Get Your Teeth Into Might Bite
Friday, the fourth and final day of the superb Cheltenham Festival, includes the biggest race of the week, the Grade 1 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup (1530). It’s a race with a superb history and a role call featuring some of the most famous horses in jumps history: Arkle, Desert Orchid, Dawn Run, Best Mate, Denman and Kauto Star, among others.
This year’s renewal is set to be run on extremely testing ground and any horse with stamina flaws will be found out after the last fence on the long uphill climb to the finishing line at the end of three-and-a-quarter gruelling miles, and 22 fences.
Nicky Henderson’s Might Bite (4/1 with Paddy Power) recorded an extraordinary victory in the Grade 1 RSA Novices’ Chase at last year’s fixture. He cruised around and jumped like a pro, going clear after the last. Out of the blue, he suddenly slammed on the breaks and came to a virtual standstill on the run-in allowing Whisper to come past him, only to then be spurred on by the other horse, getting back up to win in the dying strides.
Might Bite beat Whisper again at Aintree a few weeks later in more conventional fashion, and this term there have been no signs of any weakness; a facile win at Sandown in November was followed by a memorable win in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. Nico de Boinville’s mount has been aimed at this race all season. He wouldn’t ideally want the ground to have any ‘heavy’ in the description, but I still think he’ll be good enough to win. He might just be a very special horse.
There are plenty of big dangers warranting respect. Last year’s third placed Native River (4/1 with Bet365) made a belated seasonal return but did the job well in the Denman Chase at Newbury. He’ll revel in testing ground and won’t be far away under Richard Johnson, while northern raider Definitly Red (12/1 with 888Sport) trained by Brian Ellison, is another who likes soft ground and has been very progressive this term. He may well interest each-way punters.
There are some fine Irish horses bidding for the lion’s share of the £625,000 in prize money. Our Duke (7/1 with William Hill) represents Jessica Harrington who sent out Sizing John to win the Gold Cup 12 months ago. He misses the race and Our Duke carries now stable hopes, but I’m not convinced he’s quite classy enough to do the job. Road To Respect (12/1 with Unibet) has been a persistent tip for the Irish for some time and did it well last time at Leopardstown at Christmas, but there shouldn’t be much between him and Edwulf (16/1 with BoyleSports) on a line through Outlander (33/1 with SkyBet), who also lines up on Friday.
Total Recall (16/1 with Bet365) has hit the bookies for six more than once this season since joining Willie Mullins and was brave in the former Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in December. He may improve again and run a big race, but try as I might, I can’t look beyond Might Bite, a horse who can prove himself a true star with a famous victory.
Shakira to Hit Top Note in Triumph Hurdle
Famous racehorse owner JP McManus is one of the most successful professional punters in racing history. At the start of this Cheltenham Festival he had many good horses set to carry his silks, including the likes of subsequent dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air, Unowhatimeanharry, Modus, Minella Rocco, Edwulf and more.
But when asked for his best bet of the week, McManus said without hesitation that he really fancied his unbeaten Apple’s Shakira (2/1 with Bet365) to win the Grade 1 JCB Triumph Hurdle. Often a hard race to win, and one that has produced plenty of shocks over the years, it does indeed look as though this two-mile championship, restricted to four-year-old’s only, can go the way of McManus’ exciting Nicky Henderson-trained prospect.
The daughter of Saddler Maker has won all three starts in Britain at Cheltenham, cruising to victory on each occasion. She handles soft ground, has Barry Geraghty on board, and it will take a good one to beat her.
Alan King’s Redicean (9/2 with SkyBet), a staying handicapper on the Flat, has been a revelation over hurdles winning all three races so far at Kempton, including the Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle last time. He’s a good horse, but I’m not certain the undulating Cheltenham track will suit him.
Willie Mullins’ Mr Adjudicator (8/1 with Ladbrokes) beat Gordon Elliott’s Farclas (8/1 with William Hill) by just over a length in Grade 1 company at Leopardstown last month and both will have their supporters and won’t be far away, while Mullins’ Stormy Ireland (7/1 with Bet365) won his first star for the champion Irish jumps trainer by a whopping 58 lengths. She might not have beaten anything special, but she did look a proper talent on that evidence. This is a whole lot tougher though.
Gary Moore’s Sussex Ranger (16/1 with SportingBet) was a good runner-up to We Have A Dream in the Grade 1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow in January. The winner has followed up since in a listed event at Musselburgh, while Sussex Ranger had a spin on the Flat at Kempton recently and should be in peak shape. He should handle the ground and appeals as a value alternative to the market leaders.
Other Cheltenham Festival Day Four Betting Advice
A maximum 20 runners go in the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (1450) over a stamina sapping three miles. This may well turn into a slog and so many of these horses are relatively unexposed over this distance in such testing conditions. It wouldn’t surprise to see a shock winner.
I feel that Gordon Elliott’s Dortmund Park (25/1 each-way with Paddy Power) who runs for the first time since a breathing operation, is of interest having shaped well for a long way behind a good horse of Joseph O’Brien’s last time. Dan Skelton’s Robin Waters (40/1 each-way with Ladbrokes) really impressed me in a little race on heavy ground at Wetherby last month and his trainer must feel it is worth showing his hand against better horses, rather than trying to exploit his current handicap mark. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him run a massive race.
There are 26 winner in the fiendishly difficult Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle (1410) and my two against the field are Spiritofthegames (25/1 each-way with Unibet), a fine third in very soft ground in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last month, and Moon Racer (25/1 each-way with William Hill) 11th in the same race, but that was his first start for 10 months and this former Cheltenham Festival winner should be fitter now.
Twenty-four runners will face the starter for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (1650), often one of the most fiercely contested handicaps of the meeting. Carter McKay (20/1 each-way with William Hill) runs in a handicap for the first time having been third in a Grade 1 recently and looks worth a interest, while David Pipe (who’d love to win the race run in honour of his father) saddles the unbeaten novice Mr Big Shot (16/1 each-way with Bet365) who is completely unexposed and could be anything.
The final race of the meeting – the ‘getting out stakes’ as it is known by regular punters – is the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase (1730), a race named in memory of trainer Nicky Henderson’s father. Nicky relies solely on Theinval (third in the race 12 months ago) but I‘m not convinced he’ll be effective in the mud.
I’ve been waiting for Valdez (20/1 each-way with Bet365) to run again after his very eye-catching first run for nearly four years when third to Altior in the Game Spirit Chase at newbury last month. If he doesn’t ‘bounce’ and can build on that effort he is very well handicapped. Gino Trail (20/1 each-way with 10Bet) is the other suggestion. He had an impossible task trying to give lots of weight to the smart Speredek at Sandown in January and has won since. Despite a rise in the weights he should go well.
Written by Paul Alster
Paul Alster has been part of the British and international racing media for more than three decades working as a race commentator, TV/radio presenter, journalist, betting correspondent, SP returner, and form analyst. He’s always sought out overpriced runners in handicap races, a quest that excites him as much now as it did at the start of his career.