Cheltenham Festival News

Cheltenham Festival: Lydia Hislop's top tips for Friday

By Lydia Hislop@LydiaHislop
Fri 17 Mar 2023

Followers of award-winning broadcaster and Road To Cheltenham presenter Lydia Hislop cheered home three tastily-priced winners on Wednesday. Can she keep up the good work for the final day of the Festival. And below, watch what she and Ruby Walsh had to say about the first two days of action.

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1.30 JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 179y

Preview-circuit yak that built in misguided momentum from a non-committal Closutton line that Paul Townend could ride Blood Destiny over Lossiemouth proved to be just that. Beware the yakety-yak! Now we know the stable jockey to this meeting’s leading trainer has definitively chosen the mare, the advantage of her 7lb sex allowance looks even more stark.

The remaining question for Lossiemouth is the stiff ask of 2m1f on the New Course for juveniles, as all the races she has so far encountered in Ireland have failed to test her stamina. She was undoubtedly unlucky in defeat against stablemate Gala Marceau in the Spring Juvenile when Danny Mullins ensured first run just before Townend’s mount suffered the first of two separate items of interference and had to circle the field to deliver her challenge.

The price disparity between these two mares is greater than their relative ability – it wouldn’t be a total surprise if Gala Marceau were able to achieve a second result against her better-fancied stablemate. Her Achilles heel is her keenness but her rider might have more scope to find her cover here. Ambitiously, I’m going to take her in a reverse forecast with the favourite.

Blood Destiny is talented but will need to smarten up his jumping. Nusret and Jazzy Matty have franked his Fairyhouse form, the former by winning the Adonis and the latter the Boodles Fred Winter here on Tuesday. Jazzy Matty was the only horse who tried to keep tabs on the winner that day and paid the price of being beaten further into fifth.

The collateral line linking the top three in the Triumph betting can be literally read to favour Blood Destiny, however, as Nusret was beaten further by the gelding at Fairyhouse than by the favourite at Leopardstown even though his connections believe him better right-handed.

Of the more unexposed types, another Willie Mullins-trained runner might be of interest in the long term. Je Garde makes her debut for the yard as a maiden in a Grade One, having made a decent debut in France – jumping well bar one flight, albeit shifting right, and keeping on strongly for third after charging to the front after the first. Expect her to keep to the highest company this season and, unless she wins one, to turn up in next year’s Dawn Run.

Back now: Reverse forecast Lossiemouth-Gala Marceau

Lydia and Ruby on day two

2.10 McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m 179y

Filey Bay is clearly better than his mark but his jumping is flawed and this will be more frenetic than the Betfair Hurdle, in which those mistakes cost him against ultra-reliable front-running Aucunrisque.

Top-weight and dual Champion Hurdle runner-up Sharjah has been given a chance to emulate his former stable companion Arctic Fire, who won this race in 2017 in similar circumstances in this race, but his regression may have outpaced the help given to him by the BHA handicapper. He has jumped poorly and hung this season.

GIN COCO has been my long-term fancy for this race but the rain is a complicating factor. He never quite got competitive when second in the Greatwood, talented I Like To Move It (not see to best effect in the Champion Hurdle) dominating the race from the front – and the omitted hurdles only exacerbated his superior track position. As he’s been laid out for this, I’m going to risk him anyway.

PEMBROKE shaped as though dropping back to two miles would suit when second to Rock My Way in graded company over 2m4f here in January and trainer Dan Skelton’s record in this race is outstanding.

If you fancy an each-way shout at a massive 50/1, last year’s Champion Hurdle fifth (promoted to fourth on the subsequent disqualification of Zanahiyr) Glory And Fortune makes some appeal. He was gently reintroduced to hurdles last time after again hating chasing. The rain is a negative for him, too, however.

_Back now: Pembroke at 8/1 with various bookmakers _

Gin Coco at 9/1 with various bookmakers

Lydia and Ruby on day one

2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 7f 213y

This is a deeply competitive race – and one that seems to have changed in character in recent years, with a greater number of classier prospects lining up.

I’m happy with this column’s ante-post position on Hiddenvalley Lake, albeit the early price was clearly not a steal. He drifted after being beaten by talented stable companion Monty’s Star at Clonmel last month but has since tightened up again after analysts had time to reflect that he was conceding 6lb and probably wasn’t best suited by making his own running.

