Barry Drake's Cheltenham tips: State Man banker material for County Hurdle

Lisgoold jockey Paul Townend will be in the saddle for Willie Mullins
Barry Drake's Cheltenham tips: State Man banker material for County Hurdle

State Man and Richie Deegan after winning the Limerick Maiden Hurdle. Picture: Healy Racing

STATE MAN rates banker material on the final day of the Cheltenham Festival and the Willie Mullins-trained runner can prove a class apart in the County Hurdle (2.10pm).

Lisgoold jockey Paul Townend has enjoyed some great wins already this week and this talented son of Doctor Dino should take the world of beating.

The ex-French gelding looked a likely winner when falling two out in a Leopardstown maiden before easily gaining compensation at Limerick last month. Running off a mark of 141, there’s no doubt he’s seriously well handicapped.

There’s plenty of whispers coming from the Mullins camp and the nap selection looks well up to landing the spoils.

Dan Skelton has a brilliant record in these big festival handicaps over the years, and this progressive performer West Cork has been kept fresh and lightly raced this winter to have a tilt at this.

He is well suited to a strong pace, helping him settle in the early stages of these huge field handicaps, and Harry Skelton will be looking to swoop late up the hill if enjoying any luck in running.

It can be a good day for team Mullins as Billaway can land the St James’s Place Hunters’ Chase. Second in the event last year, he’s had a really light campaign this time around and that should suit.

Second on debut when badly in need of the run, he impressed then next time, winning in style around Naas.

With further improvement likely, everything points towards a Billyaway win. Jockey Patrick Mullins was below his best on him last year and he will be keen to make no mistakes today.

We are going for another Mullins horse in the opener, Il Etait Temps is worth an each-way play in the JCB Triumph Hurdle (1.30pm). I spoke with jockey Danny Mullins for a recent Cheltenham preview and he filled me with confidence.

Runner-up in a 1½m bumper on the second of two starts in France and ran a huge race pitched straight in at the deep end on hurdling debut when third to Vauban at Leopardstown. Huge improvement is expected and he should definitely reach the frame.

Minella Indo and Jack Kennedy win for owner Barry Maloney and trainer Henry de Bromhead. Picture: Healy Racing
Minella Indo and Jack Kennedy win for owner Barry Maloney and trainer Henry de Bromhead. Picture: Healy Racing

The feature of the day, the Cheltenham Gold Cup looks wide open. Due off at 3.30pm, for me, it comes down to the Henry De Bromhead pair of A Plus Tard and Minella Indo. If forced into a bet, I would favour Minella Indo. He was brilliant when winning last year and he could well return to top form on a track he likes.

In other races, Elimay is of interest in the 4.50pm. Impressive so far this season, it will take a big performance to deny her.

TIPS

1.30pm: Il Etait Temps (EW)

2.10pm: State Man (NAP)

2.50pm: Ginto

3.30pm: Minella Indo

4.10pm: Billaway (NB)

4.50pm: Elimay

5.30pm: Hollow Games.

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