By Andy Stephens
The final day of the Cheltenham Festival presents probably the toughest puzzles of the whole week with 147 runners declared. Only seven can win so each-way plays look the way to go, starting with:
Willie Mullins runs five and Sandsend looks his No 1 contender.
The grey was having only the third start of his career - and second for the stable - when winning the Grade Three Limestone Lad Hurdle on heavy ground at Naas last time and fits into the “could be anything” category.
His lack of experience is a niggle but the form has already been franked - the runner-up is a decent yardstick and has gone on better in another Grade Three event - and a mark of 145 may underestimate him.Our Duke is fancied to outstay his Gold Cup rivals (PA)
This has been billed as the most open Gold Cup for years and the bookmakers are going 5-1 the field but with the ground riding so deep I’m not sure it is quite as open as it looked a couple of years ago.
Putting a line through all the doubtful stayers reduces the options and, given the conditions, the two who make most appeal are Our Duke and Native River.
My vote goes to Our Duke, who looked bound for the top when thrashing his rivals off a mark of 153 in the Irish Grand National last season.
The eight-year-old is peaking at just the right time, too, to judge by his defeat of Presenting Percy in the Red Mills Chase last time. He was conceding 7lb over a trip well short of his best and the form has a glow after the runner-up’s fluent victory in the RSA Chase on Wednesday.
Few will look further than Burning Ambition, who is already useful and has plenty of untapped potential, but the 25-1 offered about Barel Of Laughs upstaging him looks far too big.
Philip Rowley’s 12-year-old has almost reached the veteran stage now but he ran a cracker when third in this race last year, beaten just half a length, and returned to Cheltenham in May to win an attritional 12-runner contest when he and the runner-up pulled 48 lengths clear.
He has not run under Rules since but fitness will not be an issue, he won a point-to-point in snug style at Bangor recently, and he is a thorough stayer who is likely to cope with the demanding conditions better than most.
Regular rider Alex Edwards will be on his back.
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Between them Gordon Elliott, Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins have ten of the 26 runners. It has been that kind of Festival.
The one who jumps off the page is Henderson’s Diese Des Bieffes, who was a close fifth in a red-hot renewal of the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton last time and has more to offer.
That form was boosted again yesterday when the winner, William Henry, and Topofthe game, who was fourth, finished fourth and second respectively in the Coral Cup.
This is a weaker race than that and Diese Des Bieffes is only 2lb higher with the excellent James Bowen in the saddle. The one niggle is the ground - he has never run on anything deeper than soft - but that is offset by his price.
It was less than a year ago that Townshend started 8-1 for a Grade One contest at the Punchestown Festival and he was moving with menace when falling five out.
He won his next two races in taking style but, since then, has been operating under the radar - including last time when seventh of 20 under a considerate ride at Leopardstown last month.
Townshend will arrive her fresher than most and, at 20-1, is a big price to end the meeting in style for the dominant Mullins camp.
How To Bet £20 on the final day of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival:
2.10: Sandsend £2.50 each-way at 14-1 with William Hill
3.30: Our Duke £4 win at a general 5-1
4.10: Barel Of Laughs £2 each-way at 25-1 with William Hill
4.50: Diese Des Bieffes £2 win and £1 each-way at a general 8-1
5.30: Townshend £1.50 each-way at a general 25-1
35p each-way Super Yankee plus 90p each-way accumulator on the five horses above
Select any odd to add a bet