TC's four tips for day four at Cheltenham
If this rain continued to any serious degree - it may not be shovelling it down but it is lingering - then the Gold Cup at 15:30 promised to be a case of which horse can roll their sleeves up and slug it out best in the ground.
That would have brought the likes of tough mudders Protektorat, Royale Pagaille and Sounds Russian into the equation - more of the latter in a moment - but, whatever the weather does, I am hoping class will win out and that means A Plus Tard, and not the favourite Galopin Des Champs, winning.
And, looking at the latest, improved forecast on Thursday morning, it may actually be good to soft ground on Friday - 2mm is currently due today and tomorrow - as we all know how quickly Cheltenham dries out.
A Plus Tard to answer million dollar question
To put it simply, if A Plus Tard, whose Festival record is something to behold, returns to the form of his unnaturally good 15-length win from Minella Indo in this race last year then he is surely odds-on to win, even allowing for the potential, and the coming force, that is Galopin Des Champs.
Last year's victory earned Henry de Bromhead's star (well the male star) a rating of 180 and that will take some topping here.
Whether he will, or can, replicate that run is obviously the million dollar question as his season has been a total write-off after an abysmal run in the Betfair Chase in November, followed by missing a run over Christmas with a knocked joint.
But you are a brave punter indeed if you have been laying him at 10/1+ on the Betfair Exchange in the lead up to the Festival.
I basically think he has been the wrong price ever since he drifted to 12/1 in a place after the Haydock run and I have been nibbling away at him on the Betfair Exchange recently (nothing major, mind you).
You have to have him onside, win-only, at 8.88/1 or bigger, blow-out potential or not, even if his price has shortened a touch in the last 24 hours.
I could be wrong but I doubt they'd be bringing him here to embarrass himself, though of course the racecourse is the only true barometer of well-being. The form of the yard this week is a plus of sorts, though.
One thing I would say is that the late Betfair Exchange market has been wild and impossible to predict this week, so he could go off at 4/1 or 14/1!
Russian wants rain
I do think Sounds Russian will be worth an interest at 33/1+ on the Betfair Exchange (currently trading at 44.0 there) if they get more rain than is currently forecast. I won't put him up here, but keep an eye on the weather for him.
Two from two on heavy ground, and only out of the first two twice in his career (when encountering good to soft ground), he will relish underfoot conditions if it hammers down. He comes here after a career-best second to Ahoy Senor in the Cotswold Chase last time, a race in which he may have pressed on too soon from the front and paid for it late doors.
Of course, he needs to improve massively but this is only his 10th start over fences and he is a real strong stayer who will love any worsening conditions, and he could take a big leap forward here.
I imagine Sean Quinlan won't be so aggressive here as he was in the Cotswold, though there is a possibility for one jockey to take the bull by the horns given the lack of pace in the race.
But, like I said, I am keeping a watching brief on him as regards a bet for now.
Leave Triumph and Hunters' alone
Just the seven Willie Mullins runners in the Triumph Hurdle at 13:30 and I am not inclined to put up a bet.
Gala Marceau has the most obvious each-way chance at 9/2 after her defeat of Lossiemouth at the Dublin Racing Festival, though I wasn't expecting her to be sporting a first-time hood here.
She has been keen but it wasn't too much of a negative at Leopardstown, and Willie doesn't have a great record with this angle (25 from 139 in the past 10 years). The 9-2 each way does look a solid bet if you are so inclined, though.
I also won't be having a wager in the Hunters' Chase at 16:10 - in common with most punters, I simply don't have a good enough knowledge of all the horses. Mind you, The Storyteller, with his back class and cheekpieces, at 25s on Wednesday morning clearly interested a few and he is now into 20/1.
I am, however, having an interest, of varying sizes, in two of the other five contests.
I will say a good judge on Hunter Chases and point to points on Twitter (Darran Pearce) has been talking up the chances of Famous Clermont for a while now (and a couple of others), so make of that what you will.
Shock winner could solve County puzzle
I have rarely seen a harder handicap puzzle to solve than the County Hurdle at 14:10, so don't let anyone put you off a fancy of yours.
Unless there is another State Man in here, and Hunters Yarn could well be Willie's lurker this year, I think we are ripe for another shock and Faivoir at 50/1 each-way, six places, with the Betfair Sportsbook, fills my eye.
I was with him at a price in the Betfair Hurdle but whether it was the re-applied headgear (both runs in cheekpieces have been underwhelming, and they are left off here) and/or ground that Timeform called firm, he ran dismally at Newbury.
