Day three. What was once considered the weakest link at the Cheltenham Festival now more than holds its own.
That’s thanks in no small part to what was dubbed “The Golden Hour” in 2019 when fan favourites Frodon and Bryony Frost won the Ryanair Chase, swiftly followed by Paisley Park’s equally stirring victory in the Stayers’ Hurdle for blind-from-birth, racing-mad owner Andrew Gemmell.
Frodon has finally grown out of such high-class engagements, but Paisley Park, though also aged 11, is still on the scene and ready for a fifth crack at the Stayers’ Hurdle.
Still thriving under trainer Emma Lavelle’s stewardship, Paisley Park might yet have one more big race in him, provided a) there’s a strong pace to feed off and b) he’s in a good mood.
Cheltenham tips 2023, day 3
- 1.30 Mighty Potter 11-10
- 2.10 Wakool (Best Bet) 33-1
- 2.50 Shishkin 5-6
- 3.30 Flooring Porter 11-2
- 4.10 Fugitif (Each-Way) 11-1
- 4.50 Luccia 13-8
- 5.30 Stumptown (Next Best) 5-1
He has an each-way shout at 16-1, but he’s mixing it with a handful of talented Irish stayers with younger and fresher legs.
They are headed by Flooring Porter, bidding to become the first horse to win this Grade One for a third time since Big Buck’s (who then added a fourth) more than a decade ago.
It looks tougher for him this time following an interrupted campaign. Home By The Lee has beaten him fair and square twice, while Blazing Khal was made favourite following his impressive comeback at Navan last month.
Throw in Teahupoo and Klassical Dream, the pair that ended Honeysuckle’s unbeaten run at Fairyhouse in December, and we are clearly dealing with a potent Irish quintet.
But Gavin Cromwell’s Flooring Porter is the one who has actually been here and done that (twice) and that counts for plenty.
With Danny Mullins, such a fine judge of pace, again doing the steering, there is confidence that he will be back to his very best on the day that really matters.
The Ryanair Chase is more straightforward. Or at least it is on paper. Shishkin, a one-time outstanding two-miler, rejuvenated by a recent step up in distance, is head and shoulders above the rest, according both to official ratings and to the visual impression he gave when hammering Grade One opponents at Ascot last month.
If Nicky Henderson’s favourite blows out – and it has happened before – there is an array of quality chasers ready to take full advantage, notably the still-improving Blue Lord, who may be excused his slight blip last time.
Gordon Elliott’s Mighty Potter is one of the Irish bankers of the week in the other Grade One, the Turners Novices’ Chase, run over the intermediate distance of two and a half miles.
He was a dual Grade One hurdles winner, but has stepped it up a gear over fences, ever slicker while running up a hat-trick, his two more recent successes also at the top level.
One of his Fairyhouse victims (beaten almost 20 lengths) was compatriot Banbridge. He’s rated his biggest threat on Thursday, but there seems no good reason why Mighty Potter shouldn’t thump him again.