Racing Expert & Columnist
Alex Hammond's Cheltenham Festival Tips
Last Updated: 15/03/19 9:10am
Alex Hammond takes Native River to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and she has a tip for every race.
Well, this time last year I wrote to you about the weather disruption in the run up to the Cheltenham Festival as the 'Beast from the East' did its worst.
This time round we've almost had the opposite problem with an incredibly dry winter and a mini-heatwave last month.
Hold that thought, the rain has finally arrived and saved the day with the ground expected to be much more fitting for the jumps season and at the time of writing (Thursday) it was described as good to soft, soft in places on all five tracks.
So with normal service resumed, let's try and find some winners.
JCB TRIUMPH HURDLE: Cheltenham wouldn't be Cheltenham without a last minute drama and the stone bruise suffered by Sir Erec on Thursday has made a few nerves jangle the week before the Festival. In the big scheme of things it shouldn't be a major issue as all his work has been done now (a bit like an athlete tapering before a big event). I'm not ripping up my betting slip just yet! Pic D'Orhy is an interesting French import for Paul Nicholls. The Sky Sports Racing French expert Lauren Barbarin highlighted this horse when we worked together a couple of weeks ago.
RANDOX HEALTH COUNTY HANDICAP HURDLE: We don't quite know what's going to run, or what will get in, but here are a couple to watch out for if they do. He may be lacking in a bit of experience, but Crook's Peak did nothing wrong at Newbury last time out and he's improving. Philip Hobbs trains him, and I think another of his runners is capable of running a big race. Gumball beat Verdana Blue on the all-weather at Kempton at the end of last month, which was a bit of a surprise, but could be the confidence boost that was needed to get this former smart juvenile/novice hurdler back on track.
ALBERT BARTLETT NOVICES' HURDLE: This looks a tough race to sort out (is there an easy one at the Festival?), but Derrinross is one to watch for Irish trainer Philip Dempsey providing the ground is soft enough. This horse has a decent engine, but is very ground dependant, which is why he hasn't run since the end of December. This Irish point-to-point winner has thrived since being stepped up to three miles under rules beating a subsequent Grade 1 runner-up Sams Profile on his penultimate start and winning a Grade 2 at Naas last time out.
MAGNERS CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP: To go with Presenting Percy or not? Coneygree won the Gold Cup with just three previous chase starts to his name and Pat Kelly's pride and joy has run five times over fences coming into this, so positively experienced in comparison. Regardless of his ability and love of Cheltenham, he's short enough in the betting, so I'm taking a chance on Native River becoming the first horse since Best Mate to win back-to-back Gold Cups. In fact, his trainer Colin Tizzard has an incredibly strong hand in the blue riband with Welsh National winner Elegant Escape and former King George and World Hurdle hero Thistlecrack realistic contenders too for the feature prize. It might pay to back that duo each way at big prices.
ST JAMES'S PLACE FOXHUNTER CHASE: Ucello Conti owes me one (or five!). He's been rejuvenated in the point-to-point and Hunter Chase field with three wins in a row now for Gordon Elliott. He's well capable of winning a big one and maybe this will be his day.
JOHNNY HENDERSON GRAND ANNUAL: I gave you a couple of horses in last week's blog and one of them was the Paul Nicholls trained Magic Saint in this. Nicholls gave him a very positive endorsement and expects the five-year-old to be better than a handicapper in time