Sir Erec has looked the real deal in winning both his starts over the obstacles, so is a worthy 5/4 favourite with William Hill to land the 2m Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle which get proceedings underway on Gold Cup day at the Cheltenham Festival on Friday (13:30).
This Joseph O’Brien trained four-year-old was a high class performer on the level, winning twice and running a cracker to finish third to star stayer Stradivarius in the Group 2 Long Distance Cup at Ascot.
He was heavily backed on hurdles debut in a 28-runner affair at Leopardstown and, after a couple of sticky jumps, warmed to task and stayed on strongly to beat Tiger Tap Tap by three-quarters of a length.
The pair pulled eight lengths clear of the third home and it was a taking performance which suggested there was much better to come.
That was confirmed in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at the same venue last month when Sir Erec made all impressively, staying on strongly to readily beat Gardens Of Babylon by six lengths under a hands and heels ride.
He jumped superbly and that victory earned him an official rating of 151, which is the highest in the line-up. O’Brien and jockey Mark Walsh have already tasted success at the meeting.
Owner JP McManus, meanwhile, has seen his famous green and gold hooped silks carried to victory in two of the last three runnings of the Triumph Hurdle. Sir Erec is strongly fancied to win again here.
Western Ryder an each-way play in County
Western Ryder has some solid form and the venue and looks well-treated on the pick of his form, so is worth an each-way wager at 16/1 with Paddy Power in the ultra-competitive 2m Grade 3 County Handicap Hurdle (14:10).
This Warren Greatrex trained seven-year-old was a very smart bumper performer who won two of his seven starts over hurdles last season.
In the second of those, the son of Westerner stayed on strongly in the closing stages to beat Lalor by two lengths over 2m 1f at this venue.
The runner-up, to whom he was conceding 6lb, went on to land a Grade 1 at Aintree, while the third home Summerville Boy subsequently bagged two successes at the highest level including Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at this meeting 12 months ago off an official rating of 150.
That gives the form a rock solid look and Western Ryder was also far from disgraced when seventh in the Supreme.
He then went on to round-off the campaign with a decent 6 1/4 lengths fifth of 12 to the hugely exciting Black Op in the Grade 1 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree’s Grand National meeting off 145.
Western Ryder also ran well in the Grade 2 International Hurdle over 2m 1f here when third to Brain Power. Those runs suggests he is capable of running a big race in this off a mark of 160.
The blinkers also now go on for the first time and fact that Western Ryder also has winning form over further is also a plus, as this race is usually run at a very strong end-to-end gallop which brings stamina into play.
Dickie Diver value in Albert Bartlett
In the 3m Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle (14:50), the hugely promising Dickie Diver looks value to land the spoils for champion trainer Nicky Henderson.
This six-year-old won his sole start in an Irish point by 27 lengths and was unlucky not to make a winning start for his new handler when a head second of 16 to Lisnagar Oscar at Chepstow.
He powered home after having made a bad mistake at the last and, given how the race panned out, it was a performance which suggested he needed keeping firmly onside.
The winner has since gone on to land a Grade 2 at Haydock, so that gives the form a solid look.
Dickie Diver has since won very easily by 2 1/4 lengths over 2m 3f at the same venue last month, and the McManus owned gelding is crying out for the step up to the 3m trip of this.
He can be backed at bigger odds than Lisnagar Oscar, and that looks plain wrong. So, at the 8/1 on offer with betway, he looks well worth an each-way wager.
Ucello Conti the Foxhunter fancy
This year’s renewal of the 3m 2f St James’s Place Foxhunter Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase (16:10) has a wide open look to it.
A case can be made for plenty; however, given that he has the highest rating in the line-up and has the services of crack amateur rider Jamie Codd in the saddle, Ucello Conti looks worth siding with at the 5/1 available with Betfred.
This Gordon Elliott trained 11-year-old lowered the colours of prolific winner Sydney Paget in a point and unbeaten in two starts since being switched to this discipline.
After scoring by 4 1/2 length at Thurles, then followed-up at Navan when bearing Coastal Tiep by 3 1/2 lengths.
Ucello Conti made good headway to take up the running two from home and stayed on strongly on the run-in and score by 3 1/2 lengths. The front two pulled clear and the form looks decent in relation to this.
So, with Codd, who has has already ridden winners at the meeting and is one of the best amateurs in the business, now partnering him for the first time, Ucello Conti looks primed to make a bold bid for this valuable prize.
Le Prezien the punt in Grand Annual
Le Prezien won the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase in terrific style 12 months ago, so off just 1lb higher looks weighted to make a bold bid to follow-up in this year’s renewal of the 2m Grade 3 contest (16:50).
This Paul Nicholls trained eight-year-old has won two of his five starts over course and distance – also finishing placed on one occasion.
He was given a peach of a ride by Barry Geraghty when produced late and storming up the hill to beat Gino Trial in this off a mark of 150 and land a gamble in the process.
The assessor put him up to 157 for that taking success and he has largely struggled in four subsequent outings.
However, his mark has slipped and a result and Le Prezien showed he retained plenty of ability when chasing home Silver Streak, who finished a fine fourth in the Champion Hurdle earlier in the week, in the Welsh equivalent at Ffos Las back in October.
A reduced rating of 151 gives him major claims from a handicapping perspective and another plus is that he hails from a yard in fine form.
This is also certain to have been his long-term target; so, with Betfair paying a fifth of the odds for five places, Le Prezien looks an appealing each-way bet at 10/1.
Dallas Des Pictons weighted to strike
In the 2m 4f Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle that brings the curtain down on the meeting (17:30), Dallas Des Pictons looks to hold outstanding claims of providing Irish trainer Gordon Elliott with back-to-back successes in the race.
He saddled Blow By Blow to win the race 12 months ago. Like that one, this six-year-old carries the colours of Gigginstown House Stud and has the services in the saddle of Donagh Meyler in the saddle.
Dallas Des Pictons has improved in each of four outings and ran a cracker in the second of those when keeping a three-length second of 16 to City Island over 2m at Leopardstown.
The winner landed the Grade 1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle here earlier in the week off an official rating of 147, so that gives the form a very solid look.
Dallas Des Pictons then bolted up over 2m 4f at Punchestown by 10 lengths in a 15-runner maiden hurdle after which he was allotted what looked a lenient opening handicap mark of 130.
He took advantage when landing a competitive 12-runner affair over 3m at Leopardstown. Dallas Des Pictons stayed on strongly when pressed to beat Calie Du Mesnil by a neck and value for more than the winning margin suggests.
Although he now has to race off 10lb higher, a revised rating of 140 may till seriously underestimate his ability given based on his run behond City Island.
Dallas Des Pictons looks a worthy favourite and can be backed at 7/2 with Ladbrokes. That completes the 2019 Cheltenham Festival day 4 preview.