Mick Fitzgerald: I’m banking on Birchdale to give us that Friday feeling

The fourth and final day of the Festival but Mick Fitz isn't finished just yet...

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It’s hard to believe we’ve reached Gold Cup day already and it promises to be a cracker.

Cheltenham 1.30pm

The Triumph Hurdle opens Gold Cup day and we have a short-priced favourite in Sir Erec – but it’s for good reason.

He’s highly thought of and Joseph O’Brien won the juvenile hurdle on Wednesday with Band Of Outlaws. You get the impression from that team that Sir Erec is in a different league to their other juveniles. His Flat form was very good and he definitely jumped better on his second start over hurdles when winning a Grade One at Leopardstown at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Cheltenham 2.10pm

There’s two in the County hurdle cavalry charge that I really like. Mr Adjudicator has not been that busy since running a good second in last year’s Triumph Hurdle to Farclas. He hasn’t run since November, but Willie Mullins’ horses are to be feared now with the word soft in the going description. Gordon Elliott’s Eclair De Beaufeu is a five-year-old that caught my eye when running a big race in a slowly run affair at Leopardstown the same weekend Sir Erec won.

I loved the way he finished that race off and he will handle the ground conditions.

Cheltenham 2.50pm

Nicky Henderson was very keen on Birchdale when I did a preview with him at Sandown last weekend. I told him I really liked his stablemate Dickie Diver, but he thinks Birchdale is better and that looks to have been backed up by the fact that Barry Geraghty has picked him. So I’m siding with Birchdale in the hope that Nicky Henderson can win this like he did with Bobsworth a few years ago.

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Cheltenham 3.30pm

I don’t care how you dress it up – Presenting Percy faces a huge task – but I still fancy him to win it. To try and win a Gold Cup after no prep run over fences in a year will go down in the record books!

His trainer Pat Kelly doesn’t give a flying ‘you know’ about what anybody thinks of his training methods or running plans. He has done what he feels is right for Presenting Percy. I was at Gowran Park when he won the Galmoy Hurdle and I was super impressed with him. We already know he is proven around Cheltenham as his two Festival wins have shown.

Reigning Gold Cup champ Native River has not looked anywhere near as good this season, even if he has been campaigned badly. I never thought he had any chance at Haydock in the Betfair Chase as that track would never suit his strengths. His form going right-handed is dire and he did not enjoy it at Kempton in the King George. I’m worried that winning last year’s Blue Riband has left a mark on him.

Clan des Obeaux is the young horse who has really fulfilled trainer Paul Nicholls’ hopes for him. He looked really good when winning the King George and at Ascot and is the form pick going into Friday’s race. This is a different ball game though and you just won’t know what is under the bonnet until he lands over the last fence and is asked the question to go and stay on strongly up the hill. I worry that they may not give the response they are looking for. HIs Cheltenham record does not inspire confidence either as he is 0-4 at the track.

I went over to Ireland to do some filming for Cheltenham two months ago and asked Willie Mullins about his Gold Cup record with so many runner-up finishes. He laughed it off and said it was about time he won it. It is interesting that Ruby Walsh has plumped for Bellshill and although he looks like he has to find a little on the book, I get the feeling they think he is better than his rating. He handles soft ground and is a real, live, contender.

Might Bite is the enigma in the field and if last year’s Gold Cup might have left a mark on Native River, there’s no doubt Mite Bight has suffered too. He has had a wind op since and his home work has been exceptional recently. If the ground continues to dry, he could be the each-way play at a double-digit price.

It sounds mad but I still fancy Presenting Percy to win.

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Cheltenham 4.10pm 

It would be a fairytale if Harriet Tucker could win on Pacha du Polder after the emotional success last year, when her shoulder was dislocated when she was riding a finish. This year’s race looks tougher with Caid Du Berlais in it and he won at the Punchestown Festival last season. The one I like at the prices is Shantou Flyer. He’s now trained by Richard Hobson and was second in last year’s Ultima Handicap Chase. Shantou Flyer has won his last two starts  and he stays well. He wears blinkers for the fist time to just help him travel throughout the race and can take care of these.

Cheltenham 4.50pm 

I know how much it would mean to Nicky Henderson to win the Grand Annual named in honour of his late dad, Johnny Henderson. He has Whatswrongwithyou in it, who won very nicely at Fontwell, but got hit with a 10 lbs hike in the weights. NJH thought that was about 5 lb too much, but he will still go very well. However, he may have to play second fiddle to Paul Nicholls’ Magic Saint.

Daryl Jacob won on him at Wincanton and is adamant that he is a Graded race performer.

Cheltenham 5.30pm

This is a hot little race to end the card – and the Festival. A scroll through the previous winners shows you that it has been won by some proper young horses who are on the up. Gigginstown House Stud have won this before with Sir Des Champs, Don Poli, Champagne Classic and Blow by Blow last year and they have Dallas des Pictons in it now. He’s favourite, has won his last two starts and looks progressive.

However, I fancy the horse that finished third last year – Early Doors. He is ridden by Jonjo O’Neill junior and is only 3 lbs higher than when a staying-on third in last years contest to Champagne Classic.

Enjoy the final day and good luck!

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