Cheltenham Festival 2023: A Plus Tard can win second Gold Cup

March 16th, 2023

Day four at the Cheltenham Festival features seven races, including three Grade 1s, but most of the attention is on just one race: the Cheltenham Gold Cup (G1).

Run at set weights, this is the blue riband event, the richest race of the festival at £625,000 (about $755,000). To win the race, a horse needs speed, jumping ability, and an extra bit of stamina — instead of being at the usual “championship” distance of three miles, this is at 3 5/16 miles, and the extra 2 1/2 furlongs up the testing Cheltenham hill has been just too much for many a great steeplechaser.

This year’s event has quite a number of questions going into it, but it should be memorable.

Below is a look at all seven races on the Day 4 card. Don't forget the Cheltenham money back offer, where those who opt in can get up to $10 of their first win bet back if their horse runs second (minimum five runners) or third (minimum eight runners).

Race 1, 9:30 a.m. ET: Triumph Hurdle (G1), 2 1/8 miles, 4-year-old hurdlers

Triumph Hurdle Selections

  • #14 Lossiemouth
  • #4 Blood Destiny
  • #12 Gala Marceau

Triumph Hurdle Wagers

  • $10 win/$30 show: #14 Lossiemouth
  • $1 trifecta: 4, 14 with 4, 12, 14 with 4, 8, 12, 14, 15

This has been a race for the Irish in recent years, and it looks so again in 2023. The biggest question is whether anyone can touch Willie Mullins, who prepares seven of the 15 runners, including the top four horses in the local market.

For most of the lead-up, this looked to be dominated by #14 Lossiemouth after two easy victories. She was beaten last start by stablemate #12 Gala Marceau, but she was hampered two flights out and was unlucky.

However, the stablemate being tipped in markets as her biggest threat is not Gala Marceau but #4 Blood Destiny. He’s raced twice for two victories, the most recent by 18 lengths at Fairyhouse Jan. 14. One of the horses he beat at Fairyhouse, Jazzy Matty, won on day one of the festival.

Outside the top three, you may get 15-1 on anything you like. However, it’s difficult to see any of the others winning, barring perhaps #8 Jipcot and #15 Zenta. Given that Blood Destiny’s jumping wasn’t brilliant at Fairyhouse, and the improved quality of horse here, I’m going with Lossiemouth to bounce back.

Race 2, 10:10 a.m. ET: County Handicap Hurdle (G3), 2 1/8 miles, open hurdlers

County Handicap Hurdle Selections

  • #21 Pembroke
  • #8 Hunters Yarn
  • #22 Gin Coco

County Handicap Hurdle Wagers

  • $10 win/$20 show: #21 Pembroke
  • $1 trifecta: 8, 21 with 8, 14, 21, 22 with 1, 7, 8, 14, 21, 22

There are 26 to choose from here, and there’s solid form everywhere. So where to look?

There’s always reason to start with Willie Mullins, who has four horses. They include dual Champion Hurdle runner-up #1 Sharjah, but the one that’s on the way up is #8 Hunters Yarn. Stable rider Paul Townend has chosen to ride him, and he’s been outstanding at his last two runs, looking like a horse with more in hand.

The first two in the rich Newbury hurdle Feb. 11, #7 Aucunrisque and #14 Filey Bay, should be respected, as should #22 Gin Coco, second here to Champion Hurdle contestant I Like To Move It Nov. 13. My preference, however, is for another lightweight, #21 Pembroke. He won nicely two starts back and wasn’t disgraced last start when second in the Classic Novices’ Hurdle (G2) over a possibly unsuitable 2 1/2 miles. Back to 2 1/8 miles here, he looks a danger.

Race 3, 10:50 a.m. ET: Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (G1), 3 miles, novice steeplechasers

Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle Selections

  • #7 Hiddenvalley Lake
  • #5 Embassy Gardens
  • #19 Three Card Brag

Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle Wagers

  • $10 win/$20 show: #7 Hiddenvalley Lake
  • $1 trifecta: 5, 7 with 5, 7, 19 with 3, 5, 6, 7, 19

For a Grade 1, this is seriously open, with 20 horses set to compete. Once again, this novice hurdle is all about the Irish, but which one?

Gordon Elliott has two very good candidates in #6 Favori De Champdou and #19 Three Card Brag, both last-start winners; Three Card Brag is perhaps the more likely to improve with the step up to three miles. Willie Mullins has a solid candidate in the form of #5 Embassy Gardens, a 35-length winner Jan. 22, while Emmet Mullins has #3 Corbetts Cross going for four wins in a row.

For me, however, it’s going to be #7 Hiddenvalley Lake. He’s had three starts for two wins and a Grade 3 second, the latter a half-length defeat when giving six pounds away. Henry de Bromhead’s team has been peaking at this meet so far, and I’m going to predict Rachael Blackmore will get him home.

Race 4, 11:30 a.m. ET: Cheltenham Gold Cup (G1), 3 5/16 miles, open steeplechasers

Cheltenham Gold Cup Selections

  • #2 A Plus Tard
  • #6 Galopin Des Champs
  • #3 Bravemansgame

Cheltenham Gold Cup Wagers

  • $10 win/$30 show: #2 A Plus Tard
  • $2 trifecta: 6 with 2, 3 with 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 10
  • $1 trifecta: 2 with 3, 6 with 1, 3, 4, 6, 9, 10

The big one of the year, and one with more question marks about it than the market suggests. #6 Galopin Des Champs has been well-fancied ever since he fell at the last with a wide-margin lead in the Turners’ Novices’ Chase (G1) last year. This season he’s taken on all-comers twice in Ireland, winning both times, most recently in the Irish Gold Cup (G1).

