STANDINGS AT THE START OF DAY FOUR OF THE FESTIVAL
Ireland 14 wins; Great Britain 7
The BetBright Cup is the annual competition which represents and formalises the longstanding rivalry between Britain and Ireland, for the winning-most country at the Cheltenham Festival.
Going into the final day, Gold Cup Day, on St Patrick's Day, the Irish have a commanding lead of 14 wins in the BetBright Cup. With Great Britain only able to draw at best, with seven wins on the board, it leaves the home team with a mountain to climb.
BetBright have sponsored the competition, started in 2014 and formerly known as the Prestbury Cup, since 2015 and this year personalities Hector Ó hEochagáin, represents Team Ireland and Phil Tufnell, represents Team GB.
Tuffnell, the former England left-arm spin bowler, and team captain on A Question of Sport, said: "It is still statistically possible to get a draw at the moment. It has been a spanking - a mullering. It started off with Gordon Elliot (three wins on day one followed by one win on day two.) who passed the baton to Willie Mullins (four wins on day three.), he's just about got Ireland over the line. We are licking our wounds a little bit and playing for pride today.
"I haven't been into the weighing room or given our boys a pep talk, I am more walking around with the sunglasses and the hat on keeping a low profile. I am actually starting to think about the rugby a little bit now (Six Nations), I am looking forward to that tomorrow."
TV and radio star, Ó hEochagáin, who originally hails from Navan, replied: "Great Britain and England have decide to leave the European Union, they have decide to leave Trump on one side of us, Brexit on the other side of us. So we have decide to stand up and fight for our rights, and fight as the greatest nation in National Hunt racing!
"We did that yesterday in spades, it was a fantastic day - a four-timer for Ruby (Walsh), Un De Sceaux was the winner of the meeting for me. Let's Dance, the mare for Rich Ricci. Little Pat Kelly's small horse, Presenting Percy, from Co Galway. A magnificent day for Ireland yesterday.
"I felt the whole country heaved a sigh of relief when Willie Mullins got his first winner. St Patrick, and Ruby, will ride the winner of the Timico Gold Cup today. Djakadam will win it!
"It is five, four and three wins respectively to Gordon, Willie and Nicky (Henderson) starting today.
"Yesterday Willie could have traded at 100/1 for champion trainer, it just shows how thing as can change in one day's racing. Of course Willie can win the Irish Independent trainers competition.
"The crowd were with Rich Ricci yesterday, he got a great reception in the ring, the crowd were with him for all the bad luck he has had this season. I went up to Rich and said, that is very special what happened there, she is a great mare (Let's Dance). He got a great reception as an owner and it will happen again in the Gold Cup."
Tuffnell, said: "I am sticking with my boys, Native River and Cue Card (both trained by Colin Tizzard in Dorset). I know Cue Card is an old boy but experience does count. Maybe, I will come out of retirement. I will be up in the attic when I get home and I will be looking for my boots."
While pictures of Carol Vorderman and a rather more warmly-dressed Zara Phillips at Cheltenham yesterday are scattered throughout the news pages of many newspapers this morning, the sports writers have focused on the Cue Card-Native River clash in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, the highlight of The Festival.
"Cue An Epic Battle" announces the Racing Post on its front page.
Opinion of which of Colin Tizzard's pair will win gold is divided. "Cue Card has it all: the raw ability, the stage presence and a boy-next-door backstory in a sport normally dominated by the super-rich," says Greg Wood in The Guardian.
"It's Paddy's day," shouts the headline on the front of the Daily Express's Cheltenham supplement - a nod towards St Patrick's Day and Paddy Brennan's attempt to make amends for Cue Card's fall in last year's Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup. Inside, Chris Goulding reports Paddy Brennan as saying, "It does feel like a chance at redemption", while The Scout tips Cue Card for the big race.
In The Daily Telegraph, Paul Hayward quotes Brennan as saying: "If there is one thing I could change in my whole life, it's that movement [into a gap between horses going to the third-last fence in the 2016 race], but I can never fix that."
