Sunday 21 January 2018

Djakadam ready to finally deliver Gold for Mullins

Owner Rich Ricci celebrates his first winner of the week with Let’s Dance after her victory in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. The Ricci and Mullins combination saddle Djakadam in today’s Gold Cup. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Owner Rich Ricci celebrates his first winner of the week with Let’s Dance after her victory in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. The Ricci and Mullins combination saddle Djakadam in today’s Gold Cup. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Johnny Ward

They say you should never go back but Djakadam is primed to win the Timico Gold Cup after successive second-place finishes in the race.

Those defeats brought the tally of Willie Mullins-trained seconds in the big one to six: his other runners-up were Florida Pearl, Sir Des Champs, On His Own and Hedgehunter. This season for Djakadam has been about one aim above and at the expense of all others: winning a maiden Gold Cup for his trainer and owner Rich Ricci.

Of course, there are those who will suggest that you cannot win a Gold Cup at the third attempt but Djakadam is only eight - the age of three of the last four winners - and the horses to which he finished second, Coneygree and Don Cossack, are not among the 14 declared.

In truth, this hardly looks a renewal for the ages: no other placed horse from the last two runnings is here, while long-time ante-post favourite Thistlecrack is out too. Cue Card bids to win at 11, seven years after he won the Champion Bumper, while stablemate Native River has been progressing in handicaps.

The first of the Grade Ones today is the Triumph Hurdle, in which much of the talk all week has been about Charli Parcs. This was the horse which fell at Kempton before the Festival, ruling Barry Geraghty out of same.

The in-form Nicky Henderson is bullish about his prospects and it is difficult to get too excited about the Irish contenders, especially as their handicap-class peers bombed in the Fred Winter on Wednesday.

The Albert Bartlett is another story. All year, Gordon Elliott has had the proverbial glint in his eye when talking about Death Duty, the ante-post favourite for the race for some time now.

A somewhat lazy sort, he is designed with tests like this in mind - at least until he goes chasing, which is his main purpose in life.

However, Willie Mullins is throwing quite a few darts at the race, with Augusta Kate and Penhill particularly interesting, and there is British confidence behind Wholestone.

1.30 Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle 2m 179yds

This looks set to stay at home. The Irish record used to be pretty dire in this race but recent victories for Our Conor and Ivanovich Gorbatov have served to bolster general Irish expectation. Joseph O'Brien's batch of horses from JP McManus this year resulted in a mere one runner here, Landofhopeandglory, which has place prospects.

The dry ground looks against Mega Fortune and likely this can go to Defi Du Seuil or Charli Parcs. Nicky Henderson has enormous faith in this horse and one can only presume he was left quite short when falling at Kempton last time.

Certainly, he was labouring at the time, though he may still have won, and the remote fourth in the race, Flying Tiger, won the Fred Winter on Wednesday.

Charli Parcs had hammered Master Blueyes on his British debut and can show his true form here.

Defi Du Seuil may be better on softer ground and he can be sketchy at his hurdles but he has a really impressive engine. He is a class act. Verdict: Charli Parcs makes plenty of appeal here.

2.10 Grade Three Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle 2m 179yds

What used to be the finale, the get-out stakes, of the Festival. As ever, an utterly compelling renewal.

Mick Jazz hardly looks chucked in off 143 but his chance is strong under Jack Kennedy. The obvious eye-catching run here is his narrow second to Labaik at Navan in November and on that occasion he travelled all over his stablemate, which caused a shock when winning the Supreme on Tuesday.

North Hill Harvey has been prepared for this since his course-and-yardage triumph at the November meeting for the Skelton team. He has the right profile for this and seems a bigger threat than Ivanovich Gorbatov, which is a similar price yet has shown very little this season.

Renneti is not quite as intransigent as Labaik when it comes to the start, yet he can be tricky. However, if he jumps off on terms, he has the ability to get seriously involved off 149.

Verdict: Mick Jazz can go well for an in-form team.

2.50 Grade One Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle 3m

This can be a bit of a slog but the ground remains quite lively at Cheltenham and that may be a small worry for long-time favourite Death Duty, which is likely to improve into a Gold Cup horse in time - assuming he proves that he can handle this type of terrain.

