Sunday 17 December 2017

Cheltenham 2015: Cossack to just edge the 'Rock in epic showdown

Don Cossack and Bryan Cooper on their way to victory
Don Cossack and Bryan Cooper on their way to victory

One of the most common questions asked from mid-January onwards is ‘What’s your banker for Cheltenham?’ but ever since the Gordon Elliott-trained Don Cossack won the Grade Two John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown back in December he was my answer to that question.

The Don Cossack we have seen four times this season seems to be a much better Don Cossack than the one we were looking at last term, although he was on the verge of running a very good race at this meeting 12 months ago until crashing out at the fifth last in the RSA Chase.

Michael O’Leary’s horse remains the selection but his status as one of the meeting’s bankers was taken away last week but by not by his own doing.

After much speculation on whether or not Irish Hennessy runner-up Foxrock was going to be supplemented by Ted Walsh and Barry Connell in the Gold Cup, they instead threw a bit of a curve ball and opted instead for the Ryanair, which looks the ideal option for the ever improving seven-year-old.

A total field of 14 are declared for the Ryanair Chase with other Irish interest coming from last year’s runner-up Hidden Cyclone and the Willie Mullins-trained Ballycasey but they will have to battle it out for minor honours as Don Cossack and Foxrock go to war for the 2m5f Grade One.

Don Cossack remains the selection, but the confidence behind him has to be slightly reduced with Foxrock’s inclusion. There has never been a secret in how highly held Foxrock has been and that shouldn’t be taken for granted, but on this occasion Don Cossack is picked to come out on top and it would be no surprise if both developed into serious Gold Cup contenders next year.

After the initial leading hopes of Irish-trained horses on the opening two days, day three isn’t generally an overly successful day for the raiding party but in what looks a wide open renewal of the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, there are certainly worse each-way bets running this week than the Sandra Hughes-trained Lieutenant Colonel.

This is obviously going to be a very poignant and emotional occasion for Sandra Hughes and all her family with mother Eileen set to be by her side and brother Richard giving a dig out too, but they can make their late father Dessie extremely proud with Lieutenant Colonel in the day three feature.  Having been sent chasing at the start of the season, Lieutenant Colonel returned hurdling for the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse which he won nicely and followed up with a victory at Leopardstown over Christmas and having handled nice ground in the past and run in some good company behind Faugheen and Vautour as a novice, the Gigginstown owned six-year-old could well be open to far more progression than the likes of Paul Nicholls’ favourite Zarkandar and he is, at worst, an each-way alternative.

Saphir Du Rheu is also a big danger for Nicholls and jockey Sam Twiston Davies and his form got a small boost by the fact that The Druids Nephew was so impressive yesterday having been a good distance behind the six-year-old on his last outing.

The opening JLT Novices’ Chase looks set to continue the good start to the week  for the Irish novices as Apache Stronghold and Valseur Lido lock horns for a third time this season with the current score standing at one win apiece.

There really is a toss of a coin between the pair on form and Apache Stronghold certainly benefited from a majestic ride from Paul Carberry to win the Grade One Flogas Novice Chase, but with the benefit of that run behind him now having missed Christmas, Valseur Lido is given the nod to shade it for Willie Mullins and Bryan Cooper.

Looking elsewhere on the card and the JP McManus-owned Regal Encore looks rock solid in the Pertemps Final. This one certainly does look set to stay on home soil as his biggest danger could come in the form of former Cesarewitch winner Big Easy.


Elsewhere, following on from the Welsh winner Irish Cavalier, trained by Rebecca Curtis, on day one, Evan Williams could add another tomorrow with Buywise in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate.

The course-and-distance winner was previously fifth in the Paddy Power this season and ticks a lot of boxes, while a tentative vote is given to the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Lost Legend in the Kim Muir which has the appearance of being one of the most wide open races of the entire week.


Cronin's Choice

1.30: Valseur Lido

2.05: Regal Encore

2.40: Don Cossack

3.20: Lieutenant Colonel

4.00: Buywise

4.40: Lost Legend

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