"Go Native" roars the Daily Mirror, with Newsboy stating: "Native River should be backed to gallop his rivals into submission in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup."
In The Sun, Templegate assures readers that, "The Timico Gold Cup is off down the River. Colin Tizzard's Native River has everything you need in a Gold Cup horse." Naturally, Sun columnist Richard Johnson agrees, and Matt Chapman backs them up, saying: "Native River has a brilliant chance of claiming jump racing's biggest prize in what looks like an open year."
The Western Daily Press - which features Ruby Walsh and Nichols Canyon returning after winning the Sun Bet Stayers' Hurdle on the front page - also plumps for Native River. "His jumping - and stamina - is beyond reproach and he should have too many guns for his stable mate," says the paper's Captain Wessex.
The Daily Star deserts the Tizzard-trained pair for Djakadam: "Djak Attack" is the Cheltenham supplement's headline.
Sam Turner in the Daily Mail is a sole voice arguing for Outlander: "The score between Djakadam and Outlander stands at one apiece this term and the latter could be some value to give Gordon Elliott a second straight win in the race."
And in The Times, Rob Wright selects Jonjo O'Neill's More Of That, saying "More Of That undoubtedly has the ability to win here and, if his [wind] problems really are behind him, he looks sure to go well under conditions that suit him." More Of That is also the Gloucestershire Echo's local choice, with Melissa Jones giving a well-reasoned argument for her selection,
Marcus Armytage goes for the Jessica Harrington-trained Sizing John in The Daily Telegraph: "I believe he has been crying out for today's trip on this ground."
Lizzie Kelly, who will become the first woman to ride in a Gold Cup for 33 years, garners plenty of press attention. Mark Souster interviews her in The Times, and there is a quarter-page-sized photo of her on page two of The Daily Telegraph.
When reviewing Thursday's racing, and the Willie Mullins-Ruby Walsh four-timer, plenty of attention is given to the irony of Mullins winning the Ryanair Chase after Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary removed 60 horses from Mullins' yard at the start of the season over an argument about training fees.
"We can't agree on fees but he's still taking my money," O'Leary is quoted as saying in The Times.
WALSH REFLECTS ON MOMENTOUS THURSDAY AT CHELTENHAM
Ruby Walsh reflected on a phenomenal time at the Cheltenham Festival yesterday, after he became the most successful jockey in a day at The Festival ever, following victories on Yorkhill (JLT Novices' Chase), Un De Sceaux (Ryanair Chase), Nichols Canyon (Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle) and Let's Dance (Trull House Stud Mares Novices' Hurdle), on the third day of The Festival, St Patrick's Thursday.
Walsh, along with Closutton handler Willie Mullins, recorded a 178.6/1 four-timer yesterday and registered his 56th Cheltenham Festival winner.
Walsh, who has won the meeting's Boodles Leading Jockey Award in 10 of the past 13 years, said: "It was a brilliant day. I thought when Annie Power fell here two years ago [2015 OLBG Mares' Hurdle] that my chance of riding a four-timer at The Festival was over, so it was great."
Andrea & Graham Wylie's novice chaser Yorkhill got the ball rolling for Walsh and the jockey waxed lyrically about the son of Presenting, commenting: "He was fantastic. He jumped super and showed what a good horse he is. I think he is a Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup horse and I always thought he was. His pedigree suggests he should get the trip, he isn't short of speed and I've always felt he was a good jumper. He only ever does enough when he is in front but I just think he is a very good horse."
The Irishman also partnered Un De Sceaux to his second victory at The Festival (2015 Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase) in the Ryanair Chase, with Walsh remarking: "Un De Sceaux is a little tiger who always gives his best. I would liked to have been a little more in control! He saw the trip out well enough and I thought if I could hold him up for four and a half furlongs to get pretty near to the two mile start then that was going to be a bonus. He is a pleasure to ride and is such an honest little horse."
