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2016 Cheltenham Festival Day 3 Tips – best bets for St Patrick’s Thursday at Prestbury Park

The World Hurdle is a feature of St Patrick's Thursday

Cheltenham Festival

What are the best bets on St Patrick's Thursday of the Cheltenham Festival?

Our racing guru has run the rule over the seven exciting races that comprise St Patrick’s Thursday.

13:30: JLT Novices’ Chase, 2m4f

Last year’s 1-2-3: Vautour (6/4f), Apache stronghold (7/1), Valseur Lido (9/2) – 8 ran.

Who’s favourite?
Vautour absolutely blew us all way with a stunning performance 12 months ago, rewarding favourite backers in the process, but this year’s renewal looks far more open. Punters are also faced with working out which horses will turn up – we might all be best waiting for the day – but the participation of Bristol De Mai is pretty much set in stone and he’d be a worthy favourite. Nigel Twiston-Davies has kept him busy this term and the five-year-old appears to be improving with racing, making it four wins from six chase starts in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown in February. No match for Ar Mad over two miles earlier this season, he clearly relishes this intermediate trip and his bold jumping could be a real asset if allowed to get into a good rhythm. That’s not a given as he likes to dominate and might not have things all his own way, while he wouldn’t want the ground to dry up too much either. Top price: 9/2 Betfair (NRNB).

Who else is fancied?
Willie Mullins has won two of the five renewals of this contest and he looks to have a fine chance of adding a third with former smart hurdler Outlander, who has won all three of his chase starts this season at around this trip, including a Grade 1 at Leopardstown last month. The worry with him, though, is that his best form is on very soft ground and might find things happening a bit too quick on better ground here – he appeared to badly outpaced on good ground in last season’s Neptune over a furlong further and he definitely stays 3m.

Garde La Victoire won the Greatwood Hurdle here and has done nothing wrong in his four chase starts and, while unimpressive at Ludlow last time, his trainer was quick to put that down to unsuitable heavy ground. He thrashed Bristol De Mai at Uttoxeter in October, albeit over two miles, and raced keenly when landing a Grade 2 novice (2m) at Cheltenham on his next start, so his CV has much to recommend him.

And the rest?
Black Hercules gives Mullins a solid second string having been switched from first the four-miler and then the RSA. He’s a coming off a fall (resulting from an unforced error) in his prep, though, and that’s off-putting. Dan Skelton’s Three Musketeers impressed when getting off the mark over fences at the Newbury Hennessy meeting but needs to put a disappointing effort at Cheltenham last time behind him. Zabana is another coming off a below-par run – a well beaten fourth behind Outlander on heavy – but could improve for a sounder surface. He needs to!

Jockey quote: “I think Three Musketeers can run a big race in the JLT. Like most of our horses he wasn’t right when he ran last time at Cheltenham at the beginning of January, but he’s got a lot of raw ability and will be useful once he knows what he’s doing.” – Harry Skelton.

Best bookie offer?
Sky Bet are refunding stakes on all losing bets in this race as a free bet up to £25, while Paddy Power are refunding bets on the second horse home in the same way.

What’s the verdict?
It’s tempting to side with Bristol De Mai as he’s a class act who is ideally suited to this trip – which can’t be said of Outlander and Garde La Victoire. However, he will be there to be shot at in the closing stages and with the race likely to cut up – only eight ran 12 months ago – there’s scope for an each-way bet against him. For that I’m swayed by the quiet confidence of connections behind THREE MUSKETEERS. A classy sort over hurdles last season, finishing third to Nichols Canyon at Aintree, he showed what he could do over fences when beating Activial (who has done well since) at Newbury in November and can be forgiven a poor showing last time as his stable was out of form.

SELECTION: Three Musketeers each-way @ 12/1 Sky Bet NRNB & money back (win part) if he loses

14:10 Pertemps Network Final (A Handicap Hurdle Race), 3m


Last year’s 1-2-3-4: Call The Cops (9/1), Unique De Cotte (14/1), The Tourard Man (20/1), Henryville (50/1) – 23 ran.

