1. “Can Bryan Cooper make it a double?”
Yesterday was quite the day for Tralee jockey Bryan Cooper. The 20-year-old rode his first Festival winner when Tony Martin’s 20/1 shot Benefficient led from pillar to post in the Jewson Novices’ Chase and then found himself as a last-minute substitute when Davy Russell was taken to hospital with a collapsed lung. That gave Cooper a shot at the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase, where he finished second on hot favourite First Lieutenant, and then in the feature World Hurdle where Bog Warrior was fourth.
Cooper was hit with a two-day suspension but today, his focus will be on riding his second winner when he saddles up on board Our Conor in the Triumph Hurdle (1.30pm). Unbeaten in his three starts over hurdles, Dessie Hughes’ youngster will have to fend off the challenges of Paul Nicholls’ Far West and Rolling Star from the Nicky Henderson yard.
2. “Will Tennis Cap add to Mullins’ honour roll?”
Irish trainers have won the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle (2.05pm) three times in the last four years and a win for Willie Mullins this afternoon would go some way to cementing the top trainer’s title at this year’s Festival. After bagging five on the opening two days, Mullins didn’t have a winner yesterday — but more importantly neither did any of his close rivals, and Nicky Henderson still trails behind on three.
Mullins also fields Ballycasey and Sir Des Champs among others today but Henderson has some interesting runners of his own with Rolling Star, Bobs Worth and Kid Cassidy all showing good claims. The trainer’s title is nearly in the bag but Mullins could do with one or two more to get over the line, and French import Tennis Cap could be that one.
3. “How will Sir Des Champs fare without Davy Russell?”
Ireland’s main Gold Cup hope, the Willie Mullins-trained Sir Des Champs, suffered a blow yesterday when booked rider Davy Russell was stood down for the remainder of the Festival and sent to hospital. Russell has ridden the seven-year-old on his last six starts, winning four including the Jewson Novices’ Chase here last year, and has clearly developed an important understanding with this horse.
Surrounded by high-class opposition in Bobs Worth, Silviniaco Conti and Long Run, Sir des Champs will need to be at his very best to challenge. The choice of replacement rider may well be crucial come 3.20pm this afternoon.
4. “Can Salsify buck the trends?”
As expected, a flood of support has pushed Salsify into less than 3/1 for this year’s renewal of the Foxhunters’ Chase. Despite the skinny odds, the defending champion is an attractive prospect to get the job done for the father/son combo of trainer Rodger and jockey Colman Sweeney.
The last horse to record back-to-back wins in this race was Double Silk in 1993 and 1994 and with 2012 runner-up Chapoturgeon and Pauline Harkin’s Doctor Kingsley bound to fancy their claims, Salsify will need an exact repeat of 12 months ago.
5. “What will get me out of jail in the last?”
Different year, same story, and most punters will be counting their last few pennies by the time the Grand Annual Chase rolls around at 5.15pm. The temptation is to go big in the hope of recouping some of the week’s losses but unless you’ve a strong fancy, or a wedge of cash burning a hole in your pocket, you might do well to avoid this wide-open renewal. Alderwood will most likely go off favourite and if neither AP McCoy nor JP McManus have had a winner by this point, expect the man in the saddle to go all guns blazing to drive Tom Mullins’ horse over the line.