Reflecting on his other two winners, the jockey continued: "Nichols Canyon's victory (Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle) was a pleasant surprise. He has been a genuine Grade One horse all his career. I was delighted with how well he battled from the last, he was good, tough and found enough to get home. He has a bit of age on his side now and he is a hardy little horse. Let's Dance (Trull House Stud Mares' Novices' Hurdle) was also very good so it was a great day all round."
Walsh partners the well-backed market leader Djakadam in today's Blue Riband event, the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.30pm), with the eight-year-old son of Saint Des Saints second in the last two renewals of the Grade One event. Rating the gelding's chances, he said: "I wouldn't swap him. He looks a million dollars and is in really good order. I think the strongest piece of form in the race is his Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup run last year when he was second to Don Cossack, so if he can reproduce that, I'm hoping he can go close.
"When all is said and done, form is form and it tends not to lie. He was too free last time at Leopardstown [third, beaten two and a half lengths]. We went too slow and that race came just 14 days after winning the John Durkan so it was one race on top of the other. He had a fall here at Cheltenham last January and got a cut on his chest so his preparation was a bit stop-start but everything has been much smoother with him this year. We are really happy with him.
"The pace of this race should suit him better than three mile chases in Ireland which can be run a bit slower as the gallop they go here is relentless. Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup horses are incredible to ride at that level as they just keep building it up and it's not so much that one quickens away, just the others keep dropping off. I've always found it a great race to ride in and hopefully it is again today."
Asked about potential dangers to his charge, Walsh added: "You could make a case for four or five others in the field. Obviously, the Colin Tizzard-trained horses are dangerous. Whatever way you look at it, an 11-year-old is going to win the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup at some stage and Cue Card is a wonderful horse. Native River has done nothing wrong and has only improved this year so you have to respect the two of those.
"There are some Irish horses with chances as well through Outlander, Sizing John and possibly Henry De Bromhead's horse Champagne West, who put up a very strong performance in the Thyestes Chase the last day."
JOHNSON CONFIDENT RIVER CAN DELIVER
Richard Johnson, who partnered Noel Chance's Looks Like Trouble to victory in the 2000 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, is confident of a bold showing from the Colin Tizzard-trained Native River in the 2017 edition of Jump racing's championship event.
Britain's champion Jump jockey gained his 21st victory at The Festival earlier this week, courtesy of the Nick Williams-trained Flying Tiger (33/1) in the Grade Three Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle and will look to gain number 22 in the extended three and a quarter mile event.
Native River is unbeaten in his last three starts, having tasted victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in November and the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow in December, before decisively plundering the spoils in the Betfair Denman Chase back at Newbury last time out. However, Johnson missed the ride on the gelding at Newbury due to illness and is excited to renew his partnership with the progressive staying chaser.
Johnson said: "I'm massively looking forward to riding Native River. He has been the horse I have enjoyed riding all season and it was devastating to not ride him last time but this is his big day today."
Focusing on the good ground the seven-year-old son of Indian River will encounter today, Johnson continued: "The Tizzards have always felt that he doesn't want it too soft and the big worry in the Welsh Grand National was that the ground might have been too testing but he coped with it well.
"He should bounce off the decent ground and there are no excuses today. He should run really well."
The market for the Grade One contest is headed by Willie Mullins' Djakadam, with Johnson wary of the threat posed by the eight-year-old. He added: "I'm always concerned about Willie Mullins' horses, he had a fantastic day yesterday and Djakadam has been second in the race twice so you have to respect his chances as well, but I'll take my chance on my fella."
Johnson will be hoping to start the final day of this year's Festival, Gold Cup day, with a winner as he partners the Philip Hobbs-trained Defi Du Seuil, favourite for the JCB Triumph Hurdle (1.30pm) and unbeaten in five starts over hurdles in Britain.
The jockey remarked: "Defi Du Seuil has done nothing wrong all season. He is a likeable horse who comes here with the best form and fingers crossed he can run well.
"Nothing is against him today and conditions should suit him. He has a great chance."