A Plus can pass Gold Cup examination

Cheltenham Festival selections Friday 18th March

The final day of the Festival and as always the centrepiece of the day – and the week – comes with the Gold Cup at 3.30. The first three from 2021 clash again and I fancy there will be a slight shuffling of the pack from then. That race forms one of four races under the spotlight today.

Cheltenham 2.10: First Street, I Like to Move It & Colonel Mustard

As usual it is a case of pick a few from any number in with a chance in the County and I have narrowed it down to three.

The Betfair Hurdle at Newbury looks a key formline. The winner that day Glory and Fortune ran a cracker to be fifth in the Champion on Tuesday and the second and third from Newbury come here. FIRST STREET has proved a hard puller and wears a hood to help his jockey keep him settled. A fast pace and big field with plenty of cover will also assist in this regard. He certainly showed his best at Newbury, staying on strongly having been under pressure turning for home. I am hopeful that the long, uphill run to the last will bring his proven stamina into play more – he has won over 2m5f in the past. Drying ground will be no issue either.

However almost 3l in front of him at Newbury was I LIKE TO MOVE IT, so Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge has tom be thrown into the mix too. He is already twice a winner at this track in the autumn, and is getting more professional with every race having tended to jump too steeply at his obstacles earlier this season. He is up 4lbs from Newbury, but is improving at a rate of knots too and looks a thoroughly genuine type who will give his all once more.

It does seem the handicapper has levelled the playing field this week with his rating of the Irish horses, but COLONEL MUSTARD is one who seems well treated. This will be his first venture into handicap company, but he is a strong travelling type who should cope well with the hustle and bustle. Even last season he was placed in grade company at the Fairyhouse and Punchestown Festivals, but retained his novice status for this season. He could have gone for the Supreme, but a mark of 140 here is very tempting. He has excelled once more in graded races this term, placing behind Jonbon and Sir Gerhard – form that is looking even better after this week’s events.

Cheltenham 3.30: A Plus Tard

Jockey Rachael Blackmore had an outstanding week as leading rider at the 2021 Festival, but one race she might have wanted back to have another go with was the Gold Cup when second on A PLUS TARD. Well twelve months later she does have another chance and the 8yo might go one place better this afternoon.

Minella Indo got first run on him last year and A Plus Tard was never quite able to peg him back. The winner that day has not seemed quite as good this term. However the selection was brilliant when winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock. He was then just run down by Galvin at Leopardstown, but it was at a time when the de Dromhead horses were particularly quiet.

I am hopeful that he can turn the tables on both horses today and with no guaranteed early pace, A Plus Tard has the tactical speed to take advantage of any steadying of the gallop.

Cheltenham 4.50: Elimay

Just touched off by stablemate Colreevy in the inaugural running of the Mares Chase last season, ELIMAY is another who can go one place better today.

She was a little unlucky last year in that she was being constantly pushed right by Colreevy, but otherwise she jumped and travelled well and seemed to handle the undulations of Prestbury Park perfectly. Admittedly her form has been patchy since, but she seemed to be rejuvenated by first time cheekpieces and a tongue tie when hacking up at Naas last month and provided the headgear has the same effect today, I think she has the pace to win this.

Mount Ida somehow managed to win at the Festival last season despite constantly jumping right, and that could be an issue again today, especially over a shorter distance. Concertista is a classy rival, but she lacks the experience of my selection over the bigger obstacles.

Cheltenham 5.30: Hollow Games, Ilikedwayurthinkin & Freedom to Dream

We don’t want to be relying on the lucky last to be trying to get out of trouble this week, given its competitive nature, but I have three hopefuls who should give us a good spin.

HOLLOW GAMES looks the class act of the race having been placed in two Grade 1’s recently. He looks a strong stayer who should be well suited by this stiff 2m4f, even though he was slightly disappointing at the end of his race at Leopardstown last time. He was still only beaten 3l by Minella Cocooner though over 2m6f and a tongue-strap could aid his finishing effort.

ILIKEDWAYURTHINKIN comes back here after a spell chasing, where he never seemed to be fluent enough over the bigger jumps. However he was eighth in this in 2020 despite meeting constant trouble in running, and is a pound lower with the added benefit of top conditional Simon Torrens on board. Drying ground is good news given this horse won twice at the 2019 Galway Festival on decent ground.

First choice of the race though would be FREEDOM TO DREAM. He might have got in a bit lightly and was only one place behind Hollow Games at Leopardstown and has an 8lb pull today. I have liked the way he travels in his races, suggesting he should cope well with a big field and he already has good form over 3m, so stamina is of no concern.

Recommended bets:

0.5pts each-way – First Street – 2.10 Cheltenham – 18/1 Bet365 (1/5 odds 1st 7)

1pt each-way – I Like to Move It – 2.10 Cheltenham – 12/1 Bet365 (1/5 odds 1st 7)

1pt each-way – Colonel Mustard – 2.10 Cheltenham – 8/1 Unibet (1/5 odds 1st 6)

1pt win – A Plus Tard – 3.30 Cheltenham – 3/1 general

1pt win – Elimay – 4.50 Cheltenham – 5/2 William Hill, BetVictor

1pt each-way- Hollow Games – 5.30 Cheltenham – 7/1 Bet365 (1/5 odds 1st 6)

0.5pts each-way – Ilikedwayurthinkin – 5.30 Cheltenham – 25/1 general (most bookies 1/5 odds 1st 6)

1pt each-way – Freedom to Dream – 5.30 Cheltenham – 20/1 general (most bookies 1/5 odds 1st 6)

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