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Goshen’s impressive win the Kingwell Hurdle really adds spice to this year’s renewal and while it looked a little bit of a weak edition of the race around early January, it now looks like it could be one of the better renewals in recent years.
Epatante is the defending champion, but she had her bubble burst by Silver Streak in the Christmas Hurdle and she looks to have her work cut out to regain her crown – with this year’s renewal looking stronger than the edition she won. Honeysuckle looked awesome when winning the Irish Champion Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival and were she to replicate that level of form here, she would prove extremely difficult to beat.
I can see her being a clear favourite on the day but, from a pure value point of view, it may be worth having an each-way bet on ASPIRE TOWER. He looked mighty on his first two hurdles starts as a juvenile and was slightly disappointing in the Triumph Hurdle last year, when finishing second but he never travelled or jumped as well as he could that day.
He has taken his form to another level this season, winning the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle at Down Royal, where he beat Abacadabras and Jason The Militant, and bettered that form again when second in the Matheson Hurdle behind Sharjah. He is going to Cheltenham fresh, which I believe is the key to him and I anticipate that he will be at decent odds at the final declaration stage, which would be a fair each-way price.
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Chacun Pour Soi has only managed seven starts in the last three seasons, but he’s won all but one of those races and looks tough to beat here. He has been very impressive on all starts this season, but he clearly hasn’t been easy to keep sound and there is a small niggle that he will have to have the race in the bag jumping the final fence, as his finishing effort hasn’t quite matched the brilliance he displays throughout the rest of his races.
At odds on, I can swerve him and will side with PUT THE KETTLE ON who won last year’s Arkle and is three-from-three at Cheltenham. She was behind Chacun Pour Soi last time, but the return to Cheltenham can see her get much closer to him at the very least.
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Thyme Hill and Paisley Park deserve to head up the market and of those two, I would be inclined to choose the younger legs of Thyme Hill to come on top, but there is one intriguing entry who make plenty of appeal if taking his chance here rather than in the Gold Cup and it is VINNDICATION.
Better known as a staying chaser these days, he was second to Cyrname in the Charlie Hall Chase in October and was running a big race off top weight in the Ladbroke Trophy when he unseated at the cross fence.
Last season he was fourth off a mark of 159 when top weight in the Ultima Chase, so the track at Cheltenham doesn’t hold any fears. He was unbeaten as a hurdler, winning three times as a novice – including beating Champ at Ascot and easily winning the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon. He has failed to have a prep run for the Gold Cup, which means he may well take his chance in this race and he would be one that easily come alive in the market if that transpires.
Golden Millar – five times, Arkle and Best Mate – 3 times are in the history books and AL BOUM PHOTO can join them if he can get the business done here. He won his first Gold Cup as a seven-year-old in a strongly run race back in 2019 and last season he proved his versatility when he won the Gold Cup despite the race being run at a slow pace.
Champ and A Plus Tard have emerged as the big dangers, but I still believe that they will need to improve another 6lbs to beat Al Boum Photo here. In my opinion he is hugely underrated still, but that surely won’t be the case when he wins this third Gold Cup.
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