The winner had previously shown plenty of raw ability behind Shanbally Kid at Navan and would have been better suited by right-handed Clonmel, where inexperienced maiden Search For Glory also shaped well in third. He’s been talked up by both the Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown teams on the preview circuit.

Progressive Corbetts Cross has been allowed to take his place – apparently not a certainty after he ran so recently at Naas, beating a very talented rival over an inadequate trip. He was identified to Road To Cheltenham viewers by Ruby Walsh at an early stage and a super price.

Both Three Card Brag and Dawn Rising will be suited by stepping up to three miles for the first time, so further improvement can be expected, whereas Favori De Champdou and Embassy Gardens have already showed their ability at the trip. Sandor Clegane is not certain to like it.

Of the British team, Weveallbeencaught is better judged on his Cheltenham defeat of Rock My Way – since franked by the runner-up’s graded success here – than his Dublin Racing Festival defeat. Expect Stay Away Fay to build on his narrow Doncaster defeat, where this raw horse was crowded and unable to gallop or jump freely in the straight. I think the Irish have this, however.

Already advised on 14/12/22: Hiddenvalley Lake at 8/1 for the Albert Bartlett

Ruby Walsh advised on 19/01/23: Corbetts Cross at 25/1 for the Albert Bartlett

3.30 Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1) 3m 2f 70y

I have no doubt Galopin Des Champs will stay the Gold Cup trip, even though he is yet to try it and his first attempt at three miles over fences – in the Irish Gold Cup victory last time out – came in a steadily run race that did not test his stamina.

One of the hallmarks of that victory was the amount of ground he put between himself and the rest of the field in the straight. It has been argued Stattler was keeping on just as strongly but that stablemate held a more advantageous forward position during the race and was woefully outpaced by the winner from two out. Winning a Gold Cup relies on pace – the ability to hold a good pitch – as well as stamina; placing in a Gold Cup does not. That’s the difference between them.

I’ve been impressed this season that Team Mullins has managed to retain Galopin Des Champs' potency whilst curbing his over-enthusiasm. He used to gallop too keenly to consent to patient tactics, and he was too eager to attack at his fences than is appropriate for a nascent Gold Cup winner. That he coped error-free with Fury Road cannoning into him on take-off at the last at Leopardstown spoke volumes for his maturity.

Bravemansgame should be his main danger, as his King George triumph is the best single item of form this season. This horse has grown into himself, too, as a chaser, meaning that references to his lesser effort in the 2021 Ballymore on his sole previous outing at this track hold diminishing relevance.

However, he will need to translate the rhythm he finds on flat tracks – showcasing his technically brilliant jumping – to this undulating exercise. After his Kempton success, both Harry Cobden and Paul Nicholls also referred to him needing space in his races. That’s a luxury he may not be allowed in a Gold Cup, or else it could push him compromisingly wide and away from the fresh strip of ground reserved for this race by Jon Pullen’s grounds team at Cheltenham.

Ahoy Senor should have the opportunity to control this race from the front, if he gets into an early rhythm – or as close to such a thing as his klutzy jumping permits – because the only other pace angle is the not-good-enough Eldorado Allen. We probably still don’t yet know the summit of Ahoy Senor’s ability and this track/trip will suit him ideally (a rarity in Britain’s entire graded calendar), but your heart will be in your mouth at some fences.

Noble Yeats shaped menacingly behind him in the Cotswold Chase and the re-application of cheekpieces by trainer Emmet Mullins should enable the Grand National winner to hold a more competitive pitch when the race gets going. However, whether that will be enough for such a strong stayer in a likely even-run Gold Cup remains a doubt.

Dan Skelton has admitted to some professional embarrassment in not having last year’s third Protektorat – closer bar for a last-fence error – fitter in the Cotswold Chase and therefore clearly expects a big improvement. It will be needed. Under instructions, Sean Quinlan pressed on too soon on Cotswold runner-up Sounds Russian and this improving stayer can out-run odds of 33/1.

The rain is a positive for last year’s fifth Royale Pagaille, who has a nasty habit of knocking into himself when he races, but he’s not good enough. Conflated must prove his stamina, both his three-mile wins recorded in steadily run races, but he finds the Ryanair too sharp. I worry he might fall betwixt and between, but this race has been his season’s priority. Hewick is progressive but the rain is a negative and this would be his first step outside graded company in Europe.

The imponderable is, of course, A Plus Tard – the brilliant titleholder who has endured a dreadful season. He raced abjectly in the Betfair Chase – a race he had blitzed 12 months earlier – with an infection picked up on the journey blamed. He then knocked a joint when scheduled to run in the Savills Chase, so what ability he retains must be taken on trust.

