Cheltenham Festival Tips: Tom Collins provides his selections for Friday’s card

14 March 2024

And just like that we have reached the end of a fabulous four-day Cheltenham Festival. Well, three days I suppose as that superlative doesn’t accurately describe Wednesday’s six-race card!

The Cheltenham Gold Cup headlines a pretty enticing afternoon at Prestbury Park on Friday. There are plenty of chances for big-priced winners alongside some good-looking hotpots, so hopefully we can end the meeting on a high.

Triumph Hurdle (1.30 Cheltenham)

All the talk pre-February was about Burdett Road and Sir Gino for this year’s Triumph, but both horses have been pulled out of the contest before it has begun. Sir Gino’s 11th hour withdrawal unfortunately ruins the market somewhat for the race. 

Willie Mullins has won three of the last four renewals and he’s represented by seven horses this time around. Stable jockey Paul Townend will partner Storm Heart, who he gave a pretty bad ride to at the Dublin Racing Festival, while Mark Walsh combines with Majborough again. Danny Mullins remains on the winner of that event, Kargese.

The market will always shift the way of the leading riders in races like this, but I think two of Mullins’ string are overpriced. Bunting bolted up in a flat race on heavy ground in France before making an emphatic rules debut at Limerick. He only finished fourth behind his aforementioned stablemates at Leopardstown last time, but he made critical jumping mistakes and actually shaped far better than the form figure may suggest. Testing ground is perfect for him.

Ethical Diamond is another runner that really interests me. He was only sixth in that event at the DRF, but he was held up way off the speed and closed out nicely under minimal riding. There are far worse 20/1 shots on Friday, though it has to be said that better ground would have helped.

Selection: Bunting @ 16/1 & Ethical Diamond @ 22/1

County Handicap Hurdle (2.10 Cheltenham)

I’m also going to take two shots at horses in the County this year. King Of Kingsfield is highly likely to go off favourite due to his form with Ballyburn and Slade Steel, but the value has already been sucked out of his price. L’Eau Du Sud is another that will take cash but he hasn’t looked like a strong stayer at this trip and that would worry me.

JP McManus always has plenty of chances in these festival handicaps but he hasn’t had much success in this race with just one winner (Saint Roi in 2020) in the last ten years. Nevertheless, all four of his runners this time around look to hold strong claims and I’m going to have a few quid on So Scottish, who could be very well handicapped on just his second run in a handicap hurdle. 

This horse shaped very nicely at Leopardstown after a break in February and went up a 2lb for finishing fourth. After ‘Irish tax’ was added he gets in off a nice racing weight and that man Emmet Mullins will have him ready.

Pied Piper also interests me right at the other end of the handicap. The Gordon Elliott-trained topweight finished second in this event last year and arguably should have won but for pecking after the last hurdle. He’s been campaigned to keep his mark down and shaped well in the Cesarewitch back in October. This race is far easier than trying to beat State Man last time!

Selection: Pied Piper @ 13/1 & So Scottish @ 12/1

Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (2.50 Cheltenham) 

Dancing City was going to be my selection here but I believe the ground has gone for him. He has form in the mud but arguably wants quicker underfoot conditions and that has put me off having a bet. I’m happy to leave this race alone.

Selection: N/A

Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase (3.30 Cheltenham)

Some people have said that Galopin Des Champs is too short in the market - I completely disagree. Willie Mullins’ star chaser disposed of his rivals to win by seven lengths in this race last year and has proved that he’s as good as ever with romps in the Savills Chase and Irish Gold Cup this term.

Fastorslow beat him in the John Durkan, but that was Galopin Des Champs’ reappearance run over a much shorter trip when Mullins wasn’t firing on all cylinders. More than enough of an excuse to lose that day. I struggle to see how Martin Brassil’s runner will confirm that form or how the super slow Gerri Colombe can run the sting out of the jolly.

Bravemansgame has seconditis and I don’t believe he stays this trip well at Cheltenham, while the Venetia Williams form is a big concern for L’Homme Presse. Corach Rambler is yet to prove his quality against top-level staying chasers and Hewick probably would have been stuffed by Galopin Des Champs 12 months ago. Take the jolly to win - he has more than a 45% chance of success.

Selection: Galopin Des Champs @ 10/11

St James’ Palace Hunters’ Chase (4.10 Cheltenham) 

I’m not going to lie and say I know loads about hunter chasers, but I do know how well these horses have performed when they have raced under rules. Premier Magic won this event last year and has been targeted here all year, so he must have a chance, but I prefer the Irish (yet again) and specifically Its On The Line.

He was 11 lengths behind Premier Magic at the final flight last year but stayed on powerfully up the hill and reduced that deficit with every stride. After falling at Aintree on his next outing, Its On The Line racked up four wins from five races and has beaten reopposing rivals Fern Lock and Billaway in the process.

Emmet Mullins’ runner is young for this division and remains progressive. He was purchased by JP McManus in the build-up to the festival and will be tough to hold up the Cheltenham hill.

Selection: Its On The Line @ 9/5

Mares’ Chase (4.50 Cheltenham)

This is just the fourth running of the Mares’ Chase and that man again, Willie Mullins, is looking for his third success. It’s not the most exciting penultimate race of the Cheltenham festival, but it looks like providing another winning favourite as Dinoblue is the clear form standout.

The daughter of Doctor Dino has never finished outside the top two in nine starts over fences (five wins, four seconds) and it’s noteworthy that she beat the boys in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas. Running against El Fabiolo last time was a tough task and this is far easier. She has upwards of 5lb in hand over all of her rivals.

Selection: Dinoblue @ Evens

Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (5.30 Cheltenham) 

Look out for future stars in the festival finale as Don Poli (2014), Killultagh Vic (2015), Champagne Classic (2017), Galopin Des Champs (2021) and Banbridge (2022) have all plundered this prize in the last decade before recording at least one Grade 1 success. 

The two obvious contenders to add to that tally are Quai De Bourbon, who has won both starts under rules and looks a stayer in the making, and Galway and Fairyhouse winner Waterford Whispers. I actually prefer the latter despite him losing his winning sequence when last seen.

He’s a fine stamp of an individual who should relish the fast gallop they will go here. I’m convinced he’s well treated off his current mark, even though it is 6lb higher than what he would race off in Ireland, and fluent jumping helps his cause.

Selection: Waterford Whispers @ 7/2

Cheltenham Festival Friday Tips

Bunting (1.30 Cheltenham) @ 16/1
Ethical Diamond (1.30 Cheltenham) @ 22/1
Pied Piper (2.10 Cheltenham) @ 13/1
So Scottish (2.10 Cheltenham) @ 12/1
Galopin Des Champs (3.30 Cheltenham) @ 10/11
Its On The Line (4.10 Cheltenham) @ 9/5
Dinoblue (4.50 Cheltenham) @ Evens
Waterford Whispers (5.30 Cheltenham) @ 7/2

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