's really hard to get excited about Squouateur's chances in this difficult race, especially at what looks like an unjustifiably short price of around 5.39/2. His string of wins have looked impressive, and suggests there is more to come, but he has yet to post a really good time in any of those races and might find the pace of this a bit of a shock to the system. Far more interesting is the more sensibly priced Qualando, who won the Fred Winter last year.


Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase Challenge Cup

Savello, Next Sensation and The Saint James have the best Festival form on offer here, and an interest in each can hopefully round off this year with bit a big-priced winner.


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