The key prep for the race, it seems, is that victory over Augusta Kate in Naas, when the mare fell. Ruby Walsh felt that she would have won, whereas Jack Kennedy was confident that Death Duty would have won. Either way, there is a big discrepancy in their prices here. Wholestone has the right attributes. Nigel Twiston-Davies has had a quiet Festival so far but he is a regular at this track, running his last three races here, and he comes here fresh.

Preference here is for Penhill. Though the trip looked questionable on pedigree, he bolted up on heavy at Limerick at Christmas in what was not a bad race. His jumping remains a little awkward but, if he can get into a rhythm, he has decent each-way claims, especially on ground like this.

Verdict: Penhill is a classy ex-Flat horse and a very interesting contender here, preferred to Death Duty.

3.30 Grade One Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase 3m 2f 70yds

One of those really captivating renewals but lacking a star it seems. Don Cossack was that star, Coneygree won it two years ago as a novice and Thistlecrack was attempting to do that too this year. What a shame that none of the three partakes (injured or retired), while there is also no Don Poli, Valseur Lido or Many Clouds.

More Of That has had problems in the past. He has burst and he fell at Leopardstown last time. However, he beat Annie Power as a hurdler, he is generally a pretty neat jumper and if he can put it all in he has a chance.

What of the Tizzard pair? Cue Card fell travelling well last year but he's getting on and he still has to prove he will get up the hill in proper company over this trip. Native River looks sure to run a big race but it is not hard to pick holes in his form.

Sizing John looks a slightly iffy stayer but Robbie Power has a plan as to how he will get home. Outlander doesn't look good enough but that is not the case for Djakadam, second in the last two renewals. He is a really good jumper, comes here fresh and it is quite possible that Ruby Walsh will try to make the running on him. He can provide Willie Mullins with a first win in the race.

Verdict: Djakadam can edge More Of That and Sizing John in an intriguing renewal.

4.10 St James's Place Foxhunter Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase 3m 2f 70yds

This looks all about On The Fringe, which bids for a third successive win in the race. He made rather hard work of winning this last year but his prep run at Leopardstown, when a strong-travelling second to Foxrock, will have him set up perfectly for this.

He has an ally in Jamie Codd who could hardly be more confident going into the race. He has pleased Enda Bolger in his exercise coming here and there looks to be no hole in him.

Wonderful Charm has an excellent ally here in Katie Walsh, who was over at the Paul Nicholls yard recently to give the horse a school. She has a live each-way chance on a horse that was very good on his day and is only nine.

Pacha Du Polder, which was beaten under three lengths in the race last year under Victoria Pendleton, can hardly be ruled out.

Verdict: On The Fringe is not a big price but extremely hard to oppose as he bids to win this for the third year running.

4.50 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle 2m 4f

Castello Sforza could be interesting here for Willie Mullins, who has a cracking record in the Martin Pipe.

Jonathan Moore is an excellent booking and, while he would be an unconventional winner of this as he has not even won a hurdle race, he could be well-served off 138, since he was only beaten three lengths in the Champion Bumper last year and now encounters similar ground for the first time. He has done little wrong in his maidens and has a sporting chance.

Stablemate Battleford was ahead of the selection in the Champion Bumper, arguably has better hurdles form yet gets weight off the selection, so a case can certainly be made for him; however, his jumping is nowhere near good enough to win this unless he improves drastically.

Verdict: On The Fringe is not a big price but extremely hard to oppose as he bids to win this for the third year running.

5.30 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase 2m

The last race looks one of the toughest of the Festival, with Le Prezien a hopeful selection. He was touched off by Yorkhill at Aintree over hurdles in Grade One company last year, while he was beaten narrowly by Charbel in Uttoxeter on his chase debut when probably needing it a bit. A mark of 146 may be a little lenient, though he does need to improve.

Dandridge would be a popular winner for Arthur Moore, who has very few horses of note nowadays. He was second in the race last year and it has been a 12-month plan to go one better, though he has now 6lb higher.

Velvet Maker can certainly not be ruled out. It is a worry that he has struggled both visits to the Festival but he shaped nicely hurdling last time for Alan Fleming.

Verdict: Le Prezien is a smart novice and appeals as the right type for this.

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