Day three of the Cheltenham Festival will see Thistlecrack aim to continue his dominance in the staying hurdle division, as he bids for glory in the Ryanair World Hurdle, while Vautour will be sent off a red-hot favourite for the Ryanair Chase on what is expected to be a stunning day's racing, and we preview it all here.
Thistlecrack The Warm Favourite For World Hurdle Glory
Colin Tizzard's Thistlecrack has blown all his rivals away this season, but the ultra-progressive staying hurdler will bid for the biggest prize of the lot on Thursday afternoon when he lines up in a cracking renewal of the Ryanair World Hurdle, which takes centre stage at 3:30pm.
An emphatic 12-length winner of the Cleeve Hurdle on his last visit to Cheltenham, the eight-year-old will be sent off a red-hot favourite for the Grade 1 showpiece, but he will have to produce his best if he is to down reigning champion Cole Harden, who aims to emulate the mighty Big Buck's by landing back-to-back wins in the Championship event.
Saphir Du Rheu and Aux Ptits Soins will be part of a dual-pronged attack for champion trainer Paul Nicholls, who broke his duck at this year's festival on Wednesday with Diego Du Charmil's win in the Fred Winter, while Alpha Des Obeaux will fly the flag for the Irish charge, as they look to bridge the gap in the BetBright Cup.
Vautour had been earmarked for a tilt at the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday, but an eleventh hour decision to switch him to the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase on Thursday has seen the market take a huge shake-up in the last couple of days, and the dual Cheltenham Festival winner is a odds-on favourite to land the hat-trick.
A blistering performance in the JLT Novices' Chase last season saw him add that crown to his 2014 Supreme Novices' Hurdle victory, and if he can show his usual dominance in this event at 2:50pm then he will be a real tough nut to crack, as he looks to hand the deadly duo of Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh another success at this year's festival.
Road To Riches is entered for this race and the Gold Cup on Friday, but if he lines up he could be one of the leading challengers, while Valseur Lido and Smashing are another couple of Irish-trained stars in a race that could be dominated by the Emerald Isle contingent.
Bristol De Mai Aims To Hand Twiston-Davies More Success
Nigel Twiston-Davies saddled Blaklion to victory in the RSA Chase and Ballyandy to success in the Champion Bumper on Wednesday, and will aim to bag more Grade 1 glory on Thursday as he saddles the upward Bristol De Mai, who is fighting it out for favouritism in the JLT Novices' Chase, which will open the day at 1:30pm.
Garde La Victoire is another prominent figure in the betting as he aims to sparkle at Cheltenham once again, but Willie Mullins will unleash an exciting pair as Outlander and Black Hercules go for glory in a race the Closutton handler won 12 months ago with the aforementioned Vautour.
Limini Could Be A Cut Above Her Rivals, As She Aims To Star On Rest Of Card
Limini will be the third short-priced favourite of the day and she could well be too classy for her rivals in the inaugural running of the Mares' Novices' Hurdle, which is the penultimate race on the card, but away from that there will be a trio of tricky handicaps for punters to decipher.
The Pertemps Final will kick off the handicap assignments, and Leave At Dawn will be a fancied contender for the 2:10pm contest, while Johns Spirit will be another Cheltenham specialist aiming to shine at the track again and is the one to beat in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate at 4:10pm.
Doctor Harper has been well-backed in the lead-up to the festival for David Pipe, and he will aim to blossom in the Kim Muir Challenge Cup, which concludes day three at 5:30pm, but Irish charge Cause Of Causes has winning festival form and is of interest, while festival regular The Giant Bolster will finally aim to get his head in front after a sparkling career over fences for David Bridgwater's Wyck Hill-based team.