1pt each-way Ivanovich Gorbatov @11/1, 14:10 Cheltenham, Friday

And just like that, it’s Gold Cup day.

Normal service was restored at Cheltenham on Thursday as Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins notched a four-timer to refill wounded punters’ pockets, whilst the Irish dominance of this Festival continued.

They had never won the Prestbury Cup before Any Currency’s disqualification gave them a maiden win last season, but this year has been an absolute rout.

Whilst the domestic challenge in the opening Triumph hurdle is strong, last year’s winner looks likely to notch the Irish another winner in the following County Hurdle with IVANOVICH GORBATOV.

Largely out of sorts this season when running in Grade 1s on ground softer than he’d like, it’s remarkable how well the horses that have beaten him have fared this week.

His Irish Champion Hurdle conquerors Petit Mouchoir and Footpad were third and fourth in the Champion Hurdle itself on Tuesday; his Morgiana Hurdle conqueror Nichols Canyon won today’s Stayers’ Hurdle, while the Hatton’s Grace 1-2 Apple’s Jade and Vroum Vroum Mag were again the 1-2 in the Grade 1 Mares’ Hurdle.

Dropping to handicap class he must have a big chance in the County, and with the rain set to stay away, any return to the form of his Triumph Hurdle win last year would give him a massive chance for back-to-back Festival successes.

He convincingly beat Apple’s Jade and Footpad as well as a host of subsequent winners in last year’s Triumph, so the talent and form is undoubtedly there.

Remember he was a big flop ahead of the Festival last season when beaten by Footpad at Leopardstown, but he obviously reversed that form when it mattered.

He’s trained by an O’Brien, Aiden’s son Joseph, whose father is probably the best in the business and renowned for being the ultimate target trainer, so it can pay to disregard all prep runs with that in mind.

Owner JP McManus will have had Champion Hurdle ambitions for this horse early in the season but but with such a strong hand in this year’s race – which he ended up having the 1-2 in – it’s entirely possible that this has for some time been the number-one target.

With five-year-olds having such a poor record in the Champion Hurdle and Ivanovich Gorbatov’s runs this season suggesting he’s a few pounds shy of that class – not to mention his owner’s formidable hand in the race – the County has likely been the target for a long while.

He’s even dropped a few pounds in the ratings since winning the Triumph last year, whilst the horses he beat will have earned hikes upwards once the dust settles on their respective Cheltenham successes, so there’s every chance he’s thrown in at the weights.

Add first time headgear to the equation and he looks primed for a big run – the 11/1 each-way paying six places with Paddy Power looks good.

For last year’s winning yard, the favourite North Hill Harvey is much respected with good course form and record fresh, whilst the McManus-owned Winter Escape looks potentially well treated and is feared most of the rest.

1pt each-way Ivanovich Gorbatov @11/1, 14:10 Cheltenham, Friday

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