On Friday 13th it would have been very neat for Tony McCoy’s final Cheltenham festival ride to be a “lucky 13” in the race named after him but Ned Buntline – number 12 on the racecard – could find Ruby Walsh’s mount Blood Cotil too good in the concluding AP McCoy Grand Annual.
A win for McCoy would be storybook stuff, and symmetrical too considering he opened his festival account in the race in 1996 aboard Kibreet.
So while the 19-times champion jockey’s primary focus today will be on Carlingford Lough’s Gold Cup chance, he can be relied upon to appreciate the context of what will be his final festival spin.
“It will be a bit different I suppose, mostly within myself, but I’ll probably only think about it in the evening when it’s over and I’ll allow myself to look back,” McCoy predicted. “Ned Buntline hopefully has a squeak. Carlingford Lough has a chance too, as good a chance as any of the Irish in the Gold Cup.”
However, one of the hardest men in the history of a hard sport also knows better than most how sentiment can get squashed up the Cheltenham hill, and whatever about Carlingford Lough, Ned Buntline is now 4lb higher in the ratings than when chasing home Savello in last year’s Grand Annual.
The difference this time will be McCoy on his back but any rain that turns the ground softer would hardly be in favour of the Noel Meade-trained runner.
Instead it might be a further help to Blood Cotil who took a long time getting off the mark over fences but his luck finally changed at Naas last time and the six-year-old looks potentially ahead of the handicapper.
Up to 12mms of forecast overnight rain would be just what the doctor ordered for No More Heroes in the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle. Better going wouldn’t necessarily have been a negative for a son of Presenting but the Gigginstown horse is a proven formidable operator with cut in the ground.
No More Heroes won his maiden over just two furlongs short of his three miles and his subsequent Grade Two defeat of Shaneshill at Navan looks good form now after that one’s Supreme second.
A bad scope after his last run looks a valid excuse and there is some confidence in the Gigginstown camp that he is one of their leading hopes of the week.
Willie Mullins pitches a handful of hopes into this race lead by Black Hercules who is already proven at the three-mile trip while Martello Tower is also a three-mile winner and looks sure to relish an extreme stamina test. But No More Heroes can emerge best.
Mullins has declared an astonishing 21 runners for today’s action, missing out on representation only in the Foxhunters where last year’s runner-up Carsonstown Boy could again go well at a big price. But Ireland’s top trainer will have a major say in the opening Triumph Hurdle with a trio of hopefuls that include another major Gigginstown Stud player in the filly, Petite Parisienne who is already a Grade One winner.
Her form ties in with her stable companion Kalkir so Ruby Walsh’s decision to side with the unexposed Dicosimo looks significant.
Conditional Hurdle is hardly one of the festival’s prestige pots but Mullins can target it with a good race as proved by last year’s winner Don Poli and prior to that Sir Des Champs.
He fires three runners at it this time, including the Grade One winner McKinley who looks very fairly handicapped on the face of it. However, Roi Des Francs bears a startling profile similarity to Don Poli in terms of what he’s achieved to date and looks set to be a major player.