David P Howard: Geograph

Onto the third day of the Cheltenham Festival and it’s the day where the home team might take back some ground in the race for the Prestbury Cup. With the Irish team expected to be ahead at the halfway point of The Festival, Thursday can go to the home team.

The opening race, the Marsh Novices’ Chase should continue the Irish run with Envoi Allen impossible to oppose with his main rivals choosing to feature elsewhere. With Energumene and Monkfish not likely to line up here, the best home talent is found in Dan Skelton’s Shan Blue who should get his ground here after just failing to stay with Sporting John in the Scilly Isles Chase at Sandown on heavy ground last time out.

Sporting John re-opposes here too and should the ground cut up on the New Course may have things to his advantage. But, in Envoi Allen, they meet the unbeaten superstar of the novice chasing ranks who has won in successive years at The Festival, backing up a win in the Champion Bumper with an easy Ballymore triumph last year. Viewed by many as the THE banker for The Festival, first round to Ireland.

The Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle can go to the home team however, where Tom George’s Come On Teddy seems to have slipped into this from a feather weight and under the radar. A winner here over course and distance in December, he should have a big part to play if the ground stays good to soft and looks a steal in the ante post markets at around 12/1. All square on the day after two rounds.

Cheltenham Racecourse © David P Howard :: Geograph Britain and Ireland
David P Howard: Geograph

The Ryanair Chase is next up, and the Irish hold a very strong hand here with Min, Melon and Allaho all featuring prominently in the early betting. Festival winner Fakir D’oudairies adds to the appeal of the away team but this can go to Kim Bailey’s Imperial Aura, so impressive when landing the 1965 Chase at Ascot last November and who is also a course winner here. With Kim Bailey and David Bass having a fine season, round three to the home team.

It should be the home team again in the Stayers’ Hurdle where Thyme Hill and previous winner Paisley Park lock horns for the third time this season. The score is one apiece after the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and the Long Walk at Ascot so there’s a competition within a competition in this race.

There’s very little to choose between them but Thyme Hill is less exposed than his older rival and may have more to come. Paisley Park is back to his best after a lacklustre defence of his title last year and will stay forever up that punishing hill so any more cut in the ground would play into his hands.

The Irish hopes lay with Gavin Cromwell’s Flooring Porter and Sire Du Berlais from Gordon Elliott’s Cullentra base but, although closely matched on ratings they do look a little short of the class of the home pair.

The Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase looks wide open and could go to any number of likely types. It’s a race that should be going to an unexposed, improving horse and in Umbrigado, David Pipe has a live chance for his progressive seven year old. Stepped up in class he took the Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury last time out and can figure again on better going.

Venetia Williams Ibleo also looks the type that could enter calculations if getting this trip but he did finish runner up here on soft ground in December so the track holds no fears while Chatham Street Lad won the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup here in December and looks one of the more likely types from across the Irish Sea.

In an open race, it’s anyone’s guess which way the coin will land but the home team should remain ahead on the day.

Cheltenham Racecourse © David P Howard :: Geograph Britain and Ireland
David P Howard: Geograph

Willie Mullins holds the key to the Parnell Properties Mares’ Novice Hurdle with Gauloise and Hook Up. He is thinking of a tactical change for Gauloise, riding her more prominently and, untested on better ground, she could have plenty more improvement to come.

However, Hook Up, in Rich Ricci’s pink silks looked a class act when outrunning her odds of 50/1 to finish fourth in the Grade 1 Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival despite some sloppy jumping. Back against her own sex, and with some slicker action over the timber she makes a worthy joint favourite in the ante post markets.

She shares that billing with Peter Fahey’s Royal Kahala who just failed in her hat-trick bid when two lengths adrift of Jonathan Sweeney’s Roseys Hollow at Fairyhouse but the pair of them meet again here. The closest the home team are likely to be are with Alan King’s The Glancing Queen in a race dominated by Irish raiders. Another point to Ireland here.

On to the closing race of day three and it’s another cavalry charge in the Kim Muir. Again, this could go to anywhere and it’s just too long a list of possibles to go through here. Having said that, Shantou Flyer has course form, Snow Leopardess looks an improver who should benefit from the quicker ground and Jonjo O’Neill’s Time To Get Up are all worth a second look for the home contingent.

Amongst the raiders, John McConnell’s Go Another One looks cracking each way value with the ground to be turning in his favour while Run Wild Fred in the Gigginstown silks should be involved despite the quicker surface.

With just the one day left, Ireland should be well ahead in the race for the Prestbury Cup with their embarrassment of riches sure to have given their team a clear lead over the first two days, but Thursday is the day the home side can play catch-up, with just Gold Cup day left in this year’s race for the Prestbury Cup

This preview has been brought to you by our regular correspondent, Hector Steiff

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