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Friday, March 18, 2016

Cheltenham Festival betting: day four Friday

Morning all, not a bad day yesterday with Vaotour (evs), Thistlecrack (evs) and Cause Of Causes (9/2). Thistlecrack was my banker for the week so I made a nice few quid there. The Gold Cup today is a cracker - I backed Don Cossack in the King George and I'm sticking with him. I used to do a bit of work with Gordon Elliott on the Betfair Blog years back and I remember him telling me that this horse is something special (when it was a four-year-old). I think his day has come although it's going to be a tough race and Cue Card has very serious claims. Can't wait! Here's today's Irish Independent column - race by race guide near the end of the page .

Don set to strike Gold and finally be crowned king

In 1892, an American bloke by the name of John Philip Quinn wrote a book called Fools of Fortune, which was a comprehensive history of betting - and indeed the destructive effects it can have on people.
In one chapter, he explains how the dingy gambling dens of America had poker tables with a hole in the centre, and a metal box underneath in which money could be collected. When a player lost money, he'd push it in the hole.
After the game, the owner of the den would empty the box, take a large cut, and then pay out the winner. Those unfortunates who had put all their money in the hole were usually unceremoniously kicked out. 
On St. Stephen's Day just gone, I ended up deep in the hole myself when a bet of half a monkey (€250) went awry on the Gordon Elliott-trained Don Cossack in the King George. It wasn't a great way to end the year but it's all part of what is sometimes described as the glorious uncertainty of racing.
While I cursed my own luck after his fall, I suppose the important thing here is that the horse and jockey were OK afterwards and on Wednesday, Elliott's stable were given a stark reminder of how this game can dish up contrasting fortunes at will.
Having won the Coral Cup with Diamond King, we learned a few hours later that Elliott's ultra-talented No More Heroes had to be put down for his fall earlier in the RSA Chase, and I'm sure any success at the festival is not taken in the least bit for granted by all the staff at Cullentra House.
As upsetting as it is to lose a horse, the world keeps on turning and focus now is on the Gold Cup (3.30). The big question, of course, is whether Don Cossack would have beaten Cue Card in the King George had he stayed up. In my view, the answer is yes but then again, I am a bit biased having had a financial interest in the event.
Having lost his way mid-race, he rallied gamely four fences out and was closing the gap before crashing out. It's one of those questions we can never answer, although he gets another crack at the whip today.
Like many, I must admit I underestimated Cue Card in the King George and he deserves enormous respect today, having beat yesterday's Ryanair Chase winner Vautour into second. I'm finding it hard to say anything negative about Cue Card although the last ten-year-old to win was Cool Dawn in 1998.
Last year's runner-up Djakadam has very strong claims although Willie Mullins is yet to win the race in fourteen attempts. 
Djakadam's fall last time out is also a concern. A few weeks ago, I mentioned how horses which fell last time out have a poor record at the festival although that didn't stop Ballyalton winning one of the handicap chases on Tuesday.
Don Cossack had a good warm-up when winning the Kinloch Brae at 1/8 and I think he'll just about scrape it, finally confirming that he's one of the greats - just like Elliott predicted a few years ago.  When you throw Don Poli and Smad Place into the mix, we are in for a real treat this year.
In the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (2.50), Barters Hill is the one to beat, priced around 3/1. With seven wins in as many races, he beat Tuesday's Supreme Novices' winner Altior in a bumper at Newbury last year and battled gamely to win the River Don Novices Hurdle last time, having made some mistakes throughout.  


Paul Nicholls has an excellent record in the Vincent O'Brien County Handicap Hurdle (2.10) with four wins and three places since 1999. Had you backed each of his 23 runners blindly, you'd show a level stakes profit of 23 points although the Irish also have a good record here too.
The Ditcheat handler has three representatives today, namely Modus, Some Plan and All Yours.
Fifth in a Wincanton handicap last time, All Yours is the most popular of the three in the early markets around 12/1, having won a Grade One hurdle at Aintree back in April.



Zubayr can get Paul Nicholls off to a good start in the opener. Eight of the last eleven winners of this race came from the first three in the betting and the selection offers a bit of value around 9/2. He cost nearly €400,000 last year and got his British career of to a winning start at Kempton. Ivanovich Gorbatov is the big danger.

A big field handicap with a number of interesting entries but the Evan Williams-trained John Constable catches the eye each-way in the early markets around 12/1. Formerly an Aidan O'Brien flat horse, he's still unexposed over hurdles.

Willie Mullins has a strong hand here with the likes of Long Dog and Gangster but he's had 18 losers in this race including Boston Bob (6/5), Briar Hill (2/1) and Black Hercules (5/2). Barters Hill is preferred. He's beaten some good horses in his seven-race career and will have no problem staying the distance.

A fascinating renewal of jump racing's biggest contest where Don Cossack can prove he's one of the best chasers in the business by beating Cue Card. He was unfortunate to fall in the King George and some would argue that he would have won were it not for the spill.

All eyes will be on Olympic gold medal winning cyclist Victoria Pendleton, who deserves credit for completing the challenge of switching saddles and making it to Cheltenham. Pacha Du Polder has the scope to win but the jockey's inexperience is a negative so a fun each-way bet around 16/1 might be the way to go.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Flying Angel won the Imperial Cup at Sandown last Saturday and comes here off a lenient mark of 138 albeit with a 5lb penalty. A progressive sort, he can run a big race here priced in the region of 16/1.

The festival closes with a very tricky race where last year's winner Next Sensation has claims. But he's a little short in the betting and a chance is taken on Nicky Henderson's Lough Kent which is expected to bounce back to form after a break. The early price of 14/1 seems generous.

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