If we had all believed the weather forecasts at the beginning of the week, then good to soft ground was going to be the order of the day for next week, but that has turned on its head in the last 48 hours with Monday likely to offer up to 8mm of rain, it looks likely the Festival will kick start on genuinely soft ground.
With showers on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, good ground is firmly out of the equation and there will be at least some give for the Gold Cup protagonists for the Blue Riband event of the week.
I am firmly of the opinion that staying is a way bigger factor than speed for the extended three-and-a-quarter-mile championship race and as such reigning champion Al Boum Photo (7/2) has to be a huge player following a perfect campaign even though history is against him.
But I have always been in the SANTINI (7/2) camp and even though there is little mileage in his current price I think that Nicky Henderson’s charge has been brought beautifully to the boil and with further improvement on the cards, I think a clear round of jumping will suffice here.
He is not a spectacular leaper, but gets from one side of the fence to the other efficiently and has any amount of stamina to draw upon for the final climb. The earlier the field get racing the better his chance will be.
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Lostintranslation (13/2) is the most fascinating runner in the entries. Had he not blown out in the King George I suspect he would have been near enough co-fav here. The vibes from the yard since a small procedure have been top class though and he has been very strong in the market place for the past fortnight or so. Both his novice form and his win in the Betfair Chase are as good as it gets for this.
Bristol de Mai (25/1) was readily turned over in the Cotswold Chase despite stumbling three out and has place possibilities, while I just cannot warm to Delta Work (5/1) who had both Grade One races run to suit at Leopardstown, but was no more than workmanlike and had to dig very deep and had pretty hard races on both occasions.
Clan Des Obeaux (7/1) could do without all this rain, but Presenting Percy (10/1) would be a possibility if returning to his best form, but after travelling well in his races this term he has found a lot less off the bridle than seemed likely at the business end.
Chris’s Dream (14/1) remains on an upward curve and despite not being entirely fluent in the Red Mills he kept on finding a leg and I think this step up in trip would suit him better than going down the Rynair route.
As a betting contest, the Triumph Hurdle doesn’t interest me, but I have been involved ante-post in the Albert Bartlett.
This three-mile event for novices has turned into a right old bookies’ benefit down through the years with some huge priced winners and normally turns into a right old war of attrition.
Thyme Hill (9/2), Monkfish (11/2) and Latest Exhibition (6/1) are at the top of a very open market, but the first named could readily switch to the Ballymore and the last pair are not superstars so I have gone out on a limb and had a heft each-way play on MOSSY FEN (16/1).
The Twiston-Davies runner has done nothing wrong in his campaign to date with his sole defeat coming over 3m here behind Redford Road when he suffered big interference turning for home.
But for that problem I think he would have rustled up the winner that day and he confirmed himself on the upgrade with a dour staying performance to land the Leamington Spa at Warwick. The bare essentials of that form leave him with a bit to find, but this will be his kind of race and 16/1 will do for me.
The Foxhunters isn’t really my cup of tea, but I will take a sip from the amateur’s Gold Cup with MINELLA ROCCO (11/2) after he made last year’s hero, Hazel Hill, look very ordinary at Wetherby last time out. I know that Jonjo is very sweet on his chances and now that his enthusiasm has apparently been rekindled, a clear round may well be good enough to see the 2017 Gold Cup runner-up land the gold medal.
I have more idea what the winning lottery numbers will be this weekend than the likely victor of the County Hurdle, but the Grand Annual does interest me.
The unbeaten Greaneteen (6/1) is interesting as he could well be a graded chaser in the making, but he does need to settle a wee bit better to get home in a fast run race.
His esteemed handler has given this nine-year-old some very stiff tasks in the past 18 months and I think a repeat of his fourth to Simply Ned in a Grade One at Leopardstown last year or even his sixth behind Altior last year’s Champion Chase would take him very close here and the 20/1 on offer with PP is way too big. Come on Paddy!
*All odds correct at time of publication