Glittering Star won't let Denman bully him this time
It's a slap in the face for advocates of hype. Today is 'The Decider', aka the head-to-head between Kauto Star and Denman in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.20). But the quest to talk up other so-called match-ups has failed dismally at a festival where the only thing to expect is the unexpected.
A series of posters at Cheltenham, designed along boxing lines, have long since frayed at the edges. Dunguib vs Get Me Out Of Here was a damp squib as Menorah swept to victory, while Master Minded vs Kalahari King saw only the latter manage to scramble into the frame. Now for the World Jump Racing Championship: Kauto 'Star' vs Denman 'The Tank'.
Can there really be hordes of people out there who believe Denman will win? If so, and if Kauto Star saunters to his third Gold Cup victory, they will have to acknowledge their folly. The greatest steeplechaser since Arkle was in their midst while they wasted their time championing a false god.
At least those poster boys have got it half-right. Kauto Star is a champion but Denman is no more than a playground bully which enjoys thumping inferior horses in handicaps like the Hennessy.
Those who hark back to his 2008 Gold Cup triumph conveniently forget one thing. Kauto Star wasn't right that day. To see him struggling at halfway after a series of ponderous jumps was to recognise that his Ascot prep four weeks earlier had sent him over the top.
Paul Nicholls learnt his lesson. Kauto Star showed his trainer that he was best fresh, and since then, the horse has rewarded him with two Kempton King Georges and last season's Gold Cup. He simply cannot be opposed as he bids for a repeat victory and a third Gold Cup in four years.
Which Denman will turn up? That's anyone's guess. The Denman which landed the Hennessy in November most certainly wasn't the one which unseated Tony McCoy back at Newbury last month. The horse with his own ideas is unwilling to share them with anyone.
Imperial Commander is another in the Denman mould. Having almost beaten a less-than-fully-fit Kauto Star at Haydock in November, he flunked badly in the King George and has not run since. He has place prospects but Cooldine represents a greater threat.
Willie Mullins' horse showed that he was coming to hand last time. Any rain would help his cause but he is probably galloping for second place at best. Kauto Star cannot realistically be opposed.
SECOND-TIME LUCKY FOR MULLINS' ESPRIT
It's funny how some things turn out. After shuffling his pack of novice hurdlers and dealing them out, Mullins elected to saddle Quel Esprit for Wednesday's Neptune Investments Novices Hurdle and Enterprise Park for today's Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (2.40) over three miles.
It's impossible to know whether Mullins had called it right, since Quel Esprit fell at the second flight on Wednesday.
In consequence, the trainer can turn him out quickly in the Alfred Bartlett. And a personal opinion is that this one won't take anything like as much winning as the Neptune.
Quel Esprit already has winning form at the trip, and although he would prefer a softer surface, his stamina is a crucial asset in a race that seems sure to be run at a cut-throat gallop. Britain's best, Tell Massini and Restless Harry, both thrive for running aggressively, and with another fancied runner, Silver Kate, likely to lead from the tapes, no prisoners will be taken.
The likely war of attrition will compromise all three, and Quel Esprit, who looked a quality beast when he paced the paddock on Wednesday, can seize an opportunity that would never have come his way but for the finger of fate.
NINA LINK-UP CAN REVIVE DUN DOIRE
The Christie's Foxhunter Chase (4.00) isn't normally high on the agenda when it comes to finding winners but an exception should be made for this year's renewal. The booking of Nina Carberry for Dun Doire demands attention.
Formerly trained by Tony Martin, Dun Doire landed the William Hill Handicap Chase at this festival four years ago under a masterful ride from Ruby Walsh. And although he subsequently lost his way, the 11-year-old has been revitalised for a spell in the Point-to-Point field.
Dun Doire will need to be on his mettle. Roulez Cool is a young hunter on the rise, while the likes of Baby Run, Trust Fund and Turthen hail from yards that do well in the discipline. With Carberry aboard, however, Dun Doire is taken to revive former glories.
NUIT POISED TO BRING CURTAIN DOWN IN STYLE
Ireland has sound prospects of winning the JCB Triumph Hurdle (1.30), with Alaivan and Carlito Brigante spearheading the challenge. Yet with so much of the season mired in mud, it's hard to know which of these inexperienced novices will cope with the hustle and bustle of a big field on decent ground.
The race holds little appeal in consequence. The same is true of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (4.40), in which the favourite Qaspal has missed the cut by one place.
But the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase (5.15), which closes the festival, is a different matter. This race often falls to a horse on the rise, and few have raised their profile higher than Oiseau du Nuit. The eight-year-old is well worth an interest.