Thursday of the Cheltenham Festival is St Patrick’s Day, so there will be plenty of good cheer in the crowd as the well-oiled spectators get stuck into the festivities.
On the track and we have a fantastic day’s racing to savour, including not one but two feature races in the Stayers’ Hurdle and the Ryanair Chase, plus an appetising menu of starters and desserts to bookend the day.
Willie Mullins, the ever-present Cheltenham winning trainer, is never far from the winner’s enclosure, and Thursday in particular looks set to be a glorious day for the Irishman. Can he complete a fantastic treble on Thursday?
Yorkhill to Provide Willie Mullins with Yet Another Festival Winner
The JLT Novices Chase kicks off Thursday’s action and the star attraction in the field is Yorkhill, who at 6/4 represents outstanding value.
The seven-year-old has won eight of his nine starts, with the most memorable being his close fought victory over Yanworth in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at the festival 12 months ago.
With the dream team of Willie Mullins on training duty and Ruby Walsh in the saddle, not a lot looks like it can go wrong for a strong horse who perhaps ought to be a shorter price than this.
Un De Sceaux C’est La Magnifique!
The Ryanair Chase offers Thursday’s standout renewal, and while the absence of Douvan is something of an annoyance this should still be a high quality encounter with five horses priced at 10/1 or shorter.
Of those, it is the favourite, Un De Sceaux, who really catches the eye. This is a classy operator who also runs from the Mullins yard, and his top flight pedigree should be enough to see him home here.
In the past few months alone this nine-year-old has landed the Tingle Creek and Clarence House Chases – two of the more prestigious winter Grade 1 affairs, and the only real blot on his copybook was defeat at Cheltenham 12 months ago; but then, losing out to Sprinter Sacre has no shame attached to it.
There’s strong competition here from the likes of Empire of Dirt and Josses Hill, but like Yorkhill this is another Willie Mullins charge who looks a tad overpriced at 9/4.
The horse with the most annoying name around for writers has been added to the field in the Stayers’ Hurdle, and while the final line-up is yet to be confirmed here is another bookmakers’ favourite worthy of the tag.
The nine-year-old has won each of his last eight outings – six of which were at odds against prices – and clearly the J.P. McManus gelding has found his feet (hooves?) as a stayer of note.
His best performances have come at 23f or more and on good-to-soft ground; the perfect angle in for Cheltenham 2017. He has won twice on this hallowed turf already, including the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle 12 months ago, and in his only appearance of the year to date stayed on well to win in a decent field of the Cleeve Hurdle.
Kate to be Great?
The Dawn Run Mares’ Novices Hurdle might not be the most prestigious renewal of the week at Prestbury Park, but it could be another profitable one for punters should Augusta Kate (7/1) do the business.
She’s faded in the betting markets thanks mainly due to her fall at Naas last time out, but that ignores a trio of good performances prior to that, including two victories and an intriguing run out at the festival 12 months ago, where she finished seventh but only five lengths behind Ballyandy in the Champion Bumper.
Inactivity and a relatively short career over hurdles could be Kate’s downfall, but there is huge potential here and with Willie Mullins in her corner – and in a field that appears to be wide open – that could be decisive.