There is no doubt about the headline match-up on the third day of Cheltenham as far as the punters’ hearts are concerned.
In one corner in the Stayers’ Hurdle is Paisley Park, whose small-time owner, Andrew Gemmell, has been blind from birth, developed a love of racing and sport from radio commentaries as a child and has backed his horse at 33-1. In the other: Faugheen, a Festival hero without doubt thanks to his brilliant win in the 2015 Champion Hurdle but also one whose owner, Rich Ricci, is decidedly unpopular in the betting fraternity at present thanks to his links with the defunct bookie BetBright.
No one, of course, wishes any ill on the horse, and plenty will be backing him as a solid second-favourite. But at the same time, if Faugheen comes up short, it will ease at least some of the hurt of backing a loser if Paisley Park is the one to beat him.
If Faugheen does win, meanwhile, the acclaim you hear afterwards will be for the horse and his trainer, Willie Mullins, who will have pulled off another minor miracle with an injury-plagued runner whose best days have looked to be behind him several times in the past. The response if Ricci is called up to the podium, on the other hand, could well be muted, to say the least.
Paisley Park will also go off at a backable price, as was the case with Tiger Roll in yesterday’s Cross Country. Both Tiger Roll and Altior, who went in at 4-11 in the Champion Chase, were rightly acclaimed by the crowd but the greatest warmth, or so it seemed to me at least, was reserved for Tiger Roll, possibly because many racegoers had just doubled their money having decided that Altior was too short to support with the kind of money that would make it worthwhile.
It was a blustery but dry day at Cheltenham on Wednesday and the going on the New course, which takes over for the next two days, is officially good-to-soft, soft in places. There is rain about, though, and updates on whether it arrives, and how much, will be available here throughout the day.
Chris Cook’s tips for the day are here, and the action gets underway at 1.30 with the JLT Novice Chase.