Cheltenham Gold Cup day tips: Johnny Ward's best bets for Friday at the Festival

Towards the end of a Cheltenham Festival that has been troubling on many levels, a Boodles Gold Cup (3.30) for the ages serves as some salvation.

The near-irrelevance of English trainers Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls has been shocking, with Ireland’s Willie Mullins hitting 100 Cheltenham winners on day two, and likely he can take the feature, too, with last year’s winner, Galopin Des Champs.

The only horse missing from an all-star cast is Shishkin, so sadly scratched due to the alarming Henderson form.

Galopin Des Champs could easily win again for all-conquering jockey Paul Townend, but preference here is for Gentlemansgame, with Darragh O’Keeffe in the saddle and trained by Mouse Morris.

Morris believes Gentlemansgame had as good a chance as anyone, bar Galopin Des Champs — and perhaps he is right.

He remains an exceptional target trainer, the stable is in form and he deliberately skipped Leopardstown with a view to the Gold Cup, even though the lightly-raced chaser has not run since overpowering Bravemansgame in the Charlie Hall in early November.

This is a truly exceptional renewal, with Monkfish coming back from the dead at Gowran and, given his profile, it is staggering — and a measure of the race — that he can be backed at 25s.

Cheltenham Festival tips

Johnny Ward's day 4 picks

1.30pm Ethical Diamond 28-1

2.10pm King Of Kingsfield 5-1

2.50pm Chigorin 25-1

3.30pm Gentlemansgame (nap) 25-1

4.10pm Its On The Line 5-2

4.50pm Limerick Lace 9-2

5.30pm Answer To Kayf 9-1

Sir Gino had seemed the most talented entrant in the JCB Triumph Hurdle (1.30), but had drifted like no other Festival horse in living memory before being withdrawn today.

Salvator Mundi, who finished second to Sir Gino when trained in France, is a live one.

Ethical Diamond is a hopeful choice for Mullins, though he could do with the ground drying out. The hope is that it will be soft or faster, and he was eye-catching at Leopardstown.

Mullins has won six of the past 14 renewals of the The BetMGM County Handicap Hurdle (2.10), and he runs five this time.

Gordon Elliott was without luck in the first couple of days, but his horses are running well and King Of Kingsfield is really solid. That he got within 14 lengths of Ballyburn at Leopardstown and seven of Slade Steel now reads really well; he competes off 140.

The Albert Bartlett (2.50) has seen horses win at big prices in recent years: Very Wood (33-1), Kilbricken Storm

(33-1), Minella Indo (50-1) and Vanillier (14-1) all showed the importance of stamina, and this will take a bit of getting. Take a chance on Chigorin.

Henry de Bromhead has his horses in fine form and this one looked all stamina when scoring at Fairyhouse. Jockey Townend has deserted High Class Hero to steer Readin Tommy Wrong — and he may have gotten this wrong.

Both Barry O’Neill and David Christie bid for a belated winner in the St James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase (3.404.10), with Ferns Lock making obvious appeal. He is closely matched with Its On The Line on Down Royal form, preference for the Emmet Mullins runner merely marginal. His Naas victory was extraordinary and he has lots of stamina.

Friday marks the fourth renewal of the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase (4.50), with Allegorie De Vassy reportedly in sparkling form at home as she bids to surprise stablemate Dinoblue, who deserves to be favourite. Testing ground will suit Limerick Lace in the second JP McManus silks.

The Martin Pipe (5.30) is tough, and Answer To Kayf gets a tentative vote, John Shinnick riding at the Festival for the first time.

He has his work cut out at the weights to reverse Fairyhouse form with Waterford Whispers, but he is a hopeful each-way pick.