Frank Hickey: Three top picks to close out Cheltenham in style

There's no hiding place as we gallop into a fab Friday at Cheltenham but Frank Hickey's on hand to mark your card...

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1.30 Triumph Hurdle – Sir Erec

Normally the Triumph is extremely competitive but this year it looks at the mercy of Sir Erec. A proper top-class Flat horse, he was third beaten just over three lengths behind Stradivarius in the Grade One Long Distance Cup at Ascot and was rated 109 on the Flat. It is very rare that a horse of that flat ability goes hurdling while still at the peak of his powers on the Flat but that is what has happened.

He won his hurdles debut at Leopardstown narrowly from Tiger Tap Tap but was much improved when a very impressive winner of the Grade one juvenile hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival. He appears to be by far the best of the Irish and the English juveniles, who look a moderate bunch this season. Throw in the fact that Joseph O’Brien has such a strong crop of juveniles, which includes Supreme Hurdle fourth Fakir D’oudairies and Fred Winter winner Band Of Outlaws and confidence behind Sir Erec will be sky high.

It will be a shock if he is beaten.

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3.30 Gold Cup – Clan Des Obeaux

This looks to be a cracking renewal of the Gold Cup, with plenty of depth. Presenting Percy looked to have the world at his feet when he hacked up in the RSA last year but his preparation this season with not having had a chase run must be seen as a negative. Native River will try to make this a proper test of stamina in order to try his best to hang onto his Gold Cup crown but I think it’s best to side with the improving chaser Clan Des Obeaux.

Always highly regarded by Paul Nicholls, he finally delivered on the big stage when an impressive winner of the King George and with Paul Nicholls being one of the best trainers of staying chasers, you can be guaranteed that Clan Des Obeaux will be primed to run a career best on Friday. The yard have won the RSA Novice Chase and Ryanair Chase this week, which only heightens confidence in CDO.

5.30 Martin Pipe Hurdle – Early Doors

Early Doors ran in this race last year when he was third – beaten just six lengths. That form has got a strong boost this week, as the second Discorama was a close second in the National Hunt Chase on Tuesday and the fourth Sire Du Berlais won the Pertemps Hurdle on Thursday.

Early Doors finds himself on a mark just 2lbs higher and has the advantage of having one of the most talented conditional riders in Jonjo O’Neill Jnr on his back. It looks like his whole season has been campaigned around this race and he should prove difficult to keep out of the frame.

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What do you think?