SELECTION: If In Doubt each-way @ 10/1 bet365 (1/4 odds, five places)

14:50 Ryanair Steeple Chase, 2m5f

Last year’s 1-2-3: Uxixandre (16/1), Ma Filleule (5/1), Don Cossack (5/2) – 12 ran.

Who’s favourite?
The late switch of dual festival winner Vautour has transformed this Grade 1, which had looked pretty open up until declaration time. Given his ability, it’s not out of the question that he could have won any of the big three chases at the meeting, but connections have opted for the ‘softer’ option and the seven-year-old is odds-on across the board with bookmakers. A hugely impressive winner of last season’s JLT over slightly shorter, this intermediate trip should suit him ideally and his second to Cue Card in the King George at Kempton(3m), where here looked certain to score two out, is certainly the best piece of form on offer and the return to a left-handed track is in his favour. Top price: 4/5 William Hill

Who else is fancied?

Road To Riches and Valseur Lido are next in the betting and have enough Grade 1-winning form between them to suggest they can take a hand. However, both are probably running here instead of the Gold Cup – which surely would have suited the former horse more as his best form is over 3m plus – were it not for the fact their owner sponsors this race and, having endured some near-misses, is intent on winning it. The latter horse also needs to brush up his jumping to make the most of his undoubted talents.

And the rest?
Connections of all the other horses will be cursing Ricci’s decision to switch Vauteur to this as their task has become considerably harder. It’s also a shame for my ante post bet Josses Hill, who can now be backed at 25/1 (on at 16s), though he’s not without hope if he can avoid the mistakes that have blighted his chase career. Still, he was much better in that department at Ascot last time and he has twice run very well at the festival, finishing runner-up to Vautour in the 2014 Supreme and third to Un De Sceaux in last year’s Arkle.

Al Ferof is a classy sort \as he showed when winning the 2011 Supreme and several times since over fences, including a Peterborough Chase win in November and a third to Cue Card in the King George. This is probably his best trip and he has each-way possibilities. You can say that about Taquin Du Seuil, who bounced back to winning ways at Warwick last time (albeit in a weak affair) and Henry de Bromhead’s improving Smashing, the winner of all three of his starts this season in lesser company. And it would be wrong not to give a mention to 2014 Ryanair winner Dynaste who ran a lot better following a wind operation and in first-time blinkers behind a rejuvenated Silviniaco Conti at Ascot last time.

Best bookie offer?
There are several free bet offers worthy of a mention, including Paddy Power and William Hill who are refunding losing stakes as a free bet (up to £25) if your horse finishes second. BetVictor are doing the same if your horses finishes second to a Willie Mullins-trained winner.

Trainer quote: “It looked as if Ruby[Walsh] was going to ride Djakadam in the Gold Cup so we decided to send Vautour to the Ryanair, which is a valuable Grade 1 prize, with Ruby riding him.” – Willie Mullins explaining the change of plan.

What’s the verdict?
If the Vautour runs to within a few pounds of his best form – no reason to think he shouldn’t – he is bar the most likely winner – I actually hope he gets stuffed given the total disregard for the public shown by his connections (sorry, had to get that off my chest). However, he’s very short (too short) and I’d rather have a stab at the ‘without’ market where DYNASTE could reward each-way support. He’s a past winner, ran respectably last time and could do even better on the drying ground, plus the stable had a winner here on Tuesday. He’s a big-looking 40/1 with Ladbrokes in the outright market but it makes more sense to take Vautour of the equation. Josses Hill, my ante post wager, is no forlorn hope in the same market at 9/1.

SELECTIONS: Dynaste ‘w/o Vautour’ each-way @ 20/1 bet365

15:30 Ryanair World Hurdle, 3m

Last year’s 1-2-3: Cole Harden (14/1), Saphir Du Rheu (5/1), Zarkandar (6/1) – 16 ran.

Who’s favourite?
Thistlecrack has improved out of all recognition to the horse who finished fifth in last season’s Imperial Cup (off a mark of 135) to tower above his rivals for this 3m Grade 1, and he’s a ‘banker’ bet for many. After winning a Grade 1 at Aintree last spring – his first try over this trip – he has looked more impressive with each run this season and the vanquished include last year’s winner Cole Harden at Newbury, Reve De Sivola in the Long Walk and Ptit Zig in the Cleeve. That latter victory proved he can be effective at Cheltenham, having disappointed on his only previous run at the track, and his preparation since has gone smoothly. Just for good measure his trainer Colin Tizzard is in cracking form and all things considered, it’s a surprise he is not an odds-on chance. Top price: 6/5 (2.20) Paddy Power (NRNB).

