Simon Rowlands has been in fine form this week with two 11/1 and an 8/1 winner and has four selections on Gold Cup day at the Cheltenham Festival.
Before you know it, the 2023 Cheltenham Festival will be over. Friday sees its conclusion, but if some had their way the event that many look forward to for nearly 365 days would have drawn to a close already.
Personally, I am a fan of the four-day format, which mixes championship races with ultra-competitive handicaps, and which has occasional changes of tempo more than padding as such. I have very little interest in the Hunters’ Chase, for instance, but for some, it is everything.
That race comes at 4.10 on the final day, by when we will know the identity of the 2023 Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.30) winner. I am hoping it is the same as the 2022 winner, A PLUS TARD.
Twelve months ago, A Plus Tard was simply brilliant in winning chasing’s blue riband by 15 lengths from Minella Indo, but plenty of water has flowed under the bridge, and been administered liberally by Clerks of The Courses, since.
Most importantly, A Plus Tard has run just once, though the word “run” might fall foul of the Trade Descriptions Act given that he was well held when pulled up in the Betfair Chase at Haydock. As a reminder that he is not just a one-hit wonder, A Plus Tard had won that prestigious race by 22 lengths from Royale Pagaille 12 months before.
He is talented if seemingly rather fragile, managing just three runs in each of the previous three seasons, but when he is on form he is as good a chaser as there is around. A Plus Tard is a big enough price to side with to come good again.
He has plenty of serious rivals, but none that he could not handle at his best. Galopin Des Champs is favourite to make amends for his desperately bad luck in the Turners here 12 months ago, and is high-class.
But the Irish Gold Cup he won at Leopardstown last time rather fell apart I thought, with the good handicapper The Big Dog disputing the lead when falling two out and Fury Road stopping late on having looked like taking some beating.
Galopin Des Champs powered up the run-in to win by eight lengths, and should get the extra quarter of a mile here without necessarily improving for it. But that Irish Gold Cup was a somewhat stop-start affair and did not suit the staying-on runner-up Stattler.
Bravemansgame was a convincing winner of the King George VI Chase at Kempton when last seen, while Conflated took a rather soft Savills Chase at Leopardstown just before the turn of the year. Both horses may not thrive as three miles turns into three miles and two furlongs late in the day.
There is enough strength in depth here, with all 13 declared runners having basic ratings of 160 or higher on my figures (see the fair odds line below), that we should get a result of some substance, if nothing else.
Ground and handicap mark gives Pembroke a great chance
Friday’s card gets under way with the Triumph Hurdle (1.30), a race I usually try to crack, much more often at my expense than the bookmakers’. I am going to be leaving it alone this year but have come round to thinking that Blood Destiny is the likeliest winner given how his form is holding up. There are more than the usual number of unknown quantities lurking at big prices.
I am prepared to have a crack at the formidable big-field handicap that is the County Hurdle 2.10, however, because I make PEMBROKE well-handicapped still.
It was difficult to say for sure that he failed to stay at this course last time, but he did not quite run to his best, in my view, and returns to two miles now. Soft ground should be fine for him, and he just has the 25 rivals to beat.
I am also going to stick with my long-term fancy for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (2.50), EMBASSY GARDENS, despite him being rather weak in the market of late.
The Willie Mullins-trained gelding beat nothing of note in a novice hurdle at Thurles last time but scored by half the run-in and looked transformed by the longer trip and a bit more experience under his belt.
Three Card Brag is a significant rival, the others perhaps less so, but Embassy Gardens is almost double the odds of that one at the time of writing.
JEREMYS FLAME has been my fancy for the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase (4.50) for a while now, and she is still a reasonable (rather than a give-away) price.
It is not that I don’t rate the two market leaders Allegorie de Vassy and Impervious, but the former seems a work in progress, and between them they take a lot out of the market.
The selection is long-established as smart, and reminded us as much when beating Zambella easily at Huntingdon last time. Jeremys Flame carried a small penalty that day but does not here while her two main rivals do. Such little things may count when the chips are down.
No thanks where the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (5.30) is concerned: having a swing at one big-field handicap a day is as much as I feel comfortable. The bad news is that there is one extra day to wait until the next Cheltenham Festival as 2024 will be a leap year.
Simon’s Day Four selections
2.10 County Hurdle – PEMBROKE (1pt each-way)
2.50 Albert Bartlett – EMBASSY GARDENS (1pt win)
3.30 Gold Cup – A PLUS TARD (1pt win)
4.50 Mares’ Chase – JEREMYS FLAME (1pt each-way)