Colm Greaves looks at what we’ll learn on the final day of the Cheltenham Festival.
Paul Nolan first trained a Cheltenham winner in 2005 when Dabiroun gave him (and Nina Carberry) their first festival win.
He last trained a Cheltenham winner in 2011 when Noble Prince won the Jewison Chase — a race that has morphed into the Marsh Brothers Chase through the years.
Bryan Cooper first rode a Cheltenham winner a year after Noble Prince’s victory when he announced his arrival to the top table of riders with a festival treble that included one of the most impressive Triumph Hurdle wins ever seen on Our Conor.
Both their fortunes have ebbed and flowed since those days — Nolan suffering from the economic downturn while Cooper had one of those infamous cups of tea with Michael O’Leary.
Today could be the day that both announce their re-emergence if Latest Exhibition can win the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle.
Latest Exhibition, a seven-year-old son of Oscar who has gone from strength to strength through the winter and comes here after an impressive win over two and a half miles at the Dublin Racing Festival last month. His only defeat this season was when he was beaten by Abradcadabras at Navan and he heavily endorsed that form in the Supreme Novice on Tuesday.
Nolan says that he went deliberately carefully with Latest Exhibition because he is “a late developing, angular horse, basically about 17 hands and built like a Holstein bullock, all hips and bones and he had to fill into himself.”
Racing is a notoriously unsentimental sport, but a win for the popular Nolan today will light up the course.
The Gold Cup is never an easy puzzle to solve and this year is no different. There are only a dozen runners declared but the chances of any of the runners cannot be dismissed and the openness of the race is reflected in the betting, where there are fluctuating favourites at around 4/1.
Al Boom Photo returns to defend the crown he won last year when he snapped Willie Mullins’ unlucky run of second places with an emphatic win over Anibale Fly and Bristol Des Mai.
Mullins has replicated his preparation from last year with a pipe-opening win at Tramore on New Year’s Day and nothing but tender loving care at home since.
Other Irish challengers include Presenting Percy, Delta Work and Kemboy giving us a strong hand, but if you seek a solution in pure form then the prize could be there for the taking for Clan Des Obeaux, trained in Somerset by Paul Nicholls.
Clan has ran disappointingly in past visits to Cheltenham, including last year when he was well-fancied to follow up his first King George win in the Gold Cup. But by far the best performance by a staying chaser this season was when repeated his win at Christmas and Nicholls is confident some tweaks in his regime and preparation will solve the problem this time.
“He is a horse who goes well fresh and it has worked out nicely giving him a break since the King George,” reported the Ditcheat trainer this week. “We will be more patient on him this year and hopefully he will run very well. He has won two King Georges and is still improving. He looks really well, and we are relishing the challenge of the Gold Cup.”
We have reached a critical juncture in the established hierarchy of jump jockeys. The recent retirement of AP McCoy and Ruby Walsh initially disrupted the status quo and the likes of Richard Johnson, Barry Geraghty, Robbie Power and Davy Russell are not getting any younger.
The good news is that significant talent is emerging - a fact emphasised by the performances this season of the Rachael Blackmore and (the serially unlucky) Jack Kennedy.
Another name gaining increasing prominence is that of Jonjo O’Neill Junior who has his first ride in the Gold Cup later today on Elegant Escape and another choice ride on Front View in the concluding Martin Pipe Conditional Jockey’s Handicap Hurdle over two and a half miles.
He broke his festival duck in the same race last year on Early Doors for another son of a legendary trainer, Joseph O’Brien.
One of two fancied entries for JP McManus, Front View has the right profile for the race, and it will be a surprise if he is not heavily backed today.
O’Neill, like his Cork born father, is personable and articulate, but also like Jonjo Senior, talented and driven.
The good all-round athlete considered giving serious rugby a go during his school years but eventually chose the family business.
That decision is looking increasingly wise.
He’s already ridden 60 winners this season in Britain. Today could prove another small step in Jonjo Junior’s leap to stardom.