Cheltenham Festival: Simon Rowlands shares his tips for day four as Minella Indo returns for Gold Cup defence

Top tipster Simon Rowlands has three bets online for the final day of the Cheltenham Festival on Friday, including an each-way selection in the Triumph Hurdle.

We could do with a good Gold Cup winner. No disrespect to Minella Indo (winner in 2021) or Al Boum Photo (winner in 2019 and 2020), both of whom turn up again, but they are not exactly Don Cossacks, never mind Kauto Stars or Denmans, those legends of the not-too-distant past.

I suspect we may have to wait a bit longer. Minella Indo is close to favourite for a repeat, not because he has done great things in the last 12 months (he has been beaten in all three appearances), but because little has come out of the woodwork to challenge him.

The most obvious exception is Galvin, a winner of the National Hunt Chase here last year and of the Savills Chase at Leopardstown last time. Galvin stays, acts on soft going and should turn up and run his race at least.

The horse he beat in that Savills Chase, A Plus Tard, is the horse that Minella Indo beat in this 12 months ago, but there are reasons to think that A Plus Tard should have won at Leopardstown rather than being beaten a head. It was a stop-start race, and he ended up doing a great deal of running from three out until tying up a bit near the finish.

Before that, A Plus Tard had looked an improved model when winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock by 22 lengths from Royale Pagaille in a very good time. That version of A Plus Tard would be carrying my money in this, but my enthusiasm for him evaporated somewhat as the deluge arrived on Wednesday, for A Plus Tard is quite speedy as staying chasers go.

The rain will have been welcomed by connections of Protektorat and possibly Chantry House, but I am not convinced either is good enough for this unless the race falls apart.

I may not even have mentioned the winner in the above, and I have not mentioned my bet, because, on reflection, I think there are better options elsewhere. Let’s hope the race punches its weight this year.

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Sky Sports Racing have spoken to the trainers of Friday’s Cheltenham Gold Cup hopefuls to find out how confident they are of victory in the feature race of the Festival.

Rain should prove no pain for Porticello

My idea of the best option of all elsewhere is Hillcrest in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (2.50). He probably has the best form, definitely has potentially the best form, will be suited by conditions and has proved straightforward in his short career to date.

He was very impressive on the clock when winning the trial for this at Haydock last month, not just on overall time (he was much quicker than Wholestone had been in winning the Grade Two Rendlesham Hurdle earlier on the card), but on sectionals. He went fast that day, almost too fast, got only the briefest of breathers, then took off again.

Unfortunately, the fancier prices about Hillcrest have gone, but he is still eminently backable as favourite, in my opinion.

Hillcrest is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles this season
Hillcrest looks to lead the British hopefuls in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle

I have kept my powder dry in the JCB Triumph Hurdle (1.30) to this point but will be getting involved through Porticello now that the rain has done its thing.

There is not much between him, Vauban and Pied Piper on form, but clear blue water in terms of their odds. Porticello thrashed some ordinary rivals on that same Haydock card on which Hillstar won, and previously trounced some slightly better rivals in the mud at Chepstow.

His defeat by the gallant Knight Salute at Doncaster is easily explained by a pedestrian pace and his making a bad mistake at a crucial stage. He is a staying type and his jumping has improved since.

Vauban, in particular, may be too good for Porticello, we shall see. But Porticello does look worth a nibble each way given his odds.

Jamie Moore eases Porticello down after winning the Wensleydale Juvenile Hurdle
Jamie Moore eases Porticello down after winning the Wensleydale Juvenile Hurdle

My third fancy is Adamantly Chosen in the concluding Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (5.30). This is another large-field handicap, which I have tended to swerve this week, but the selection could just be something of a snip.

A bumper winner at the Punchestown Festival in April, he managed to get beat in his first two starts over hurdles, then put the record straight at Thurles last time. He won by 27 lengths that day, against rivals who were nothing special, but they were not useless either, and a BHA mark of 142 looks on the generous side to me. The step up in trip and softer ground could help him also.

The County Hurdle (2.10) looks too tight, the Hunters’ Chase (4.10) is not my area of expertise, and the Mares’ Chase (4.50) is priced almost exactly as I would price it, so I am going to draw stumps there.

Where the Cheltenham Festival is concerned, that is. A reminder that there is life after Cheltenham: not long until the flat proper now…

Simon Rowlands’ selections…

JCB Triumph Hurdle (1.30) – PORTICELLO (0.5pts each-way)

Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (2.50) – HILLCREST (2pts win)

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle (5.30) – ADAMANTLY CHOSEN (1pt win)

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