Top Notch represents a good value bet in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham, writes Tommy Lyons.
Although he's the apparent third string for trainer Nicky Henderson, he looks the right type for this race, and his willingness to give generously in a battle can have right in there, pitching at the end.
He's not the most imposing of animals - hurdling is likely to always be his game and he has already picked up plenty of experience with two runs in France and three since joining Henderson, remaining unbeaten.
This is certainly his toughest assignment to date, but he won't mind if the rain materialises, and should give his supporters a good run for their money, at a big price.
His stable companion, Peace And Co, can be very keen in his races, and could be vulnerable if he doesn't settle. Nevertheless, he is a deserving favourite, and he has to be respected.
Irish-trained horses won the two novice hurdle races earlier in the week and Black Hercules can make it a clean sweep for our raiders by landing the Albert Bartlett for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh. An imposing sort, whose future lies over fences, he has been quite cleverly campaigned this season, running and winning both of his outings, at Cork. On the most recent occasion, he readily accounted for the highly regarded Alpha Des Obeaux, who chased home Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Douvan on his subsequent start.
Black Hercules, who was fourth in the Champion Bumper last season, looks the type to make steady progress over the coming seasons, when staying chases should be his game. Today's three-mile hurdle a real test of a novice, but it should prompt further improvement from the selection, and he has undeniably strong claims.
The danger may come from Value At Risk, who is better than he showed last time, behind Ordo Ab Chao, who finished seventh in Wednesday's Neptune Novices' Hurdle. Harry Fry's horse raced too keenly on that occasion, and did well to finish so close. If he can settle early, he could be a real danger.
Paint The Clouds will take beating in the Foxhunters' Chase. The Warren Greatrex-trained runner is unbeaten in six runs over fences, including his last four since having his attention switched to hunter chases.
His record at this track is also very impressive and he's quite lightly raced for a ten-year-old. He also has the able-assistance of former Gold Cup winning jockey Sam Waley-Cohen, who will have him near the front, out of trouble from the outset, and they should prove very hard to beat.
The remainder of the card looks very tough, though Roi Des Francs could prove the best of the Mullins trio in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle. It's a race the trainer has won with Sir Des Champs and Don Poli, and Roi Des Francs looked a progressive sort when getting the better of the well-backed Fine Article in a Grade Three last time.
There's plenty of potential for further improvement, and he can get the better of stable companion Killultagh Vic, who was sixth in the Bumper here last year, and is making progress over hurdles.
In the Festival finale, which is the AP McCoy Grand Annual, Ted Veale looks quite unexposed over fences and gets the nod, though he wouldn't want conditions to deteriorate. He has winning form at this meeting, has plenty of experience for a tough handicap such as this, and should go well.
THE IRISH FIELD
Willie Mullins holds a strong hand, with Petite Parisienne, Kalkir and Dicosimo. There was a lot to like about the manner in which Dicosimo pulled clear of Prussian Eagle on his Irish debut, while Petite Parisienne has Grade One form in the book.
Best of the Irish: Dicosimo
Alternative: Petite Parisienne
Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle
Sempre Medici, well beaten in a Grade 1 last time, had previously run-up behind the promising Jollyallan. He lacks experience, but is classy. Quick Jack, third in the Newmarket Cesarewitch, is unexposed over hurdles, and merits serious consideration.
Eddie Harty’s Sort It Out is seeking a hat-trick following easy wins at Punchestown and Leopardstown, and could have more to give.
Best of the Irish: Sempre Medici
Alternative: Quick Jack
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
Black Hercules, fourth in last year’s Bumper, has been given a low-key introduction to hurdling, but is progressing nicely and this test should bring out the best in him.
No More Heroes blotted his copybook last time, but is capable of much better. The return to three miles gives Martello Tower place claims, following his defeat to Outlander.
Best of the Irish: Black Hercules
Alternative: No More Heroes
Cheltenham Gold Cup
Lord Windermere is unbeaten at this track. He didn’t travel well in this race last year and yet, under a tremendously persistent ride, got up late to snatch victory. He looked to be coming to form last time, but will need to improve to successfully defend his crown.
Carlingford Lough produced a strong-running effort in the Irish Hennessy, and will make a bold bid to give Tony McCoy a golden send-off in his final Festival.
Lexus Chase winner Road To Riches is improving at a rate of knots and the prospect of better ground holds no fears for the Galway Plate winner.
It’s only four years since a six-year-old, Long Run, last won the race, though, admittedly, he was far more experienced than Djakadam. The latter is progressive and much respected. Home Farm must step up markedly on previous form.
Best of the Irish: Djakadam
Alternative: Carlingford Lough
Salsify, who won this in 2012 and 2013, is a class act in this sphere. His recent return from a long absence was satisfactory, but it’ll be a tremendous training performance if he can complete his hat-trick.
On The Fringe was fourth in 2012 and third last year, but the trip seems to catch him out at this track and may have to settle for a minor role.
Best of the Irish: Salsify
Alternative: On The Fringe
Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle
Willie Mullins has won this with Sir Des Champs and Don Poli, and has strong claims of a third success, with Roi Des Francs. He has progressed nicely in three runs over hurdles, and should have plenty more to give.
Stable companions Killultagh Vic and McKinley both look well treated, and should give a good account, while Jessica Harrington’s Macnicholson deserves a change of luck, and Gordon Elliott’s Noble Endeavour is lightly raced, progressive and will be suited by any rain which arrives.
Best of the Irish: Roi Des Francs
Alternative: Killultagh Vic
Grand Annual Chase
Ned Buntline heads the market, though he runs off a 4lb higher mark than when behind Savello in this race last year. Blood Cotil doesn’t look harshly treated and, now that he’s found winning form over fences, should go well. Tony Martin’s Ted Veale could prove well in, and has winning form here.
Best of the Irish: Ted Veale
Alternative: Blood Cotil
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