But the handicapper surprisingly dropped him 4lb for it (they could have easily ignored the run) and a mark of 134 leaves him seriously well weighted, some 11lb lower than his chase mark and 9lb lower than for his close Morebattle third just five starts ago.
He is a tricky sort but his form figures on soft or heavy ground - if required - read 12141334 and he ran well enough off 143 when a 13-length 11th of 26 in this race last season. Deeper ground here would suit his closing style, but equally he has winning form on good, so I am relaxed about the weather for him.
I'll also be having a few quid win-only on him on the Betfair Exchange as he is the type of horse to go off at three-figures there. Indeed he has already traded at 100+ to small sums.
Saint Palais could grind to victory
The 20-runner Albert Bartlett at 14:50 is not that much easier to solve. I was going to leave it alone as I can see why the money has arrived for Three Card Brag, Corbetts Cross looked an absolute weapon to do what he did over 2m last time, and Hiddenvalley Lake's second to stablemate Monty's Star, giving the winner 6lb, should not be underestimated.
And that's just three of the major contenders without even mentioning Embassy Gardens, just the small matter of a Willie Mullins runner who won by 35 lengths last time.
Corbetts Cross and Hiddenvalley Lake are the two that I like best at the top end - and I have had a bet on each to at least ensure I definitely don't lose on the race if they win - but if conditions do turn nastier then Saint Palais could well be a blast from the past.
In recent years, this race has gone to a classier type like Corbetts Cross but in days gone by you wanted an experienced grinder on your side and Saint Palais fits that bill.
He was in the process of returning to something approaching his best when falling at the last over hurdles at Haydock last time , his first start since a very disappointing run in November. He was rated 153 over fences when winning four from five last term (he went off 7/4 to beat Ahoy Senor and Noble Yeats in the Towton in his only defeat).
If this becomes a war of attrition, then he could be better equipped than most to deal with it as a winning 3m2f chaser, and at 60.059/1 or bigger then I will take my chances. He is 66s in the wider marketplace (the 80s was taken on Thursday morning), so I think that is s fair guide price to aim at.
His 153 chase rating is probably the purest form of ability on show here going into the race, although quite clearly he meets talented, unexposed hurdlers with far more upside.
Attractive win and place bet
On second thoughts, I am also going to put up Hiddenvalley Lake at 9/1 each-way, four places, with the Betfair Sportsbook.
He is better than he looked at Clonmel last time, having clocked a very good time at Cork previously. He is an attractive win and place bet. The first-time tongue-tie does invite questions, though.
In-running strategy for Mares' Chase
I outlined my strategy for the Mares' Chase at 16:50 in the Racing...Only Bettor Cheltenham Preview.
I will back Magic Daze at around 12/1 on the Betfair Exchange pre-race and look to lay her back in running at around 2/1 in running.
The reason being is that I think she has an excellent chance after her impressive defeat of Dinoblue over 2m at Naas - the runner-up ran well wen second off a mark of 140 in the Grand Annual on Wednesday - but you have to be worried about her lasting home over 2m4f.
She is a point winner over 3m and jockey Rachael Blackmore gives her a good chance of staying but the racecourse evidence suggests she may struggle to last home. That said, Magic Daze has the class to figure, she finished second in the mares' novices' hurdle here in 2021 over an extended 2m1f, so I am going to take my chances in a back-to-lay Betfair Exchange bet.
It is not really tip material, as it is a trading play, but that is the way I am playing it. The 12/1+ plus on Magic Daze on the Betfair Exchange in isolation is fair though, even with the stamina doubt, if you want to keep it simple.
I was definitely going to give the Martin Pipe - it is ridiculously competitive - a swerve and then the Betfair Sportsbook went 50/1 West To The Bridge, five places, and I pondered whether to stick him up as a small each-way bet at that price.
He was back to form at Sandown in deep ground last time and he still looks fairly treated under his 5lb penalty (he is still 2lb lower than for the start of the season).
For the sake of openness I have backed him to very small stakes but, as I did the last sweep of this copy on Thursday morning, I decided to opt out of him as a tip.
That Sandown win on bad ground is light years away from this handicap featuring younger, progressive types, he has no Cheltenham experience and he is the oldest horse in here at 10-years-old. And he would want a lot more rain than is forecast.
I hope I am wrong - well, kind of - but I have decided to swerve him at the last minute as a recommendation.
Good luck on the final day.
Racing... Only Better. Watch the Cheltenham Day 4 preview here.