NATIVE River has the ideal conditions to become a double Gold Cup (3.30) winner as Cheltenham’s 2019 festival draws to a close.
Colin Tizzard’s top chaser saw off Might Bite – back for another crack – last year and aims to become the first since Best Mate (2002-2004) to win in successive years. The trainer also has Welsh Grand National hero Elegant Escape and Thistlecrack in the line-up but it is Native who carries the main stable hopes.
King George Kempton victor Clan Des Obeaux has trainer Paul Nicholls purring with expectation while much focus will be on Pat Kelly’s dual festival winner Presenting Percy who makes his seasonal debut over fences in the big one, having taken last year’s RSA chase.
Percy is the main fancy from the Irish angle with Willie Mullins chasing his first success – second six times – with Kemboy, Bellshill, Al Boum Photo and Invitation Only. Willie boy is certainly trying and it would be no surprise to see Kemboy running a big race. But River, beaten by Bristol De Mai in Haydock’s Betfair Chase and well hammered behind Obeaux at Kempton, is better suited to Cheltenham’s demand and a real test of stamina which he’ll get here.
A sight setback should not stop Joseph O’Brien celebrating with the class Sir Erec in the Triumph Hurdle (1.30). The four-year-old won the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle in effortless fashion at Leopardstown and can give Mark Walsh his third winner this week. Erec is a class act with plenty of pace being a son of Camelot and out of a Gallileo mare and he can justify ‘Irish banker’ status.
The Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle (2.50) generally takes plenty of winning and one that should be thereabouts is Birkdale who won a point-to-point at Tyrella for Colin McKeever before being bought by JP McManus and moved to Nicky Henderson. Birkdale has won his first two hurdle events including the Grade 2 Ballymore Novice over course and distance back in January and can hold off the attention of Gordon Elliott’s Commander Of Fleet.
There could be an Ulster success in the Foxhunters’ Chase (4.10) with Larne’s Stuart Crawford running Coastal Diep. However, he has a bit to find to reverse the form with the favourite Stand Up And Fight -another JP runner – having finished a long way behind the latter at Down Royal.
Enda Bolger makes a habit of winning such races and with Derek O’Connor on board, Fight gets the vote ahead of Road To Rome unbeaten this season in four outings. Henderson would like nothing more than to win the race named after his later father, the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual (4.50). He has a firm chance with Whatswrongwithyou, winner of his last two but Brelan D’As for Paul Nicholls, got the better of him at Haydock earlier in the year and enjoys a 6lbs pull in the weights. Nicholls also has last year’s winner Le Prezien and the favourite Magic Saint involved but Brelan is just preferred.
Dallas Des Pictons’s form behind City Island was upheld with the latter winning the Supreme Novices and he can end the meeting on a winning note for Gordon Elliott in the Martin Pipe Handicap (5.30). Gordon won it last year with Blow To Blow and loves to win this race as he learned his trade under Pipe. Mr Adjudicator was backed to beat no less than Tuesday’s Champion Espoir D’Allen last time out at Nass and that must put him firmly in the picture for the County Hurdle for Mullins although Ruby Walsh prefers his other runner and favourite Whiskey Sour.
Selections: 1.20: Sir Erec (1.30); 2.10: Mr Adjudicator; 2.50: Birchdale; 3.30: Native River; 4.10: Stand Up And Fight; 4.50: Whatwrongwithyou; 5.30: Dallas Des Pictons.
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