Who else is fancied?
Last year’s winner Cole Harden has finished well beaten on both his starts this term but those efforts can be excused on account of the ground. Better ground should bring about a big improvement and the weather forecast is favourable. His trainer Warren Greatrex has been sounding quite bullish over his charge’s well-being in the last few weeks, saying after a racecourse gallop that he was “looking a million dollars.” Given good ground he may again account for last year’s runner-up Saphir Du Rheu, though his trainer Paul Nicholls is sounding equally confident about his chances.

The Irish challenge is headed by Alpha Des Obeaux who would probably have finished second to Thistlecrack at Aintree last season had he not fallen when held by that rival at the final hurdle. He’s proved a model of consistency since, finishing runner-up twice and posting a career-best effort when winning a Grade 2 at Gowran Park in February by 11 lengths in first-time cheekpieces. Bryan Cooper was of the opinion that heavy ground didn’t’ suit him on that occasion so there may be more to come, though whether he has the class of Thistlecrack is another matter.

And the rest?
Paul Nicholls has a decent second-string in Aux Ptits Soins who landed the Coral Cup on his British / stable debut at last year’s Festival. However, he’s not been sighted on a racecourse since due to various problems and even his trainer is ‘slightly nervous’ over the prospect of running here without a run. One for the future for sure – his future lies over fences – but hard to fancy him this year.

Whisper is capable of top-class form and, having finished fifth in this race 12 months ago, he reversed placings with Cole Harden at Aintree. His trainer Nicky Henderson is sure to have him primed and he must have each-way claims. Others in with a shout of nicking a place are last season’s Albert Bartlett winner Martello Tower and Charlie Longsdon’s Kilcooley, who has been absent thrashing Rock On Ruby by 13 lengths at Wetherby at the end of October. He could be the dark horse if making the gig (considered 60-40).

Trainer quote: “He’s absolutely hosed up this season and, although there must be horses out there who can push him, we haven’t found one yet, have we? He hasn’t had a hard race yet but he’s looked as if there’s more to come when we have to ask him.” – Colin Tizzard on Thistlecrack.

Best bookie offer?
Paddy Power are refunding losing stakes on the second horse home as a free bet up to £25, while Boylesports are doing the same if your horse finishes second to the SP favourite – Thistlecrack then.

What’s the verdict?
I’ve already taken on several short-priced favourites – Min, Yanworth and even Un De Sceaux – for the sake of finding some value, but I’m not going to look past THISTLECRACK here. Colin Tizzard’s star has won the big three British trials by an aggregate of 26 lengths on the bridle and that’s Big Buck’s-style domination. He’s the banker of the week for me and any odds against quoted are value. The current title-holder Cole Harden may chase him home of he gets the good ground he needs and he’s solid each-way with Paddy Power at 7/1 (¼ odds) given their money back offer

SELECTION: Thistlecrack @ 6/5 Paddy Power NRNB & money back if 2nd

16:10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate (A Handicap Steeple Chase), 2m5f

Last year’s 1-2-3-4: Darna (33/1), Monetaire (11/2), Rawnaq (25/1), Buywise (15/2 – 23 ran.

Who’s favourite?
Not a great race for punters with just a couple of successful favourites in recent years and some big-priced winners – 25/1, 33/1 (twice), 50/1 and 66/1 – in the last decade. That hardly makes you want to back the current market leader John’s Spirit, though he is undoubtedly well treated on his best form, having fallen 12lb in the handicap this season (form figures of P9964), and has run his best races at the track. Better ground should bring about some improvement – but it will need to!. Top price: 13/2 Coral.

Who else is fancied?
It’s 12/1 bar the favourite and that brings in Philip Hobbs Final Bay, who won the Pertemps Final here in 2014 and has run some solid races in defeat since, including a fourth in the Hennessy Gold Cup behind Smad Place. That was over 3m2f but he’s not short of speed and Richard Johnson is likely to give a positive ride to make use of his stamina.

