Tom's Tips: Cheltenham day four preview
Today's Gold Cup is the undoubted showpiece of the Cheltenham Festival and nearly 70,000 are expected through the gates of Prestbury Park to witness the finest staying chasers in training compete for its most illustrious prize.
There maybe no Kauto Star or Denman for the first time in many years but 10 high class performers will go to post for the 3.20 and it looks one of its most open renewals in years.
Heading the market is Nicky Henderson's Bob's Worth who won the Henessey on his last appearance and was winner of the RSA Chase at the festival last year. He looks the one to beat on current form but whether he will handle the pressure of the gold cup experience remains to be seen.
Silviniaco Conti is the leading hope for champion trainer Paul Nicholls and the exciting seven year turned over Long Run in the Betfair Chase earlier this season. However there are concerns that he has never run over fences at Cheltenham before and it would take a leap of faith to back him today.
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Sir Des Champs looks like he is peaking at just the right time and his stables have been in fantastic form and must surely make everyone's short list.
But they all these have questions that we will only know the answers to once the race is run. The one horse who has "been there and done it" is the 2011 winner Long Run. He may have lost the crown last year but was below par all season and he is a very tempting proposition at longish odds.
Captain Chris is almost the forgotten horse of the race and was available to back him at a generous 20/1 just days ago. If you can excuse a dodgy few months last season his form holds up well. He looked back to his best when fighting it out with Long Run in the King George and was ready to mount a serious challenge to Cue Card in the Ascot Chase. It would be no great shock to see him stay on for a place while his more illustrious rivals flounder up the hill.
The day begins with the grade one Triumph hurdle run over two miles one furlong and my preference is for Far West to repeat the success of his stablemate Zarkandar in winning this race two years ago. The four year old has won twice already at Cheltenham this season and is unbeaten in his four starts this term. With Ruby Walsh in the saddle he could see off market leaders Our Conor and Rolling Star to provide champion trainer Paul Nicholls with his first success of the week.
The day's other grade one is the Albert Bartlett novice hurdle and I expect AP McCoy to get off the mark for the week with At Fishers Cross for trainer Rebecca Curtis. The duo have a devastating strike rate when working together and the six-year-old looks the class of the race.
At Fishers Cross defeated The New One on his last outing at Cheltenham, a piece of form that has been heavily franked by the later's hugely impressive win in the Neptune earlier this week.
The key for finding winners for this week's handicap has been to look for the value further down the market. In the Vincent o'Brien county handicap Ifandbutwhynot looks a decent each way shout. For the fox hunter Salsify but for value I have sided with Backstage for Gordon Elliott's yard.
My winner of the Martin pipe conditional handicap is David Pipe's Gevrey Chambertin - the full brother to the hugely talented Grands Crus, who I witnessed destroying a field last time out at Wincanton. Put up 15 pounds for the win, a mark his trainer described as "fair", he looks to still have plenty of scope to make the necessary step up in class.
The last of the 27 races at the festival is the Grand Annual and there is nothing better than finishing with a winner. A tough race to call but I am siding with Kid Cassidy for Nicky Henderson, who always targets the race that is named in memory of his father.
1.30 Far West
2.05 Ifandbutwhynot ew
2.40 At Fishers Cross
3.20 Long Run win Captain Chris ew
4.00 Backstage ew
4.40 Gevrey Chambertin
5.15 Kid Cassidy ew