There is no question that if Best Mate (pictured) were to come home victorious in Thursday’s Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup (Thursday, 3.15pm), it would be a very popular win.
Last year, the Henrietta Knight-trained star performer went down in history, as he became the first horse for 32 years to win back-to-back Cheltenham Gold Cups. This year, victory would set his name in stone as the first horse since the great Arkle to win three successive Gold Cups.
Since the tragic departure of Jair du Cochet from the line-up last week, Best Mate’s odds have been shortening. Saturday’s announcement that second favourite Kingscliff had been withdrawn from the Blue Riband race means that ‘Matey’s’ likely victory is further secured.
His next challenger is Martin Pipe-trained Therealbandit, whose participation in Thursday’s race was confirmed on Saturday. This seven-year-old gelding undoubtedly has a lot going for him. He is trained by eight-times champion trainer Martin Pipe, and ridden by leading jump jockey Tony McCoy, and connections are hoping he can come in a good second to Best Mate.
Ten-year-old Rooster Booster will also be returning to defend his title in the Smurfit Champion Hurdle (Tuesday, 3.20). But Rigmarole, under Ruby Walsh, may prove a danger. He beat the grey gelding in the Bula Hurdle at Newbury in December. Rooster Booster could also face a challenge from Jonjo O’Neill-trained Intersky Falcon, a horse with proven ability.
In the Queen Mother Champion Chase (Wednesday, 3.20), last year’s winner Moscow Flyer heads a field of eight. The 10-year-old will have the support of the Irish crowd. Trained in County Kildare by Jessica Harrington, this horse’s most likely challenger will be last year’s Arkle winner, Azertyuiop.
A surprise confirmation for the 2m steeplechase is rank outsider Venn Ottery. Owner Oliver Carter has backed the nine-year-old at 1000-1.
Baracouda makes up the last of the ‘Famous Four’ who will be defending their titles at the festival. He will be vying to win the bonusprint.com Stayers’ Hurdle for the third consecutive year. The Doumen-double gelding (trained by Francois and ridden by son, Thierry) has a 100% record on the Prestbury Park course. Jonjo O’Neill provides another challenge in Iris’ Gift, who was a strong contender in this race last year.
If all of the ‘Famous Four’ do win their races, this year’s festival could prove unprofitable for most bookmakers. At Cheltenham last year, there were 10 winning favourites in 20 races, making it a punters’ year. The public will be eager to return and see the big names win.
HHO’s Hot Tips
Caracciola – Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase (Tues, 2.40)
Our Vic – Royal & Sun Alliance Chase (Weds, 2.35)
Bright Approach – Christie’s Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup (Thurs, 4.00)