But there are two questions: how strong was the form in the Irish Gold Cup, and how will he handle the extra 2 1/2 furlongs up the final hill. He could be a very special talent, but he may also be too short in the market.

Britain’s best chance in the market is #3 Bravemansgame, very impressive in the King George (G1) at Kempton Dec. 26. However, he has the same stamina questions as Galopin Des Champs, and the extra issue of how he’d cope if the ground was soft or yielding. The form of some other leading chances is also hard to assess, such as #1 Ahoy Senor, #4 Conflated, #9 Noble Yeats, and #10 Protektorat.

These are enough doubts to bring me back to last year’s winner. #2 A Plus Tard was outstanding when scoring by 15 lengths last year. Unfortunately, he threw in a stinker at his only start since, when pulled up at Haydock in November. A travel-related illness was diagnosed after that effort, and he later banged a joint, which forced him to miss the Savills Chase (G1) in December.

However, all reports from trainer Henry de Bromhead's yard suggest he’s close to his best, and as mentioned above, de Bromhead’s team seems to be peaking for this.

I’m not going to leave Galopin Des Champs out of the top rung of my exotics, but I’m banking on last year’s winner returning to his best as well.

Race 5, 12:10 p.m. ET: Hunters’ Chase, 3 5/16 miles, hunter steeplechasers, amateur jockeys

Hunters’ Chase Selections

  • #23 Vaucelet
  • #1 Billaway
  • #9 Famous Clermont

Hunters’ Chase Wagers

  • $10 win/$30 show: #23 Vaucelet
  • $2 exacta: box 1, 9, 19, 23

There are 24 runners here, this time at set weights. Form can be hard to assess, as most have been contesting hunter chases or point-to-points.

Two that do stand out on exposed form are #1 Billaway, last year’s winner, and #23 Vaucelet, just beaten by Billaway in the Punchestown Hunters Chase last April. Since then Vaucelet has continued to improve, and now that he’s an eight-year-old and Billaway is 11, it’s easy to see the tables being turned.

Of the newer horses, the most interesting are #9 Famous Clermont and #19 Rocky’s Howya. Famous Clermont has won two hunter chases easily in the last six weeks, at Wincanton and Haydock, while Rocky’s Howya is unbeaten in five point-to-points.

Two horses with proven ability at graded stakes level are also worth a thought, #20 Secret Investor and #22 The Storyteller. The latter has won at the festival in good class before, and though he’s now a 12-year-old, his form is pretty solid.

There’s a lot of form in this race, so unless you have a strong liking for some of the runners, it might be one to tread warily in, but I’m going to support Vaucelet.

Race 6, 12:50 p.m. ET: Mares’ Chase (G2), 2 9/16 miles, open steeplechasers, fillies and mares

Mares’ Chase Selections

  • #3 Impervious
  • #1 Allegorie De Vassy
  • #6 Jeremys Flame

Mares’ Chase Wagers

  • $10 win/$30 show: #3 Impervious
  • $1 trifecta: 1, 3 with 1, 3 with all

Is it worth taking #1 Allegorie De Vassy at what could be less than 2-1? She’s shown a lot of talent and is going to take a lot of beating, provided she jumps cleanly.

However, there is one serious chance of beating her. #3 Impervious is also unbeaten over fences, and at her last start gave weight to the males to win the Madigan Group Novice Chase (G3) at Punchestown. It was very good form, and she also at her previous start won at Grade 2 level over Dinoblue, who ran well on Wednesday at the festival.

Those two look to be the best prospects, so I’ll take the remaining seven runners to take third in the trifecta, with #6 Jeremys Flame probably the best of them.

Race 7, 1:30 p.m. ET: Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, 2 9/16 miles, 0-145 hurdlers, conditional jockeys

Martin Pipe Hurdle Selections

  • #14 Irish Hill
  • #5 Imagine
  • #12 Spanish Harlem

Martin Pipe Hurdle Wagers

  • $10 win/$20 show: #14 Irish Hill
  • $1 trifecta: 5, 14 with 5, 12, 14 with 2, 3, 5, 8, 12, 14

The conditional riders’ race winds up the festival, and with a full field, jockeyship will be important. No doubt plenty will be prepared to support #12 Spanish Harlem; not only is his form very solid, but he is partnered with Michael O’Sullivan, who’s already won twice at the 2023 festival.

Gordon Elliott has six runners in this race, named after his idol Martin Pipe, and he could well take it for a third time with #5 Imagine. He’s never been further back than second in four starts, and it looks like he will relish the step up from two miles to 2 1/2 miles.

The English do have some good contenders here, however, and the best could be #14 Irish Hill. He’s nicely in at the weights with 155 pounds and has been improving throughout the season. This is his toughest test to date, but I’m going to support the five-year-old’s prospects of meeting that test.

Other horses for exotics look to be #2 Might I, #3 Cool Survivor, and #8 Iroko.