Racing

Cheltenham Festival tips from the racing experts

“IT WOULD be a dream come true,” was how Gordon Elliott instantly replied when asked what training a Gold Cup winner would mean to him.

The leading trainer was asked the question by Gary O’Brien towards the end on Monday night’s Sean Graham and The Irish News Cheltenham preview night at the Europa Hotel in Belfast. And given that simply backing a Gold Cup winner is difficult enough for us punters, it is easy to see what it must mean to send out a horse to claim the biggest prize on the National Hunt calendar.

Elliott is a young man in training circles, but he may never have a better chance of realising that dream than in this year’s renewal. The Meath handler saddles ante-post favourite Don Cossack in the big race next Friday although, if he is nervous, his demeanour on Monday night didn’t show it.

Indeed, Elliott has become known for giving little away, but he did reveal he thought his horse had a very good chance, with last season’s runner-up Djakadam the one he feard most.

Djakadam is one of a strong contringent heading over the Irish Sea from Willie Mullins’ yard in county Carlow and the stable was represented at Monday’s top table by David Casey, who has made the transition from jockey to assistant trainer in the last 12 months. His insight into the all-conquering Mullins team was manna from heaven for punters throughout the night, but never more so than when giving his thoughts on the Gold Cup.

Earlier in the evening, he had stated forcefully that Vautour should go for the Ryanair on Thursday and, after watching footage on the King George at Christmas when that one was caught on the line by Cue Card, he reinforced that belief.

“Having seen that again, I’m convinced Vautour won’t stay up the hill,” he said.

A line was instantly drawn under the name of that 4/1 shot by most of those in attendance. Casey put forward Djakadam as his stable’s best chance, although he did admit to a bit of bias, having worked on the Rich Ricci-owned runner in recent times.

Of the other leading Mullins contender, the Gigginstown-owned Don Poli, who won the Lexus Chase in gruelling conditions at Christmas, Casey said “he stays longer than the mother-in-law”.

And with the Gold Cup increasingly becoming a grinding race in recnet years, that can never be a bad quality. Indeed, Don Poli was well fancied on the evening by a couple of other panellists.

Mark ‘the Couch’ Winstanley is firmly in his camp, even if the manner of his wins doesn’t always impress: “He keeps winning and I like backing winners,” was his take.

Ronan Graham of Sean Graham Bookmakers described Don Poli as “a superstar”, while Racing UK commentator Richard Hoiles found it impossible to split the two Dons - Cossack and Poli.

“It looks a great race because it will be a real race,” said Hoiles and it is hard to argue.

Noel Fehily gave the edge to Don Cossack, as did Glenavy native and trainer Neil Mulholland and, with the chances of Cue Card readily dismissed, it does seem very likely the Gold Cup will be coming back to Ireland. If it does, it won’t be the only silverware on the ferry, with the Mullins yard expected to dominate the first day at the very least.

All of the experts agreed Douvan will cruise to victory in the Arkle on Tuesday, although the margin of victory was a talking point: “From here to the end of the room,” said Casey.

“He’ll win 20 lengths,” was Winstanley’s view.

Either way, he sounds like a certainty, which can’t be said of red-hot favourite Min in the first race of the Festival, the Supreme Novices’. Each and every one of the panel were very wary of him as a 7/4 jolly, with stablemate Yorkhill a live alternative.

So don’t be wading in on the first favourite was the strong advice. It is a long week after all, and you’ll need some funds for a cracking Gold Cup.

