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Victori Chandler on day four of the Cheltenham Festival
5:50pm Thursday 14th March 2013 in Sport
The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the Blue Riband of the Festival. Eleven go to post, with the dual King George winner and 2011 Gold Cup hero Long Run only fourth favourite, behind the Cheltenham specialists Bobs Worth and Sir Des Champs and the unexposed Silviniaco Conti.
Bobs Worth is a worthy favourite, tough and resolute and we haven't seen him since he landed the Hennessy Gold Cup in December - but he is reported in rude health, is unbeaten in four at Cheltenham, stays all day and jumps well.
He is the one to beat but I have been a Sir Des Champs (3.15) fan since he landed last year's Jewson Novices' chase and see no point in deserting him now.
The selection represents Willie Mullins, won the Grade 1 Irish Hennessy last time and should enjoy the better ground he will encounter today.
Sir Des Champs has yet to confirm he stays 3m 2f and you can pick holes in his form in comparison with the other market leaders, but I have felt for 12 months he was a Gold Cup winner-in-waiting.
The Triumph Hurdle opens the card at 1.30.
Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson have won four of the last five renewals between them and have the market leaders via Far West and Rolling Star, but I hope the Irish can win for the first time since 2002 with Our Conor, winner of all three starts including in Grade 1 company at Leopardstown last month.
This is his first test of a big field (17 runners) but Far West's form took a knock when River Maigue ran poorly on the opening day and Rolling Star might be the big danger for Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty.
We are offering ¼ odds first five in the County Hurdle.
One day the Emma Lavelle string will return to form and when they do she will have some very well-handicapped horses, including Claret Cloak, but the nod goes to Ifandbutwhynot 10/1 (2.05) who has always promised to be a decent sort for Paul Nicholls.
The selection has improved all season and is only 5lb higher than when scoring at Musselburgh last time, giving the impression he would improve again back on a left-handed track.
All week I have been waiting for At Fishers Cross in the Albert Bartlett, but he is too short in the betting now the ground continues to dry out. On soft ground he would be something to bet on, but I am going to side with Ballycasey (2.40) who, as a son of Presenting, is bred to appreciate decent ground and still has shown a good level of form in Ireland on heavy ground this winter.
Salsify (4.00) and Chapoturgeon fought out the finish to the Foxhunters' last season. The former will love the ground and has built up a rapport with Colman Sweeney.
Dante's Son was impressive in an egg and spoon race at Doncaster last time, but disappointed two years ago in this corresponding event and this is best left to the favourite - although he will be ridden with restraint and is likely to be out the back for much of the race.
Gevrey Chambertin must go close in the Martin Pipe Hurdle for David Pipe.
The trainer normally has a handful of runners in the race, but has only one today and Tom Bellamy takes off a valuable 6lbs. The grey, a brother of Grands Crus, looks the one to beat but is only 4/1 and has to be opposed at that price.
I have been waiting for decent ground for Village Vic (4.40) for some time now and the form of his 3l defeat by The New One here back in October looks decent form given the winner sluiced up on Wednesday.
The Grand Annual is the Getting Out Stakes and Nicky Henderson saddles six of the 24-runners. Stable jockey Barry Geraghty rides French Opera and all the Henderson runners have chances but there is no question that Alderwood (5.15) is very well treated on his hurdle form, will love the ground and can give the JP McManus/AP McCoy combination a winning finale.
Yesterday's column flagged up a 20-1 winner in the first race when Benefficient won by three lengths.