So to the climax of the Festival and my take on whether the favourites will win the Grade 1 races on the final day.
Triumph Hurdle – Apple’s Shakira. Current best odds 7/2. The only rival I could realistically make a case for is Redicean, but where Apple’s Shakira has the edge is her experience of Cheltenham. Unbeaten in a four race career, her three runs since arriving in England have been at Prestbury Park, most recently on Trials Day. That race turned into a bit more of a contest than many anticipated, but when it came to a battle on the hill, she easily proved herself. And perhaps also significantly, will have learnt a lot. She has my backing.
Albert Bartlett – Santini. Current best odds 9/2. What Santini has is his favour is that he has won at Cheltenham and on ground that Nicky Henderson said wouldn’t suit him. However, this a race in which favourites have a poor record and is often won by outsiders. It is also a contest which, in the context of novices, experience counts. Santini has only raced twice under rules and yet to run the three full miles. This looks like a step too far, too soon and I’m opposing him.
Gold Cup – Might Bite. Current best odds 4/1. The big one and I’ve probably struggled with this race more than any other. On paper, you have to say Might Bite is a worthy favourite. Following his eccentric victory in last year’s RSA, he hasn’t blotted his copy book this season. However, I do wonder what a genuine test the King George was on Boxing Day. The great unknown, of course, is given his waywardness in the RSA how he will behave on his return to the Course. Well, he’s looked very straight forward this season. I know the excuses have been made for Sizing John’s defeat in the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown, but it must be a worry and, leaving aside Best Mate, history is not on the side of back to back winners. As impressive as Native River’s run was in the Denman Chase last month and looks well timed as preparation for the Festival, it was only a three horse race and it’s been his sole outing since third place in the Gold Cup last year. With talk of the ground turning softer, there have been those bigging up Definitely Red, but I can only see this as a contest between Sizing John and Might Bite. Both have questions to answer, but of the two, I am less troubled by the one raised by Might Bite and I will back him…….I think.