 

PANEL PICKS

Gordon Elliott (Irish trainer)
Supreme Novices’: Min; Arkle: Douvan; Champion Hurdle: My Tent Or Yours; Neptune: A Toi Phill; RSA Chase: No More Heroes; Champion Chase: Un De Sceaux; Champion Bumper: Avenir Dune Vie; Ryanair: Vautour (with a run); World Hurdle: Thistlecrack; Triumph: No Bet; Albert Bartlett: Bleu Et Rouge; Gold Cup: Don Cossack; Nap of the meeting: Thistlecrack

David Casey (assistant trainer to Willie Mullins)
Supreme Novices’:
Yorkhill (with a run); Arkle: Douvan; Champion Hurdle: Sempre Medici (ew); Neptune: Yorkhill (with a run); RSA Chase: No More Heroes; Champion Chase: Un De Sceaux; Champion Bumper: Battleford; Ryanair: Village Vic; World Hurdle: Cole Harden; Triumph: Ivanovich Gorbatov; Albert Bartlett: Bleu Et Rouge; Gold Cup: Djakadam; Nap of the meeting: Vroum Vroum Mag (Mares’ Hurdle)

Neil Mulholland (leading trainer)
Supreme Novices’:
Yorkhill; Arkle: Douvan; Champion Hurdle: The New One; Neptune: Yanworth; RSA Chase: More Of That; Champion Chase: Un De Sceaux; Champion Bumper: Coeur Blimey; Ryanair: Vautour (with a run); World Hurdle: Thistlecrack; Triumph: Sceau Royal; Albert Bartlett: Shantou Village; Gold Cup: Don Cossack; Nap of the meeting: Shantou Village

Noel Fehily (leading jockey)
Supreme Novices’:
Buveur Dair; Arkle: Douvan; Champion Hurdle: Top Notch; Neptune: Yanworth; RSA Chase: Seeyouatmidnight (ew); Champion Chase: Special Tiara; Champion Bumper: Coeur Blimey; Ryanair: Vautour (with a run); World Hurdle: Thistlecrack; Triumph: Clan Des Obeaux; Albert Bartlett: Shantou Village; Gold Cup: Don Cossack; Nap of the meeting: Thistlecrack

Mark Winstanley (racing journalist and professional punter)
Supreme Novices’:
Buveur Dair; Arkle: Sizing John (ew without Douvan); Champion Hurdle: Sempre Medici (ew); Neptune: Yorkhill (with a run); RSA Chase: No More Heroes; Champion Chase: Sizing Granite (ew); Champion Bumper: Ballyandy; Ryanair: Village Vic; World Hurdle: Thistlecrack; Triumph: No bet; Albert Bartlett: Barters Hill; Gold Cup: Don Poli; Nap of the meeting: Sizing John (ew without Douvan)

Richard Hoiles (Racing UK presenter and commentator)
Supreme Novices’:
Supasundae; Arkle: Sizing John (ew without Douvan); Champion Hurdle: Camping Ground; Neptune: Yorkhill (with a run); RSA Chase: No More Heroes; Champion Chase: Un De Sceaux; Champion Bumper: Westend Story; Ryanair: Vautour (with a run); World Hurdle: Saphir Du Rheu; Triumph: Clan Des Obeaux; Albert Bartlett: Barters Hill (lay); Gold Cup: Don Cossack; Nap of the meeting: Johns Spirit (first race on Thursday)

Brian Graham (Sean Graham Bookmakers)
Supreme Novices’:
Altior; Arkle: The Game Changer (ew); Champion Hurdle: Sempre Medici (ew); Neptune: Yanworth; RSA Chase: Vyta Du Roc (ew); Champion Chase: Special Tiara; Champion Bumper: Battleford; Ryanair: Village Vic; World Hurdle: Thistlecrack; Triumph: Sceau Royal; Albert Bartlett: Shantou Village; Gold Cup: Don Poli; Nap of the meeting: Yanworth

Ronan Graham (Sean Graham Bookmakers)
Supreme Novices’:
Yorkhill; Arkle: The Game Changer (ew); Champion Hurdle: Hargam; Neptune: A Toi Phill; RSA Chase: Monksland; Champion Chase: Sire De Grugy; Champion Bumper: Castello Sforza; Ryanair: Dynaste; World Hurdle: Whisper; Triumph: Sceau Royal; Albert Bartlett: Shantou Village; Gold Cup: Don Poli; Nap of the meeting: Cause Of Causes (Kim Muir, last race on Thursday)

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