THE fourth and final day is often an attempt to 'get out of jail' after a poor week of selections or in contrast, to 'bow out in style' after flooring the bookies all week!
The Irish have dominated this festival like no other, reinforcing the fact that such strength and depth of equine quality has never been higher in this country.
We kick off today’s card with a stellar renewal of the Triumph Hurdle where I cannot look beyond Zanahiyr.
Tritonic carries the main hopes of the home team following an impressive display at Kempton but the manner of Zanahiyr’s performance at Leopardstown is unrivalled. Twice he met Saint Sam and twice he knocked him out of the park – yet that horse was good enough to finish second in Wednesday’s Boodles Fred Winter.
Of the others, Quilixios is a horse for whom I have ample admiration but Zanahiyr does look another level. Today’s card is tricky but I think this horse is today’s banker.
The first running of the Mrs Paddy Power Mares Chase will be interesting with Irish-trained horses holding all the aces in this pack. Recent Naas winner Elimay is likely to be a warm order here, along with her stablemate Colreevy. The latter is a Grade 1 winner in the bumper and novice chase divisions but I would question whether the ground is drying out too much and if that might hinder her chances.
Elimay comfortably beat the re-opposing Shattered Love at Naas last time (conceding 5lbs) and was a close second to Allaho at Thurles on her penultimate start. That form should suffice here but I would also have serious respect for Jessica Harrington’s Magic Of Light who is actually the highest-rated mare in the race off 156.
I’m siding with Elimay but considering this is the inaugural running of this race, it has attracted a star-studded line-up!
The County Hurdle is a minefield, but I do like a horse for an each-way selection. Éclair De Beaufeu was just beaten by Chosen Mate in the Grand Annual at last year’s festival off 149 but now reverting to hurdles, it seems he could potentially be very well handicapped.
His hurdles mark of 135 looks attractive considering his figure of 153 over fences and while this is far from an exact science, a differential of 18lbs could make all the difference in this type of race.
So can we cap the week be capturing the golden nugget? The Gold Cup is the aim for every national hunt horse from conception to conclusion. Today’s race features four Irish runners – all Grade 1 winners and three of them former festival conquerors.
Our team captain is reigning champion Al Boum Photo, a horse that most of us can’t seem to surmise all that well. Twice a winner of this race and seeking to become the first Irish trained horse to complete the Gold Cup hat-trick since Arkle, Al Boum Photo comes here as the most reliable and steadfast horse in the race – hence the favourite’s tag!
Twelve months ago, Al Boum Photo and Paul Townend overcame a slow pace to beat Santini and while that same rival re-opposes this afternoon, I think his main rivals come from closer to home.
She teams up with Henry de Bromhead’s A Plus Tard, the same horse who beat Chacun Pour Soi over two miles and proved he stayed the Gold Cup trip when catching Kemboy and Melon in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
He’s a previous Cheltenham Festival winner, is still only a seven-year-old and must be considered a serious threat to the Mullins horse.
Champ, Kemboy, Royale Pagaille and Minella Indo are others with serious credentials but I’m siding with Rachael Blackmore to cap what has already been a wonderful week by winning the biggest race of them all. Rachael Blackmore isn’t just a woman or even a jockey. She’s a real-life sporting superhero.
Race 1: Zanahiyr.
Race 2: Éclair De Beaufeu.
Race 3: Stattler.
Race 4: A Plus Tard.
Race 5: Porlock Bay.
Race 6: Elimay.
Race 7: Gentleman De Mee.