Cheltenham Festival 2017: Three to back in the Gold Cup
Cue Card would be a popular winner and Native River has strong support, but could an outsider spring a surprise?
Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins dominated day three of the Cheltenham Festival, with an unprecedented four winners for the jockey-and-trainer combination.
But despite their success, it was another bemusing day for punters, with only two favourites coming home and a 40-1 outsider triumphing in the final face of the day.
So what does it mean for the Gold Cup, the biggest race of the meet? The bookies have three horses vying for to be favourite, with several others attracting interest after three days of surprise results.
The tipsters' choice: Native River - 5-1
Of the three horses leading the betting - Cue Card, Djakadam and Native River - it is the final member of the group that offers the best value, at 5-1 at the time of writing, and has the highest-profile backers.
Colin Tizzard's mount has the backing of Newsboy in the Daily Mirror, Templegate in The Sun and Marlborough of the Daily Telegraph, who says: "It looks perfectly set for a new staying chasing star to appear on the scene and Native River fits that bill."
He has been "superb" this season, says Templegate. "Wins in the Hennessy Gold Cup, Welsh National and Denman Chase prove he has the jumping, stamina and class to win this prize."
The romantic choice: Cue Card - 5-1
If Native River is the hard-headed choice, then Cue Card, also trained by Tizzard, must be the one for the romantics. That may be harsh on Djakadam, who has finished twice in the past two renewals and has claims on both head and heart, but the 11-year-old, who cost less than £50,000 in 2009, would be a hugely popular winner.
"Cue Card has it all: the raw ability, the stage presence and a boy-next-door backstory in a sport normally dominated by the super-rich," says Greg Wood of The Guardian. "If he comes home in front in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday afternoon, he will be the most popular winner of the race for many years."
The bay gelding first raced at Cheltenham when Gordon Brown was the prime minister, adds the journalist, and he "feels like an old friend after all these years".
"On form, Cue Card remains the classiest in a field missing Thistlecrack," says Paul Hayward of the Daily Telegraph.
With a lot of big names missing, it looks like an "ordinary renewal", says Simon Holt of Sporting Life. "Perhaps Cue Card can give many members of the crowd the result they are praying for but, in selecting the old boy, I have to admit that the heart might be ruling the head."
The outsider: More of That - 14-1
Several big names are circulating outside the big three, including Minella Rocco, who beat Native River last year, and Sizing John. But the Jonjo O'Neill-trained More of That could be the pick of the bunch.
O'Neill "has become extremely adept at getting his horses to peak for this meeting, particularly in the staying races over fences", says Rob Wright in The Times. "More Of That undoubtedly has the ability to win here and, if his problems really are behind him, he looks sure to go well under conditions that suit him. He rates good value at the 14-1 offered by Coral and Ladbrokes."
Oli Bell of ITV Racing is also a fan, he tells the Mirror, and as More Of That is "rumoured to be in great form", he likes the odds.
In addition, the nine-year-old has local backing from the Gloucestershire Live website, which says More of That "appears cherry ripe for this assignment".
Cheltenham Festival 2017: Bob Champion's tips for day three
Racegoers witnessed an upset of seismic proportions on day two of the Cheltenham Festival, with odds-on favourite Douvan limping home seventh in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
The race was won by 11-1 shot Special Tiara, but it will be remembered more for the struggles of its expected winner, who was later found to be lame.
It "has to rate as among the biggest shocks in Cheltenham Festival history", says BBC racing correspondent Cornelius Lysaght.
Not only was Douvan unbeaten in 13 starts, continues the pundit, he had "been winning with an authoritative flamboyance that meant that practically everyone thought his opponents had the proverbial Everest to climb to beat him".
The result was bad enough for the bookies, but pity the punter who staked £500,000 on the horse to win at odds of 1-5, with potential winnings of £100,000.
After the shocks of days one and two, who should the intelligent punter get behind on the penultimate day of the festival? The Week has enlisted the help of former Grand National winner and trainer Bob Champion, now president of the Bob Champion Cancer Trust, to help unearth the best bets.
Politologue - JLT Novices Chase, 1.30pm
Yorkhill is the clear favourite for this one but so far this week, only two favourites have come home, so perhaps looking elsewhere makes sense and Champion likes the look of Politologue.
Paddy Power, writing in The Independent, also fancies the grey, who is a 13-2 shot. "Trainer Paul Nicholls has been short on Grade 1 winners at Cheltenham in recent memory, but this strapping gelding can turn the tide – and a few pennies into a few pounds," he says.
Newsboy of the Daily Mirror agrees, describing Politologue as "a most likeable young chaser".