However, in contrast to the earlier part of the season, Henry de Bromhead again has his team in top form for Cheltenham – as demonstrated by Honeysuckle’s memorable success in the Mares’ Hurdle, Captain Guinness’s unexpected Champion Chase second and Maskada’s Grand Annual win. That makes the recent positive vibes for A Plus Tard more credible – and his Gold Cup win remains a bit better form than anything his leading rivals have done this season.

That brings stablemate and Cheltenham specialist Minella Indo into the argument, too. He won the 2021 Gold Cup and 2019 Albert Bartlett, but also finished second in this last year and second in the 2020 Brown Advisory – an outstanding record at the meeting. Stattler conceded both superior track position and 8lb when narrowly beaten by him at Tramore, but it said there’s much life in the ten-year-old yet.

Already advised on 01/12/22: Ahoy Senor at 25/1 for the Boodles Gold Cup

Ruby Walsh advised on 01/12/22: Noble Yeats at 66/1 for the Boodles Gold Cup

4.10 St. James's Place Festival Hunters' Chase 3m 2f 70y

I don’t follow Point-to-Point and Hunter Chase form as closely as others, so I will point you to resident expert Jonathan Neesom’s ante-post contribution to our Road To Cheltenham series which you can watch below.

4.50 Mrs Paddy Power Mares' Chase 2m ½f

Allegorie De Vassy presents an extreme riding challenge for Paul Townend. She is surely the most talented mare lining up in this race, but she does jump right, sometimes wildly right. Rather than have a bet in such circumstances, I’d rather enjoy watching this demand of sporting skill.

Colreevy won this despite adjusting right two years ago but the combination of superb ridership and towering superiority is surely required for a horse whose proclivities are as marked as this favourite. Think Mount Ida when managing to snatch the 2021 Kim Muir compared with her performance when seventh in this last year.

I worry these fences might be something of an effort for Impervious, who’s more than held her own against geldings this season. Mind you, I feared the same about Elimay prior to her second to Colreevy two terms back – and she won it last year. Elimay has got to bounce back from an under par and interrupted campaign, however.

Jeremys Flame is solid and trounced the best of British, Zambella, at Huntingdon last time. There was more from last year’s runner-up Pink Legend last time out, after a hitherto abject campaign. Magic Daze is too headlong for this. Riviere D’Etel jumps right but has apparently received some back treatment. I could swear that was said of Mount Ida last year...

Recommendation: No bet.

5.30 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (0-145) 2m 4f 56y

The booking of Mikey O’Sullivan, the star conditional who landed a first-day Festival double with Marine Nationale and Jazzy Matty, for SPANISH HARLEM looks portentous. I’ve also noticed Ruby Walsh has started to mention this horse in dispatches in recent weeks.

Following the Galopin Des Champs and State Man system – even though my Road To Cheltenham co-presenter vehemently denies there is such a handicap snip among Team Mullins this year – I’m siding with that horse. He has the form, too, of course – having shaped particularly well behind Three Card Brag at Fairyhouse on his penultimate start.

I also like COOL SURVIVOR, who ran creditably when fourth to Good Land in the Grade One Nathaniel Lacy last time out, shaping as though he needed a step up in trip or at least a drop in grade. He gets the latter here and a strongly run race over this trip might prove ideal.

Back now: Spanish Harlem at 9/2 with various firms

Cool Survivor at 11/2 with various firms

The ante-post Road To Cheltenham portfolio:


Advised 01/12/22: Ahoy Senor at 25/1 for the Boodles Gold Cup with various bookmakers.

Advised 14/12/22: Hiddenvalley Lake at 8/1 for the Albert Bartlett with Bet365 or William Hill.

Advised 05/01/23: The Real Whacker at 12/1 for the Brown Advisory with Paddy Power or Coral.

Advised 19/01/23: Impaire Et Passe at 6/1 for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle with various firms.

Advised 26/01/23: Banbridge each-way at 20/1 for the Sporting Life Arkle with various firms.

Advised 11/03/23: Rare Edition to win the Sky Bet Supreme at 25/1 with various firms


Advised 01/12/22: Noble Yeats at 66/1 for the Boodles Gold Cup with William Hill.

Advised 19/01/23: Corbetts Cross at 25/1 for the Albert Bartlett with Coral or Ladbrokes.

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