Cheltenham Festival 2015: Grand Annual Chase preview (17:15)
AP McCoy’s final ride at the Festival comes in the race named in his honour, the AP McCoy Grand Annual Handicap Chase (17:15), and his partner Ned Buntline looks to have been primed land the spoils and provide him with the perfect send-off.
The Noel Meade trained gelding has always been held in high regard and finished a 3/4 of a length runner-up to Champion Hurdle winner Jezki in a bumper on his racecourse debut at Leopardstown.
Ned Buntline then won two of his four starts over hurdles, but was a slow maturing type who looked as if he would come into his own when tackling fences.
The seven-year-old has so far only won once over the larger obstacles, but ran an absolute blinder in this race 12 months ago when runner-up to Savello.
Jockey Paul Carberry arguably gave Ned Buntline too much to do and, after coming from miles off the pace, he stayed on strongly up the hill to be beaten just 1 1/4 lengths.
Had Ned Buntline been ridden a bit more positively there is no doubt in my mind that he would have prevailed and, although now 4lb higher in the weights, that could prove to be on the lenient side if that is the case.
The fact that Meade has restricted Ned Buntline to just one run this season in a handicap hurdle at Leopardstown suggests he has wanted to protect his mark, and there is little doubt that the son of Resfue To Bend will be primed to the minute to run the race of his life.
Success on Ned Buntline for soon-to-be retiring McCoy in the JP McManus colours would be a fitting finale, and I expect the pair to prevail and bring the house down.
The biggest danger and possible party-pooper is Eastlake, who also carries the colours of McManus.
This gelding, who is trained by Jonjo O’Neill, won twice last season with his last success coming in a decent class 2 contest at this off a mark of 140.
Eastlake went on to finish a highly creditable sixth of 23 at Savello in this race off 147 and also ran a cracker when third of 30 to Ma Filleule in the Topham at Aintree.
The nine-year-old is now able to race off 145 having shaped as if coming back to form when third at Ascot last time out and, with Paul Carberry in the saddle, Eastlake looks well-weighted on the pick of his form.