Cheltenham: Gold Cup Friday

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The last race. The last day.

We have waited all week. We have waited four years. We have waited all our lives. It’s early. I’m up. Restless. Anxious. Excited. Nervous. All the reasons why we play this captivating and cruel game.

Valdez runs in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase, one of 24 runners in a mad scramble of a race. 

We have lived this journey since 2011 when Matt Coleman and I compared thoughts on a free-wheeling chestnut with a big white face that won the bumper at Warwick. “Here’s our Cheltenham horse.” Three years later, he indeed became our Cheltenham horse, finishing a solid fifth in the Arkle. Little road and a lot of rocks followed, Valdez missed 1,204 days before returning at Newbury in February. And now, he is our Cheltenham horse again. Safe trip, old boy, safe trip. 

The Racing Post: Valdez. Smart 2m performer before a huge absence, as shown by his close fifth in the 2014 Arkle (good to soft; wouldn’t want more rain); hasn’t benefited much in the weights for all that time off but did all that could have been hoped for on his recent return behind Altior at Newbury; although 11 now, he hasn’t had a hard life and a case can be made. 

Yes, a case can be made. For and against. For and against the horse, the race, the ground, the trip. For and against, it’s what makes the sport go round. 

So, we wait for the last race on the last day, the curtain call, the crescendo to a Festival that’s had it all. Buveur D’Air digging deep for his second consecutive Champion Hurdle. Ruby’s Tuesday return and Wednesday departure. Footpad in all his glory. Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins going toe to toe while the others wonder how. Lizzie Kelly and Katy Walsh wiping away the tears. Ex footballer and flat trainer Mick Channon earning his first Cheltenham win. Samcro promising bigger things to come. Altior pulling it out of the fire. Tiger Roll winning his third different race at the Festival. Penhill, a year away from the races, staying 3 miles. Davy Russell’s consummate brilliance.

I’ll keep this short today, as I’m having trouble keeping my fingers on the keys.

First Race. 1:30. JCB Triumph Hurdle. Grade 1. 4-year-olds. £125,000. 2 miles, 179 yards.

The Picks: Apple’s Shakira, Mr Adjudicator, Redicean.


Second Race. 2:10. Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle. Grade 3. £100,000. 2 miles, 179 yards.

The Picks: Sandsend, A Hare Breath, Flying Tiger.


Third Race. 2:50. Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. Grade 1. £125,000. 2 miles, 7 furlongs, 213 yards.

The Picks: Santini, Chef Des Obeaux, Chris’s Dream.


Fourth Race. 3:30. Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup. Grade 1. £625,000. 3 miles, 2 furlongs, 70 yards.

The Picks: Our Duke, Native River, Road To Respect.


Fifth Race. 4:10. St. James’s Place Foxhunter Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase. £45,000. 3 miles, 2 furlongs, 70 yards.

The Picks: Wonderful Charm, Foxrock, Virack.


Sixth Race. 4:50. Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle. £70,000. 2 miles, 4 furlongs, 56 yards.

The Picks: Diese Des Bieffes, Flawless Escape, Mr Big Shot.


Seventh Race. 5:30. Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase. Grade 3. £110,000. 2 miles, 62 yards.

The Picks: Really?