Cheltenham: The World Hurdle

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Halftime. Two days down. Two to go. 

Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh dominated the opening card on Tuesday. Paul Nicholls dominated Wednesday’s card. The greatest of all time, Tony McCoy, has yet to strike. The Ryanair and the World Hurdle highlight today’s card. 

Race 1. 9:30. The JLT Novices’ Chase. 2 miles, 4 furlongs. $187,000.

Again, Cheltenham offers a distance for every division as novices stretch to two and a half miles in the opener. Willie Mullins could keep it rolling with the once-beaten chaser Vautour. Paul Carberry will hold up Apache Stronghold and try to deliver him for trainer Noel Meade. The 7-year-old finished three lengths behind yesterday’s RSA Chase winner Don Poli and three and a half behind Vautour in May. Ptit Zig was undefeated over fences before he fell in the Ascot Chase in February, nothing easy about returning from a fall at Cheltenham but he adds to a deep and demanding race.

The Picks: Apache Stronghold, Vautour, Irish Saint.

Race 2. 10:05. The Pertemps Network Final. Handicap Hurdle. 3 miles. $125,000.

Another handicap puzzler. You don’t often see a Grand National winner in a handicap hurdle but Pineau De Re tries it today. McCoy could make the crowd roar with a win on Regal Encore. And then there is Tony Martin slipping Edeymi in at the bottom of the handicap.

The Picks: Edeymi, Bygones Sovereign, Regal Encore.

Race 3. 10:40. The Ryanair Chase. Grade 1. 2 miles, 5 furlongs. $489,000.

The Ryanair has gradually become one of the best races at the Festival and this year’s certainly delivers. Balder Succes rolls in after winning the Ascot Chase in February, Don Cossack rides a four-race win streak for Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown, Eduard chased Many Clouds and Wishfull Thinking in his last two (and beat Valdez in April!), Taquin Du Seuil won the JLT last year, and McCoy goes for Uxizandre. The contenders go 14 deep.

The Picks: Balder Succes, Uxizandre, Ma Filleule.

Race 4. 11:20. Ladbrokes World Hurdle. Grade 1. 3 miles. $468,000.

I still catch myself calling the World Hurdle, the Stayers’. Hard to break a habit. Hurdlers stretch three miles for today’s feature (although the Ryanair actually has a bigger purse).

Ruby Walsh rides Abbyssial, who grounded him here last year and grounded Paul Townend in February. McCoy sticks with At Fishers Cross, who has the talent but perhaps not the momentum. Blue Fashion chased Faugheen in November and hasn’t run since. Reve De Sivola and Saphir Du Rhea clash again after finishing a neck apart in January. Then there’s Zarkandar, who owns 10 wins and over $1.2 million in earnings and so many more. I’ve liked Seeyouatmidnight and Aubusson since the beginning, they’re in deep here and the ground hasn’t helped. Wide open.

If you want to root for what’s right in the game, root for Lieutenant Colonel. Trainer Sandra Hughes took over after her farther Dessie Hughes died. Brilliant man, great legacy, could be the best story of the week. And it’s possible, he’s a good horse with a good trainer. 

The Picks: Seeyouatmidnight, Zarkandar, Whisper.

Race 5. 12:00. Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate. Handicap Chase. 2 miles, 5 furlongs. $140,500.

Nicky Henderson tries to get on the board, he has three of the four high weights, including Hunt Ball, who attracts stable number one Barry Geraghty while trying to snap a long losing streak. Owned by Americans, he should relish the ground today.

The Picks: Buywise, Un Ace, Monetaire.

Race 6. 12:40. The Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup. Handicap Chase. Amateur Riders. 3 miles, 2 furlongs. $93,500.

Our old friend Tap Night tries right his career in a 24-horse scrum. Another puzzler.

The Picks: Masters Hill, Benbens, Tap Night.

As for Wednesday, we included Don Poli, Aux Ptits Soins and Wait For Me in our top three, but we’ve had better days handicapping from paper, but not from the paddock. The Paul Nicholls exacta in the Fred Winter, picked purely on looks, paid for a few pints of Guinness.