Matt Chapman: Here’s a Lucky 31 to light up Cheltenham week

There's no shortage of Cheltenham tips flying about so we've asked Matt Chapman to nail his best five for the greatest show on turf...

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Benie des Dieux, Tuesday, 4.10pm

This Willie Mullins-trained mare will be a warm order to repeat her success of 12 months ago and is unbeaten now in five starts. Even though she hasn’t raced since then, both Apple’s Jade (who flopped in this race year) and Laurina are likely to run in the Champion Hurdle so she’ll face much lesser opposition on paper at least.

Ruby Walsh has said she’s his best ride of the Festival and that’s good enough for me.

Altior, Champion Chase, Wednesday 3.30pm

If the Irish think they’ve a few bankers, then England expects with Altior. Nicky Henderson’s runner is unbeaten now in 18 races and will beat Big Buck’s record if he slays this field in Wednesday’s Champion Chase.

There’s nothing more I can say that hasn’t been said already about Altior. It’s time to just savour one of the greatest horses in training as he tries to win his second Champion Chase next week.

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Faugheen, Stayers’ Hurdle, Thursday, 3.30pm

It’s the return of the ‘Machine’ and I, for one, am pumped! The dual Champion Hurdler rolled back the years at Punchestown last May when slamming Stayers’ Hurdle winner and stablemate Penhill by 13 lengths to open up a new career over three miles.

The old boy had been getting tapped for two over two miles before that but showed he’d lost none of his old spark over a longer trip.

He wasn’t done with Apple’s Jade when tipping up two out at Leopardstown over Christmas and while he mightn’t have beaten here – he was getting ready to give her a race.  Team Mullins believe he’s back firing and he’ll expose any chinks in Paisley Park’s armour in the Stayers’ Hurdle.

Oh yes!

Sir Erec, Triumph Hurdle, Friday 1.30pm

Joseph O’Brien’s runner is the Irish ‘banker’ of the meeting in many people’s eyes. This well-bred runner had some top-class form on the Flat for O’Brien Snr, before being transferred to Co. Kilkenny training base to race over hurdles.

He only beat Tiger Tap Tap by a neck on his maiden hurdle debut at Leopardstown, but was far too good for that rival, and the best that the rest of the Irish threw at him in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle last month.

He can get Friday off to a flyer for punters.

Native River, Cheltenham Gold Cup, 3.30pm 

And finally, the big one! The race we’ve been waiting for all week and I fancy Colin Tizzard’s Native River to win back-to-back Gold Cups for the first time since Best Mate ran up his three-timer from 2002 to 2004.

The ground is key to Colin Tizzard’s slugger and if it’s any way on the soft side – which I expect – I can see him going off a shorter price than Presenting Percy on the day.

Percy may be all class but he’ll know he’s in for a race when the River starts to flow.

So that’s it. Get ready for plenty of Yeeehaa’s next week. You hear me Paddy?

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