Horse racing predictions: Cheltenham – ITV Racing Friday picks

The final afternoon of the Cheltenham Festival today brings the most coveted prize in all of National Hunt racing.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.30pm) is the race that the connections of every horse that ever leaves the ground want to win and the roll of honour is a who’s who of the greats of the game.

A Plus Tard is the defending champion – and with Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore in such good form here this week it would be a brave person to rule him out of successfully defending the blue riband now.

ITV Racing will again be there to showcase the best of the action, with five live races on terrestrial television from Day 4 of the Cheltenham Festival.

The broadcasting team are on air from 1.00pm to 4.30pm on ITV1, with the Gold Cup due off at 3.30pm, and our racing expert has selections for all the ITV Racing action.

ITV Racing predictions – Cheltenham, Friday March 17

Enda McElhinney has recommendations for five races on Thursday. You can read the analysis behind his selections below.

Odds correct at time of publishing and subject to change.

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1.30 – JCB Triumph Hurdle (2m 1f, Grade 1)

This is forecast to be a benefit for Ireland, with the first nine in the betting trained on the western side of the Irish Sea. Willie Mullins holds an incredibly strong juvenile hand and has allowed seven to take their chance. Continuing to decrease the numbers, on paper, it looks like this rests between the front three in the betting.

Lossiemouth beat Gala Marceau to win a Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas and was the hot favourite for this afterwards. The placings were reversed at the Dublin Racing Festival, though the runner-up suffered bad luck midrace, and it may well have cost her any chance. She did well to be second, but had a hard time getting there. Paul Townend (Lossiemouth) and Danny Mullins (Gala Marceau) sit tight on their Grade 1 scorers and perhaps in doing so they have let Patrick Mullins hit the jackpot as he partners BLOOD DESTINY.

He has won a pair of minor hurdles races since arriving from France, latterly by 18 lengths on testing ground at Fairyhouse. That form looks handsome – Kempton’s Adonis Hurdle winner Nusret was third, while fourth home Jazzy Matty won the Fred Winter here on Tuesday. Blood Destiny is completely unexposed and, while he gives 7lb to the fillies today, he could just bully them out of the prize.

Selection: Blood Destiny @ 7/4 with Betfred

2.10 – McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle (2m 1f)

A deep race as always, with the likes of Petit Tonnerre and First Street considered, while Betfair Hurdle winner Aucunrisque can show well and Newbury runner-up Filey Bay is fancied by many on these improved terms to go close.

Willie Mullins has pocketed this race six times, including last year with State Man, a Grade 1 performer masquerading in a handicap, and while it might be asking a lot of HUNTERS YARN to go quite so high as that rival has since, his recent Listed win at Navan last month was impressive and made it 2-3 this season as he continues to progress.

A mark of 147 is no gimme but Paul Townend, winner last year, rides in the double green of owners Isaac Suede and Simon Minor, and they have to be due massive respect.

Selection: Hunters Yarn @ 9/2 with Betfred

2.50 – Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (3m, Grade 1)

A high-quality renewal of this three-mile race for the novices – and if the Stayers’ Hurdle yesterday at 3.30pm was anything to go by, it will be a severe test of stamina.

Embassy Gardens is improving for Mullins and Townend but needs a sizeable jump to win this, while Sandor Clegane, Shanbally Kid and Seabank Bistro also fit that category with potential for better.

Corbetts Cross has been snapped up by JP McManus since he won a Navan Grade 2 over two miles last month. While in theory he can manage this trip, extreme ground makes the practicalities more doubtful.

Similar sentiments go for THREE CARD BRAG – good enough to get within a neck of Supreme Novices’ Hurdle fourth Inthepocket over 2m 4f at Naas in December and a wide-margin winner next time at Fairyhouse for Gordon Elliott. He is very much expected to relish the three miles here and the continuing rainfall this week is optimal for a horse that is firmly believed to need testing conditions.

Selection: Three Card Brag @ 7/2 with Betfred

3.30 – Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase (3m 2f, Grade 1)

Behold the main event of the week and a stellar renewal. Defending champ A Plus Tard will be popular given the form of the De Bromhead-Blackmore team this week, while King George winner Bravemansgame is expected to have a big say as Paul Nicholls bids to win this race for the first time since 2009.

Fresh from his Grade 1 winner on Thursday, Harry Cobden will be confident and there is no doubting his credentials.

If it becomes a real slog, Grand National winner Noble Yeats and National Hunt Cup winner Stattler will be staying on with intent late in the day but it is doubtful if they have the class to win this.

To a lesser degree than Constitution Hill on Tuesday, GALOPIN DES CHAMPS could just be too good here.

He has only suffered one defeat over fences, when he slithered down on the landing side of the final obstacle in the Turners here last March with the race at his mercy.

Outside that, he has never really looked like meeting a setback over fences and he powered clear in last month’s Irish Gold Cup over three miles, suggesting this trip will be within his compass. The Mullins camps are very sweet and have been all season, and Paul Townend can land his third Gold Cup in five years. Having been 6/4 since Christmas, he looks a generous price now.

Selection: Galopin Des Champs @ 15/8 with Betfred

4.10 – St. James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase (3m 2f)

Billaway came from the clouds to win this last year for Patrick Mullins, after twice finishing second in it before. He is not getting any younger and there are some signs now that he is in decline.

Vaucelet may well have beaten him in the Punchestown version last spring had he jumped the last better, and David Christie’s eight-year-old is still improving. The Northern Irish trainer had many potential candidates for this and his decision to settle on just one is hugely notable. They are worthy market leaders.

At a big price, Black Op can be considered because of his back catalogue of good efforts at this meeting – but FAMOUS CLERMONT can give rider Will Biddick a second win in this race in three years.

His jumping was not entirely convincing at Wincanton in early February, though he still won well, and connections duly elected to give him another warm-up at Haydock over 2m 6f since, where he jumped much better and cruised to victory on the bridle.

This is his toughest mission so far but, like the favourite, he is only eight and still improving. So at nearly three times the price, he makes sense.

Selection: Famous Clermont @ 7/1 with Betfred

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