Cheltenham Day 4: The Gold Cup

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Gold Cup Day.

By this time, most years, I have an empty pocket and a full heart. This year, it’s a little bit of both. Just a little bit, though. My friends keep sending me photos and videos of Cheltenham, I can almost taste the Guinness, almost sense the moment when Sprinter Sacre rolled down the hill, almost feel the Racing Post flutter out of my hand when Thistlecrack ran past. Almost.

Thistlecrack trounced rivals in the Ryanair World Hurdle Thursday. Flawless, peerless. Some horse.

As for the Iroquois/World Hurdle bonus, unfortunately, Thistlecrack is not the right horse. A big National Hunt type, he never ran on the flat, making his debut in a bumper and he’s simply too good, the World Hurdle is his for as long as they want, or the Gold Cup could be his, if they decide, which sounds like they have. Thistlecrack would win the Iroquois, but it would take a toll.

Trainer Colin Tizzard was quoted in the Racing Post this morning, “He’s a big, heavy boy and I don’t think we would be running him on watered ground in America.”

Right concept, wrong horse.

Last year’s winner, Cole Harden, he should come, win the Iroquois this year and dream about the $500,000 bonus from now until next year.

As for yesterday’s picks, Empire Of Dirt came through at 18-1, that helped and a few others ducked and dived to pick up some money.

Last day. Back to reality, tomorrow.

Race 1. The JCB Triumph Hurdle. Grade 1. $176,500. 2 1/8 miles.

The 4-year-old division is so strong in Britain, 15 of tomorrow’s stars clash in the opener. It gives 4-year-olds a chance to stay in their class, battle test, and then graduate. Aidan O’Brien, yes, that Aidan O’Brien, sends out Ivanovich Gorbatov, while Paul Nicholls counters with five runners, he says his 4-year-olds are his future. True.

Go to the window, open the window and throw your bills in the air.

The Picks: Zubayr, Connetable, Footpad.

Race 2. 10:10. The Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle. Grade 3. $132,500. 2 1/8 miles.

Another wildly open handicap.

The Picks: Starchitect, Superb Story, Hawk High.

Race 3. 10:50. The Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. Grade 1. $176,500. 3 miles.

In a stamina searching 3 miles for novices, no horse stays better than Barters Hill, a horse bought for little by a bunch of friends to help their buddy who had just hung a shingle as a horse trainer. Good story, good horse.

The Picks: Barters Hill, Shantou Village, Aurillac.

Race 4. 11:30. The Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup. Grade 1. $845,500. 3 1/4 miles.

For three years, I had never seen a Gold Cup not won by Best Mate, then it was the Kauto Star years, of course Denman, then a few other one-year stars, stellar horses, stellar performances. This year, well, you’ve got to root for Cue Card, a Cheltenham bumper winner and still going strong and you’ve got to root for Smad Place, the free-wheeling gray who will take them a long way. Don Cossack was right there in the King George when he fell, he returned for a confidence boost in January and comes here nailed on for his biggest day.

The Picks: Don Cossack, Cue Card, Don Poli.

Race 5. 12:10. The St. James’s Place Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup. Hunter Chase. 3 1/4 miles.

The Victoria Pendleton show, Olympic bicycle racer turned jockey, well, maybe not all the way turned, I hope she gets around. Beyond the Olympian, there are 23 other riders yearning and wishing for a day to define them.

The Picks: Current Event, Paint The Clouds, On The Fringe.

Race 6. 12:50. The Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle. $88,000. 2 1/2 miles.

The bet of the day, Squouateur, has lowered and lowered. Crazy race. I liked Tully East when he broke his maiden, he’ll be a price.

The Picks: Tully East, Label Des Obeaux, Childrens List.

Race 7. 1:30. The Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase Challenge Cup. Grade 3. $147,000. 2 miles.

Velvet Maker’s been chasing Douvan, there’s no Douvan here.

The Picks: Dandridge, Velvet Maker, Bright New Dawn.