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Cheltenham Festival day four: Cape of good hope for North Yorkshire?
IT has been 20 years since North Yorkshire last enjoyed Gold Cup glory at the Cheltenham Festival – when Jodami shot up the hill for Brandsby trainer Peter Beaumont.
Will that change today with Cape Tribulation in the showpiece race (3.20pm) of the four-day meeting?
The nine-year-old, saddled by Norton’s Malcolm Jefferson, has been a quick improver over fences after returning to the larger obstacles following victory in the Pertemps Final at last year’s Festival.
His win in the Rowland Meyrick Chase at Wetherby on Boxing Day was followed up by an eye-catching collaring of 2010 Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander in the Argento Chase at Cheltenham at the end of January.
Much was subsequently made of whether the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained runner-up was race fit, having been off the track for the best part of two years with injury.
But that didn’t give enough credit to Cape Tribulation, who jumped extremely well and showed heart and guts to get over the line.
Jefferson believes he can run a big race but any drying ground would be slight negative, while his jockey, Denis O’Regan, will be happy to finish among the places.
He is up against some impressive types, including Silviniaco Conti, unbeaten this season, and a hugely impressive victor of the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby and the Betfair Denman Chase.
He takes his fences with huge aplomb – there is probably not a better jumper in the field – but Cheltenham form is key to Festival success and he finished third in his only start at Prestbury Park. His winning form has come on Flat tracks.
That’s not a problem for Bobs Worth, who is unblemished in Gloucestershire – his record reading four races and four wins.
He’s a gutsy performer and will equal a Festival first if he can win the blue riband. Bobs Worth would be the first horse since Flyingbolt to win three different races in three different years at the Festival – the Gold Cup following the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and the RSA Chase last year.
Bobs Worth has only been seen on the racecourse once since that latter victory, when he beat Tidal Bay by three and a quarter lengths in the Hennessy at Newbury in December, and it remains to be seen whether that is because the horse is being carefully handled or is fragile.
In the speedy pace of a Gold Cup, we will quickly find out.
We haven’t even mentioned Long Run, a horse seeking to emulate Kauto Star by regaining his Gold Cup crown.
Jockey Sam Waley-Cohen, an amateur, has suffered a lot of criticism for the way he has ridden the horse in the past but one inevitable fact stands out.
In his life, Long Run has never finished out of the first three. While he may be more of a stayer these days, rather than the electric horse that reeled in Denman and Kauto Star in 2011, he is still a formidable performer.
Winner of the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day, it would be foolish to rule him out given he is taking on a number of inexperienced horses and there could be value in his price.
Add Sir Des Champs, the brilliant victor of the Jewson Novices’ Chase last season, who has found the services of AP McCoy this morning, and The Giant Bolster and we could witness another classic battle in the three and a quarter mile endurance test.
The Gold Cup aside, North Yorkshire interest is focused strongly on the opening JCB Triumph Hurdle (1.30pm).
Norton trainer John Quinn won this race last year with Countrywide Flame, who this week finished third in the Champion Hurdle, and he has a strong hand again with Kashmir Peak and Hidden Justice.
Kashmir Peak was an enormously impressive winner of a juvenile hurdle at Market Rasen on his jumping debut, beating Dont Take Me Alive by nine lengths, and followed up at Doncaster before unseating his rider at Musselburgh at the start of last month.
Quinn says that mishap hasn’t left any effects and, having winning form on the Flat, drying ground will suit him.
That won’t be the case for Hidden Justice, who will go on good to soft but would be seen to better effect with more juice in the turf.
His form would stand up well with the best in the race. He demolished Only Orsenfoolsies, who subsequently won the Victor Ludorum at Haydock, by 15 lengths on debut at Wetherby and was almost as impressive in a five length win over Deepsand at Catterick at the start of February.
But both those victories were on soft or heavy ground and Quinn is in no doubt that he is more effective on a better surface.
Will that count against him?
Norton trainer Brian Ellison was bullish about the prospects of Cape Explorer when asked about his chances.
The son of Cape Cross, a 66-1 outsider for the Triumph, will need the rain to stay away, having done his best work on fast ground.
He has not had his conditions yet, but was twice a winner at Leicester on good to firm ground at the past.
They are all looking up to the market leader, Our Conor, who, if you believe the word from Ireland, is a good thing.
The Emerald Isle haven’t enjoyed a Triumph Hurdle winner for 11 years but Our Conor was a runaway winner of the Spring Hurdle and is an exceptional jumper.
If Cape Explorer can’t break Ellison’s Festival duck, then he will be hoping Viva Colonia can do it in the closing Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase (5.15pm).
The eight-year-old has won two chases since joining Ellison from David O’Meara’s Nawton yard and had also been entered in Tuesday’s Arkle, won by Simonsig.
He swerved that race and Ellison has gone on record as believing he has a “massive chance” in the Festival swansong.
Earlier, we will see if Ifandbutwhynot can give Nawton’s David O’Meara a Festival winner to frank his wonderful form on the Flat in the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle (2.05pm).
In a cavalry charge of 28 runners, the seven-year-old is on the right side of the handicap and has Cheltenham form in the book – having won at the course in November.
Three wins in his last four starts suggests he could be quite progressive.
The apple of Middleham trainer Phil Kirby’s eye, Stopped Out, also goes for glory in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle (4.40pm).
In a contest as much about jockeyship as about the talent of the horse, Stopped Out is ridden by Lucy Alexander, one of National Hunt racing’s most promising conditionals.