Tobefair - Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle, 2.10pm
The second race of the day looks a lot like a lucky dip, with 24 runners and little going by the book so far this week. Impulsive Star has a lot of support, but Champion's tip, Tobefair, is also mentioned in despatches.
"Tobefair never knows when he is beaten and has officially improved a phenomenal 62lb after seven consecutive victories," says the Daily Telegraph. "It is hard to be adamant there is not more to come."
Templegate of The Sun says: "He's got plenty of form on decent ground and must surely run well."
At 11-1, an each-way bet may make sense.
Empire of Dirt - Ryanair Chase, 2.50pm
It would be fitting if Empire of Dirt won this, given that his owner is Michael O'Leary, chief executive of sponsor Ryanair. That connection also explains why the horse is running this race rather than the Gold Cup on Friday, apparently against the wishes of trainer Gordon Elliott.
However, the decision could pay off on a drying course. "Empire of Dirt can topple favourite - and six-time Grade 1 winner - Un De Sceaux, for whom rain would have been a help," says Newsboy of the Mirror.
The ten-year-old is also Champion's pick for this race.
Unowhatimeanharry - Stayers Hurdle, 3.30pm
After the shock of seeing Douvan fail, many might be wary of backing the short-priced favourite in the big race of the day, but it's hard to see past Unowhatimeanharry at odds of 7-4.
"A perfect record of eight wins from eight starts since has seen him develop into the clear best staying hurdler in Britain," says Templegate of the Sun. "He's short in the betting but clearly deserves to be. It will take something special to beat him."
Starchitect - Brown Advisory Plate, 4.10pm
Another race that has lucky dip written all over it; however, Champion likes the look of 15-2 second-favourite Starchitect, who could prosper as the going improves.
With 24 runners, it's hard to pick a winner, but "Starchitect could prove the answer", agrees Johnny Ward in the Irish Independent. "Though essentially Flat-bred, jumping is no issue to him and he will relish the drying ground. He has lots of ability and is theoretically well-in on his hurdles rating."
Cheltenham Festival 2017: Bob Champion's tips for Ladies Day
After a series of surprises on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, with two long-priced winners and only one favourite - the nailed-on Altior - triumphing, the bookies will probably be hoping for fewer upsets on Ladies Day.
The Week has canvassed the opinion of former Grand National winner Bob Champion, now president of the Bob Champion Cancer Trust, as well as the tipsters for today's recommendations:
Neon Wolf - Neptune Novices Hurdle, 1.30pm
Day one began with victory for a 25-1 shot, but Champion expects the 2-1 favourite to triumph on the first race of day two.
Templegate of The Sun agrees: "He's looked all class in winning a bumper and two hurdles races. Punters couldn't see him beaten at Haydock last time and they were right. He landed a huge gamble in great style."
The only concern is the ground. Trainer Harry Fry "has been at pains to stress he won't risk Neon Wolf on fast ground, but there should be enough moisture in today's surface to show him in his best light", says Newsboy of the Daily Mirror.
Whisper - RSA Novices Chase, 2.10pm
Trainer Nicky Henderson had a wonderful opening day with two winners and Champion has him as the one to watch this week. He has three horses in the second race of the day and 7-1 shot Whisper is attracting interest, not least from our tipster.
The nine-year-old went off the boil after a series of wins in 2014 and 2015, says Newsboy of the Mirror, but the fire is back in his belly. "Whisper marked his seasonal reappearance with a win over two miles and five here in December, following up over the same course and distance on New Year's Day. That Cheltenham know-how will hold Whisper in good stead," he says.
Tombstone - Coral Cup, 2.50pm (nap)
Another favourite, Tombstone, has a lot of support in the third race of the day, not least because with three winners, trainer Gordon Elliott did even better than Henderson on the opening day.
"[Tombstone] has always looked destined to win a big pot and this could be his opportunity, particularly if he can reproduce his last-time-out form from Gowran where he beat the highly-rated Jezki," says The Scout at the Daily Express.
Douvan - Betway Champion Chase, 3.30pm
After Altior on day one comes another certainty in Douvan, who is 3-10 on to triumph in the big race of the day. With such a runaway favourite, a lot of punters will be looking at the each-way or without-Douvan markets.
"If you're looking to have a couple of shillings each way, then try God's Own (12-1) from Tom George's Yard, because any mistakes that Douvan makes, he will be all over him," says BBC Radio Gloucestershire racing pundit Colin "The Tipster" Onens.
Champion prefers the charms of Sir Valentino, available at a very tempting 34-1.
Divin Bere - Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle, 4.50pm
Champion's choice in the penultimate race of the day, the 5-1 favourite, is another Henderson runner.
