By Johnny Ward at Cheltenham
Perhaps what makes Cheltenham most special is that every year feels the same but different, in that something is certain to tug at our emotions, whatever the source and reasoning.
The vicissitudes of the game were emphasised in Ruby Walsh’s Festival 2018 story, the book that wasn’t half its intended length.
Then we had Keith Donoghue break down in tears after getting off the mark here on Tiger Roll, telling afterwards of his quest to lose 8lb in the 24 hours before a race that is hardly straightforward for a jockey operating at natural weight.
This is a special place for riders, trainers, owners, punters and anyone who graces it. We shall try to make it all the more special with a few final-day winners.
1.30: Saldier at a general 12-1
I have made the argument for some time that if Sadlier had been trained in Ireland by someone with a similarly small profile to his former handler in France, he would have been a fair bit shorter in the wagering for this race.
His Flat efforts read better than nearly anyone in this Triumph, though it is true that Ruby Walsh had chosen Stormy Ireland before his injury.
Even so, there are very many reasons to be positive about Rich Ricci’s challenger, who had little to beat ultimately at Gowran but cruised to success.
The ground will be fine for him and his sire, Soldier Hollow, has had Festival success with Sadlier's stablemate Arctic Fire.
Apple’s Shakira carries a great deal of confidence and the sister to Apple’s Jade may prove to be the star many think that she is, but Saldier could prove very smart too.
2.10: Sandsend at 14-1 with William Hill
Sandsend is only a five-year-old and quite how he will take to this helter-skelter test remains to be seen but the plus-side of it all is that he has scope to improve a good deal off a manifestly workable mark.
The form of his victory over Forge Meadow, a hardy mare, at Naas was nicely boosted when she subsequently won another Grade Three at Gowran.
She numbered the selection's stablemate Lagostovegas among her victims then, though I expect that one to do better on this less testing terrain.
Sandsend showed an excellent attitude at the County Kildare track, which has a stiff finish too, and stable ally Dolciano Dici, who was a bad fourth, is well-regarded.
Forge Meadow is now rated 146 in Ireland, which would equate to approximately 150 in Britain, so a case can certainly be made for the Mullins-trained son of Turgeon.
3.30: Our Duke at a general 5-1
I backed Our Duke after he won the Irish Grand National last year for this race.
Things have not gone entirely to plan since but his Gowran win, by a length, over Presenting Percy, when giving him 7lb, sets him up perfectly for this.
Our Duke can make the odd mistake but it does, as his trainer says, seem to be down to concentration.
This should be fairly straightforward in terms of tactics, and with a lead off the likes of Native River and Might Bite, he can lob away under Robbie Power.
Our Duke’s performance, considering his novice status, at Fairyhouse last Easter was pretty sensational. A strapping horse, his chance has not worsened appreciably because of the ground, and he is far more predictable than Might Bite.
4.50: Carter McKay at a general 16-1
Carter McKay is not unlike Sandsend in his inexperience but he could potentially be even better-in.
When he beat West Coast Time at Naas last year, he seemed a potential star, such that he was just 11-2 in the Cheltenham Bumper against 21 rivals when disappointing.
He hacked up on his hurdles debut and, after a fair run behind Getabird and Mengli Khan (which seemed to even disappoint his trainer), he stepped up nicely to go down by under three lengths in Grade One class at the Dublin Racing Festival.
That was not the strongest of top-rung events, but this trip could be perfect and surely he has more to give. Jamie Bargary rates a pretty exotic booking.
Gordon Elliott clearly targets this race and Sire Du Berlais was an eye-catcher at Fairyhouse, although the handicapper has not missed him.
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