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If McCoy was on, Holywell would be half the price for the Gold Cup

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Holywell, with Richie McLernon up

Holywell, with Richie McLernon up

SPORTSFILE

Holywell, with Richie McLernon up

Tuesday

Champion Hurdle

By mid-afternoon on Tuesday we will finally have discovered the limit of Faugheen's ability. Or not.

The irony is you only discover how good one really is when it gets beaten - and that hasn't happened to Faugheen. Yet. The odds either way are about the toss of a coin if we believe the market. In nine wins to date Faugheen "the machine" has never faced a 170 RPR-rated horse. He faces three amongst his seven opponents on Tuesday.

Faugheen polarises opinion and it is easy to argue both sides. However, ultimately it comes down to value and at the prices in light of the competition he has to be opposed. The gladiator that is Hurricane Fly is reluctantly passed over on the drying ground and choosing between last year's winner (Jezki) and some would say moral winner (The New One) is not easy with the marginal call going to The New One to avenge last year's misfortune.

Selection: The New One

Novices Handicap Chase

It's a relatively recent addition to the Festival menu and even at that it has changed title more frequently than Chelmsford City (or was that Great Leighs, or?).

A 0-140 handicap with a guaranteed maximum field and a weight-range that's as tight as a conditions race, it's an unlikely source for a selection. However, I was taken enough with Generous Ransom's victory during trials' day over course and distance to believe then he was tailor-made for this event.

In a very strongly run event, Nick Gifford's chestnut travelled easily before picking off the leaders at will and winning with any amount in hand. His idling finish means he was raised just 8lbs.

The fourth that day won a much stronger race at Ascot next time and is now rated 152 as a result. Generous Ransom will obviously need luck in running, but Daryl Jacob is having a very confident year and off just 136 I'll be extremely surprised if there's a better handicapped horse in the race.

Selection: Generous Ransom

Wednesday

Champion Chase

Possibly the most fascinating event of the entire Festival, it features the previous two winners, both with something to prove. Ironically I want to be against both on opposite grounds.

The bounce factor is a real fear for Sprinter Sacre after Ascot, where not only was he totally empty from the second last, but also bled to boot. Sire de Grugy's potential downfall is three quick races in a month after a lengthy absence.

Dodging Bullets is undoubtedly the form horse this year but has a horrible record during the spring and is disturbingly weak in the market lately. While Champagne Fever has an admirable record at the Festival (should be 3-3), the yard has been trying to make a three-miler of him all year and it's not a preparation blueprint I'd seek for this race.

If you had told me I'd be tipping Mr Mole for this race a year ago when his attitude stank and he was decanting AP McCoy at the last off 147 in the Grand Annual, I'd have been calling the white-coats.

However, beyond the routine Ditcheat wind op, he's had (it appears) a heart and an engine transplant this campaign and four wins on the bounce, including the same handicap Master Minded won as well as a career-best Game Spirit, make him very attractive at double figures in places.

Selection: Mr Mole

RSA

In spite of just two public opportunities, to my eyes Don Poli is the most impressive staying novice I've seen all year.

His strongest suit is stamina. It won the day in the Martin Pipe at last year's Festival. It made the difference again at Leopardstown where he took the step up to Grade 1 in the Topaz Oil after Christmas. It will be a big asset in what is traditionally one of the most attritional skirmishes of the four days.

His jumping has been mustard too. Six, lightly-raced andunbeaten in five of his last six runs, he is still open to bags of improvement. Talk readily extends to prospects for Gold Cup 2016. Parallels with Sir Des Champs are obvious. Don Poli should win, with price the only downside.

Selection: Don Poli

Thursday

JLT Novices' Chase

I have a suspicion the Irish novice chasers are ahead of their British counterparts. That, allied with an Ascot fall last time, sees me go against Ptit Zig in this.

Sorting between the three main Irish protagonists is not so easy. Murmurs about Vautour have been underwhelming of late so at around 2/1 he is easy to resist. Apache Stronghold and Valseur Lido are closely matched on Moriarty form where very little divided them in a driving finish.

Two things sway me towards Valseur Lido. His long absence (since his scintillating Grade 1 Drinmore win) meant he was undoubtedly in need of the run, and almost certainly has the more improvement. Secondly, Apache Stronghold was sloppy at times at his obstacles and while he (just) got away with it in Foxrock, he most certainly will not in the Cotswolds. Valseur Lido it is so.

Selection: Valseur Lido

Ryanair Chase

THE possible late switch of Boston Bob from the Gold Cup makes an already competitive race one of the most open contests of the Festival.

Much has been made of Don Cossack's absence of a counter-clockwise win, but in truth many horses have got one question mark or another surrounding them.

In the spirit of keeping it simple I have been very taken with Balder Succes since his step up in trip. Many believe Ma Filleule will reverse Ascot form. The mare is (to my mind) inexplicably shorter in the betting as the weights are the same at Cheltenham and the Alan King horse was always holding her comfortably that day.

Significantly, Balder Succes is unbeaten since his step up to two and a half miles and there could still be more to come.

Selection: Balder Succes

Friday

Triumph Hurdle

While favourite Peace And Co has been visually impressive there are at least three reasons to oppose him at the parsimonious 7/4 (Ladbrokes) on offer.

The horse is pretty highly strung for such an occasion as Gold Cup day; his level of form is not that far ahead of some of the opposition as the market suggests; all his three career runs have come on very soft ground - something that might be ancient history by the time Friday comes if the forecast is accurate.

Ironically, I have been even more impressed with his stablemate Top Notch, as he looks like a thoroughly professional and highly talented horse who is still unbeaten after five runs.

He is as slick a jumper of a hurdle as I have seen all year, his stamina is assured in a race that is always tough for a juvenile, and if his stable-mate (and the hype around him) weren't in the race, I believe Top Notch would be favourite. He'll do for me.

Selection: Top Notch

Gold Cup

Following 2014's race from the twilight zone, 2015 isn't exactly a vintage renewal for for most coveted prize on the calendar.

What it isn't lacking, however, is competition and any of seven or eight could win it without anyone raising an eyebrow. Silviniaco Conti should have won it last year but threw it away and is now 0-3 at the track. He undoubtedly has the best form, but it is all elsewhere.

Many Clouds is likely to find the ground too lively by Friday, and whilst Djakadam was interesting at 20/1 and above, his price right now based on any previous achievement is an insult both to humour and intelligence. Road To Riches and Carlingford Lough are similar horses on the Lexus form, but I'd have preferred to see Road To Riches on the track in 2015 and I have serious reservations about Carlingford Lough's aptitude for the obstacles around HQ (see last year's RSA).

In the close season Holywell was on everyone's lips for the Gold Cup. But punters have goldfish memories and Jonjo O'Neill's abysmal winter form saw Holywell disappear from view.

His Kelso win in February was just an exercise canter but at least it got his trainer off the ice-cold list. Holywell's Festival record is exemplary (won Pertemps and Handicap Chase last two seasons), the drying ground is in his favour and if AP McCoy was jocked up, the horse would be half the price.

Selection: Holywell

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