Chris Cook of The Guardian says: "He showed battling qualities on his British debut in January to give weight and a beating to a more experienced rival who has since won a Grade Two, with the rest 26 lengths behind. On that showing, his rating could be very lenient and there should be plenty more to come."
Cheltenham Festival 2017: Top tips for day one
"The greatest show on turf" begins today when the Cheltenham Festival kicks off its four days of classic action.
Despite fears that some big-name absences, such as the likes of Thistlecrack and Don Poli, would take the sheen off this year's event, excitement is rising ahead of the off and with 28 races to enjoy in the Cotswolds, racing fans are looking forwards rather than backwards.
So who should punter's back on the first day of action? Here are the top tips.
Ballyandy - Supreme Novices Hurdle, 1.30pm
The festival begins with the traditional curtain-raiser setting the tone for the rest of the meet. Jockey Barry Geraghty, writing for At The Races, predicts "a better race" than people are expecting.
Rather to Geraghty's surprise, the inexperienced Melon is 3-1 favourite, but although he has a lot of support, so does 7-2 shot Ballyandy. "He ran a stormer to take the Betfair Hurdle last time out and has been saved for this race since," says Bill Esdaile of City AM. "Not only has his hurdling improved with every run, but he will be suited by the likely furious pace of the Supreme as well as that famous Cheltenham hill."
Altior - Arkle Trophy, 2.10pm
The banker of the week is Altior in the second race of the day - when bookies offer odds on the margin of victory rather than the win itself, you know there is little chance of an upset.
Brain Power - Champion Hurdle, 3.30pm
Yanworth is the clear favourite in the headline race on day one, but there is also a lot going for Brain Power, at rather more attractive odds of 7-1.
Nicky Henderson's six-year-old "has the potential to step up to championship class and seize the crown", says Newsboy of the Daily Mirror.
Greg Wood of The Observer has also picked Brain Power as one to support this week. "His two impressive wins this season came in strongly contested handicaps before Christmas; he travelled exceptionally well in both and seems to have overcome the jumping problems that bedevilled his novice season," he says.
In the later races, Limini is clear favourite in the 4.10 Mares Hurdle, while Edwulf is the pick of the bunch at 11-2 in the 4.50 National Hunt Chase.
Cheltenham Festival: Who to back and how to get tickets
The most eagerly anticipated meeting of the jump season gets underway next week, with more than 250,000 racegoers set to enjoy four days of action from Tuesday to Friday at the Cheltenham Festival.
There are 28 races over the four days of the festival. Friday's Gold Cup is the jewel in the crown.
Tickets are still on sale for Champions Day on Tuesday, Ladies Day on Wednesday and St Patrick's Thursday. Some hospitality packages are still available for Cheltenham Gold Cup Day from the Cheltenham Festival website. Prices range from £40 to £750 for restaurant packages.
"Over 50,000 visitors come to each day of the festival (65,000 on the day of the actual Gold Cup) and over £1m is bet on every race," says the website. There are also other attractions including trade stands, live music and paddock interviews.
Each day's headline race takes place at 3.20pm. On Tuesday it's the Champion Hurdle, while Wednesday's Queen Mother Champion Chase attracts the fastest two-mile chasers. The World Hurdle headlines Thursday's action before the festival wraps up with Cheltenham Gold Cup Day.
The build-up to this year's event has not been without incident. Last month Thistlecrack, perhaps the biggest name in British racing and clear favourite, was withdrawn from the Cheltenham Gold Cup with a tendon injury.
"The build-up to this festival has been exceptionally trying for trainers and gamblers alike," says The Guardian. "A riveting race could be made out of those horses who have now been ruled out of the Gold Cup, while the star names missing from other Cheltenham races include Annie Power, Faugheen, Sprinter Sacre, Getabird and Min."
The big-name absentees have created an intriguing betting market. Yarnworth leads the ante-post betting for the Champion Hurdle, Douvan is the clear favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday, although Altior and Un De Sceaux offer value.
Unowhatimeanharry is widely tipped to win the Stayers Hurdle on Thursday and the odds reflect that. Without the big names in attendance there is little to choose between favourites Cue Card, Native River and Djakadam for the Gold Cup.
Meanwhile the Daily Mail believes Mark Walsh could beat his namesake Ruby Walsh to the top jockey award despite never having won at Cheltenham.
Punters have been warned not to drink to excess at this year's event. "New purchasing rules at the horseracing event, which is attended by more than 260,000 people, include limiting rounds to four drinks at a time, while free water bottles will also be handed out," says the London Evening Standard.
Last year racegoers polished off 265,000 pints of Guinness, 120,000 bottles of wine and 20,000 bottles of champagne, says the paper. "Rowdy scenes" prompted the Jockey Club to take action.