Stilleto represents the champion trainer Paul Nicholls and the lightly-raced seven-year-old is certainly going the right way, making it two wins form four chase starts when hacking up at Leicester last time. He could still be well-in off his revised mark, though it’s debatable how much he will find off the bridle in a tight finish.

And the rest?
Nichols has a decent second string in course winner Art Mauresque and, having disappointed at Newbury last time on ground softer than ideal, he should relish the better ground. The Pipe stable have won this race an incredible seven times and they are represented by King’s Palace, who has won four times at the track (twice over fences) and should be suited by today’s better ground (pulled up on heavy last time), and French import La Vaticane, who came good at Wincanton last time.

There hasn’t been a single Irish-trained winner in the race’s long history, though Irish raiders have finished third in three of the past five years. That will provide some hope for potential backers of Colm Murphy’s Empire Of Dirt, a Leopardstown winner last time, and Henry de Bromhead’s Buckers Bridge, who wasn’t disgraced in the ultra competitive Thyestes Chase when last seen.

Best bookie offer?
There are several free bet offers worthy of a mention, including Paddy Power and William Hill, who are refunding losing stakes as a free bet (up to £25) if your horse finishes second.

Trainer quote: “He’s in mighty form and had a good run when sixth in the Thyestes last time. He got tired then but I’m hoping the trip will suit down to the ground,” – Henry de Bromhead on Bucker’s Bridge.

What’s the verdict?
A bookies’ benefit of a race and it’s well worth having a stab at one further down the betting list and BUCKERS BRIDGE makes plenty of appeal. As mentioned, the Irish have gone close in recent years and the selection doesn’t look at all badly treated on a mark of 141, which is just a 1lb above his last winning mark. In “mighty form”, according to his trainer, I’m hopeful he can run a mighty race and at least hit one of bet365’s five places – they are joint-top price too.

SELECTIONS: Buckers Bridge each-way @ 25/1 bet365 (¼ odds, 1.2.3.4)

16:50 Trull House Stud Mares Novices’ Hurdle, 2m1f

A new race for the 2016 festival, making it seven on the Thursday (like the other three days) and open to fillies and mares aged four-year-olds and upwards.

Who’s favourite?
Willie Mullins has dominated Tuesday’s Mares’ Hurdle, winning it seven times, and this new race gives him another opportunity to share out some more prize money with his rich owners. And it’s odds-on that Rich Ricci will be the beneficiary here as his Limini is no bigger than 10/11 after winning both her hurdle starts since coming over from France, where she won three races from six tries. It was only a Grade 3 she won at Fairyhouse when last seen in January but she toyed with her rivals to score by eight lengths and her jumping, which has left something to be desired so far, should improve for better ground and a faster pace. That said, her price is more of a reflection of her home reputation that her actual achievements on the track to date. Top price: 10/11 Paddy Power (NRNB).

Who else is fancied?
Away from the Mullins mare, there is plenty of substance in the form of Brian Ellison’s Smart Talk, who has won four of her six starts over hurdles and established herself as the chief British challenger when beating Lily Waugh (who was chasing a four-timer and getting weight) in a Grade 2 at Doncaster when last seen in January. The only real blip on her CV is an Ascot defeat in November but her trainer put that down to the 2m5f trip (which just stretched her stamina) and ‘gluey’ ground. A strong galloping sort who jumps well, she should be suited by Cheltenham and won’t be faltering up the hill.

And the rest?
Myska and Apples Jade provide back-up Willie Mullins, though the former may be saved for a Garde 1 at Fairyhouse over Easter, while the latter could run in Friday’s Triumph. Nicky Henderson could be double-handed with Chocca Wocca, who made hard work of winning at Market Rasen last time and perhaps lacks the necessary know-how for a festival race at this stage of her career, and Bloody Mary. The latter came over from France with a big reputation and impressed on her British debut at Taunton, giving her strong each-way claims here.

Trainer quote: “It would be very nice to actually stand in the winner’s circle at the festival and this mare might be the one to crack it for us as she jumps well and runs her heart out. If she lands in front at the final hurdle I think she’ll win as it will take something special to come past her on the run-in.” – Brian Ellison on Smart Talk.

