Tony Elves is back with the second edition of his weekly Cheltenham Festival diary.
Wayne Hutchinson had the eight-year-old in a rhythm better than the top pairings in Strictly Come Dancing and he pulled clear for a 12 length victory from Theatre Guide with the Cheltenham signpost firmly in his sights.
The decision has already been made to bypass the King George VI Chase in favour of the Cotswold Chase at the Trial meeting at Cheltenham in January but to my mind, as glorious a performance as it was, the gallant grey falls just a mite short of Gold Cup standard. True he was beaten only a whisker by O’Faolains Boy in the 2014 RSA Chase but he was a length and a quarter behind Many Clouds in the Grade 2 Betbright Chase Cheltenham in January when receiving 8lb and he is unlikely to have significant improvement in him with all the miles he has on his clock and turning into his ninth year.
Colin Tizzard has his team in grand form and his second placing with Theatre Guide in the Hennessy was bettered by Thistlecrack in the Bet365 Long Distance Hurdle. The dogs had been barking Whisper beforehand but the 11-8 favourite proved very disappointing and with last season’s World Hurdle winner Cole Harden also failing to come up to scratch is was Thistlecrack who readily outpointed Deputy Dan to score by six lengths.
Having suggested Cue Card as a value selection for the Gold Cup you can be forgiven if thinking I am the founder member of the Tizzard fan club but looking back to Thistlecrack’s half-length defeat by Killultagh Vic in the Grade 1 Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle at Punchestown in April, when Shaneshill and No More Heroes were in his wake, there will be worst priced opportunities for the World Hurdle (10-1 with the sponsors) than the Kayf Tara gelding with his trainer firmly suggesting that his chasing career will be kept on hold.
Click here for all the best World Hurdle odds
That takes us nicely to the aforementioned No More Heroes who leapt to the head of the RSA Chase market with an exuberant performance in the Grade 1 Bar One Racing Drinmore Novices Chase at Fairyhouse.
The Gordon Elliot-trained six-year-old was hard pressed in the betting market by stable companion Free Expression with the pair going off, respectively, 13-8 and 7-4 but in the two mile four furlong contest there was no comparison as No More Heroes jumped like an old hand to register a two and a half-length defeat of Monksland.
However, the general odds of 5-1 for the RSA is to my mind a little off putting at this early stage with Killultagh Vic waiting in the wings and the classy More Of That showing that he is firmly back in the game with an impressive novice chasing debut at the Paddy Power meeting at Cheltenham.
Trying to second guess the best of Willie Mullins’ bumper horse is a futile exercise but I could not have been more impressed with the success of Lucky Pass in the Dunganny Centre of Excellence Meath GAA Raceday (Pro-Am) INH Flat Race that closed the Fairyhouse card.
Patrick Mullins could be seen beaming eye to eye as he returned to the winner’s enclosure after delivering the 2-1 joint favourite to a length and a quarter victory from the highly promising filly Avellino with the third Any Drama 12 lengths adrift and the other joint favourite Sunni May four and three quarter lengths further adrift in fourth in what looked a warm contest.
The race had produced Identity Thief (winner of the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday) 12 months earlier and the 2013 running had seen Value At Risk beat subsequent 2014 Neptune Investment Management Novices Hurdle winner Windsor Park. Lucky Pass looks very much a work in progress as he still looked green in front and the 25-1 on offer for the Festival bumper looks too tempting not to risk a pound or two on.