If the good wishes of neutrals could be translated to his sinews, then Ebadiyan would indeed be as hard to beat in the JCB Triumph Hurdle today as his ebullient trainer, Oliver Brady, has been predicting. Sadly, the horse who has already raised so much money for good causes may find that the charity stops on the hill at Cheltenham.
Alan King has long considered Walkon (1.30) eligible to embellish his superb record in this race, being adamant that he will be much fitter than when Zaynar became the only horse to beat him over hurdles at Newbury in December. He is 7lb better off this time, too, and has in the meantime beaten strong fields at Chepstow and then here.
Zaynar himself is fitted with cheekpieces today, not the most encouraging experiment in an unbeaten horse. Another one, Starluck, has impressed for his emerging trainer, but has so far been confined to much sharper tracks.
Dave's Dream is the key horse in the Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle, under a penalty for his fine win at Sandown last Saturday. His trainer regards him as a prospect for fences, in the long term, and was reluctant to turn him out again so quickly, but a £75,000 bonus from Saturday's sponsors, Paddy Power, seems to have concentrated his mind. In view of his reservations, however, there may be better value in Fisher Bridge (2.05). After winning novice hurdles at Punchestown in the autumn he failed to get home variously on account of unsuitably demanding ground, distance or opposition. A strong gallop on drying ground should suit him ideally, and 25-1 looks tempting, albeit another novice, Cockney Trucker, is nicely handicapped on the form of his two previous visits here.
Ruby Walsh is a brave man to be riding Pride Of Dulcote in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle, with Kauto Star waiting in the next race. The Festival's outstanding jockey has ridden this horse three times and ended up the deck three times, not least when rupturing his spleen here in November. His form under other riders makes him the horse to beat, but odds of 8-1 against Alpha Ridge (2.40) are so generous – given his success against seasoned rivals in an open hurdle at Gowran Park last time – that it is worth taking a chance that he will be as effective on this better ground.
The Christie's Foxhunter Chase as usual matches veteran handicappers such as Juveigneur against younger horses more truly representative of the hunting field, like Cappa Bleu. It being so difficult to marry up the two, the default option is Murphy's Cardinal (4.0). Once considered a top prospect by Noel Chance, one of the most scandalously neglected trainers in the business, he could not have a more competent rider and, lightly raced overall, is over-priced at 20-1.
The inaugural running of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Hurdle has stimulated predictable interest from one stable in particular, notably through Big Eared Fran – another horse turned out under a penalty earned at Sandown on Saturday. But Conor O'Dwyer can spoil the party on the anniversary of his Gold Cup wins on Imperial Call and War Of Attrition. O'Dwyer has quickly shown a flair for his new vocation, and it is not just the inevitable resonance of his name that recommends Hangover (next best 4.40). The way he travelled through the race strongly implied he was idling when winning off a lower mark at Gowran last time, and he will be ably assisted in a race where jockeyship will be critical.
Another trainer cherished here during his riding days, Charlie Swan, can give punters a way out of trouble in the finale, the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase. VALAIN (nap 5.15) has been given a very artful preparation, just scraping into the race off the bottom rung of the handicap and sharpened up by an excellent run on the Flat the other day. He proved a very adept novice, travelling and jumping with plenty of gusto, and it seems hard to believe that his owner, JP McManus, will allow Victor Chandler's offer of 33-1 to go unpunished.
Sue Montgomery: Cheltenham Tips
2.05 Dave's Dream
2.40 PRIDE OF DULCOTE (nap)
3.20 Kauto Star
4.00 You Do The Math
4.40 Big Eared Fran
5.15 Clew Bay Cove (nb)
Hyperion's selections: Channel 4 races
1.30 Curragh trainer Christy Roche is renowned for long-range plots and LETHAL WEAPON looks to have been saved for the prize after completing a hat-trick of victories at Leopardstown on Boxing Day. His Flat pedigree points to him appreciating drying conditions.
2.05 After DAVE'S DREAM spreadeagled the Imperial Cup field at Sandown on Saturday, Nicky Henderson was very reluctant to turn out this lightly raced 6yo again today. That he has relented is a huge tip in itself.
2.40 Dessie Hughes believes a faster surface will see 20-1 shot WESTERN CHARMER step up on recent form.
3.20 Charlie Mann says a back problem, now solved, caused AIR FORCE ONE to flop last time. This up-and-coming chaser is best judged on his Hennessy second to Madison Du Berlais (now 3lb worse off) and can make an impact at 28-1.
4.00 JUVEIGNEUR would have devoured this lot in his prime and is still sprightly at 12. But with a 33-1 and two 20-1 wins in the last three years, this is best left to the Basil Brush botherers.
Name Game: Running today
Cape Tribulation (Albert Bartlett Hurdle)
In the Daintree Rainforest world heritage site on the Great Barrier Reef coast. Named in 1770 by Capt James Cook because "here began all our troubles".
On Raglan Road (Albert Bartlett Hurdle)
Poem by Patrick Kavanagh, perhaps best known as a song set to the traditional folk tune The Dawning Of The Day, recorded by the Dubliners and others.
Big Eared Fran (Martin Pipe Hurdle)
Named for footballer Francis Jeffers, variously of England, Everton, Charlton, Arsenal, Rangers, Blackburn Rovers, Ipswich Town and Sheffield Wednesday.
Clew Bay Cove (Grand Annual Chase)
Part of bay in Co Mayo containing Ireland's best example of drowned drumlins with, according to legend, one for every day of the year.