Best bookie offer?
Paddy Power are refunding losing bets on the second horse home as a free bet (up to £25) and, in a similar way, Boylesports will refund losing stakes (including the win part of each-way bets) if your horse finishes second to the SP favourite or falls.

What’s the verdict?
Rich Ricci makes Limini his ‘banker’ of the meeting and he may be right, but she’s priced up accordingly and, with some doubts over jumping, I have to take her on. Brian Ellison has had a few agonising near-misses at the festival and he sounds full of hope that SMART TALK can put things right. I have to agree and she is an each-way price thanks to the presence of Limini. Even better, we can back her with some confidence thanks to the above generous bookmaker concession.

SELECTION: Smart Talk each-way @ 6/1 Boylesports (money back if 2nd to the SP favourite)

17:30 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Steeple Chase, 3m2f

Last year’s 1-2-3-4: The Package (9/1), Bless The Wings (28/1), Buddy Bolero (20/1), Grand Vision (11/1) – 24 ran.

Who’s favourite?
David Pipe has won two of the last five runnings of this race and he has an obvious candidate again with Doctor Harper, who is vying for favouritism. A useful bumper / hurdles performer, chasing was always going to be his game and after a couple of near misses, including when chasing home Garde La Victoire at Ludlow, he came good in a three-runner affair at Leicester last time. The handicapper must have liked what he saw as he gave him a rating of 141, which prevented him running in the novice handicap (2m5f) on day one, but that may be a blessing as this sort of trip promises to suit him better and he has a top amateur in Will Biddick up. Top price: 11/2 bet365.

Who else is fancied?
Gordon Elliott’s Cause Of Causes showed stamina was his strong suit when winning the four-miler at last season’s festival and then going on to finish eighth in the Grand National won by Many Clouds. Still only eight, he has been a remarkable horse for connections with a Ladbroke Hurdle and a close second (off 2lb lower) in the 2014 Kim Muir on his CV and they moved quickly to secure the services of leading Irish amateur Jamie Codd, who has steered home the winner in three of the last seven runnings, twice for the Pipe stable it has to be said.

And the rest?
It’s safe to say there isn’t a better handicapped horse in the race than The Giant Bolster, whose connections have opted to exploit his 139 rating rather than run in the Gold Cup for a fifth time. He’s finished second, third and fourth in chasing’s blue riband but he’d be doing no more than making up the numbers in that race now at the age of 11, whereas he has a clear chance in this. His owner Simon Hunt is not so sure, though, and is worried the race may not be run to suit He said: “If we ran in the Kim Muir amateur riders’ race they will go off a hell of a gallop. If my horse doesn’t get his position and we are sitting 18th of 24 after half a circuit we would be finished. He could get beaten in a selling race if he set off wrong.”

Others worthy of a mention are Upswing, whose second to Sausolito Sunrise here in November is solid form, and the hat-trick seeking pair of Silvergrove and Sambremont. Given the record of the Pipe stable – David’s father Martin won this race thrice including with a couple of outsiders – you also have you to respect Doctor Harper’s three stablemates: Top Wood, who bounced back to form at Ludlow last time and carries a 5lb penalty here, Alternatif and Amigo.

Best bookie offer?
There are several free bet offers worthy of a mention, including Paddy Power and William Hill, who are refunding losing stakes as a free bet (up to £25) if your horse finishes second.

Trainer quote: “I think he’ll benefit from going up in trip and I hope he’ll be one of our best chances of the week. He is versatile regarding the ground but I think he’ll be best with some cut.” – David Pipe on Doctor Harper.

What’s the verdict?
A tough race to solve and it certainly doesn’t harm to have a couple of stabs at finding the winner. I’ve done well from following the Pipe stable in this down the years and, having already put a handicap winner on the board this week (Un Temps Pour Tout), they can strike again with DOCTOR HARPER, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if his stablemate TOP WOOD outruns his 25/1 price tag with Katie Walsh likely to give him a positive ride from the front. They could take some pegging back.

SELECTIONS: Doctor Harper @ 6/1 Paddy Power (money back if 2nd) / Top Wood each-way @ 25/1 Coral

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