DATE POSTED: 15th March 2018
Yet another Willie Mullins victory looks likely as we hit the final day of action at Cheltenham 2018, but which one his five runners will come out on top?
DAY FOURFor Friday's race we take a look at The County Hurdle in detail. This is another highly competitive handicap and
The Irish have won it nine times since 2000, eight within the last eleven years and Willie Mullins trained four of those, including last year when his Arctic Fire stormed home under 11st 12lb - a feat that last happened over 50 years previously. Only four winners have carried over 11st since 1960. This year Willie is clearly making another determined effort with no less than five of the ten Irish raiders in this field of twenty-five runners. Once again he saddles the top weight, this time the 7YO Bleu et Rouge, who also shoulders 11st 12lb. Surely lightning can't strike twice?
The Irish have six of the top ten in the weights, Nicky Henderson's horse Jenkins is the exception as has second top weight - but was comprehensively beaten by Bleu et Rouge last time out. We wouldn't expect him to reverse that. However, it is entirely possible that one of these top ten could bring it off despite carrying over 11st, as there does seem to be the beginnings of a trend here.
We shouldn't forget that Paul Nicholls has won this four times in the last 12 years, although he's having a poor Festival this year and we can't see either of his two runners here change that.
5YO's have a good record in this, having won half of the last twenty races. We find it interesting that one of Willie's runners - the 5YO Sandsend - seems to be the subject of a gamble despite only having four runs, one of them a win in France. The stable must have seen something special in him.
Among the other 5YO's, Nick Williams Flying Tiger has also been supported in the market and this winner of the Fred Winter in 2017 has been running in good company since then, so could be in the mix.
Overall, we do think that the Mullins team hold the whip hand here. Of his other two 5yo's in the race, we prefer the mare, MERI DEVI, who was an intended ride for the injured Ruby Walsh, can take advantage of her 10st 13lb weight to take the prize for owners Andrea and Graham Wylie.
Eleven of the last twelve winners were rated in the 130s. Dan Skelton's, Spirit Of The Games, has been running consistently well in some big handicaps and is our idea of an each-way wager off his mark of 139. Dan had the winner in 2016 and we hope this 6YO can go close this year.
Whatever you may choose, you are likely to get a double figure price, so we hope you can hit on the right one. Best of luck!