TIMICO CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP PREVIEW
3.30 CHELTENHAM 18TH MARCH 2016
Friday is always a bittersweet day at the Cheltenham festival. There is always a sense of sadness that the big one that everybody has been waiting for all year is coming to a close, but on the plus side it is the day of the big one, the Gold Cup, the prize that every national hunt trainer, jockey and owner are desperate to win. Coneygree, the fairytale novice winner of last year’s event, is unfortunately absent through injury, and as a result this looks like one of the most open renewals ever.
The markets are having as much trouble as the punters in sorting them out, and predicting who will be sent off favourite is almost as tricky as trying to pick the winner. Of the 21 horses left in the field 8 are trained by Willie Mullins, and whatever is sent off favourite is likely to be trained by him. He is still looking for his first winner in the race, though he has had four runners up. It promises to be a competitive and exciting race this year and below you will find an in depth analysis of the chances of the main contenders.
DON COSSACK 4/1 William Hill
This 9yo son of Sholokov has long been talked about as a Gold Cup horse by his shrewd handler Gordon Elliott and this year we will finally discover if he is the real deal. When you see this fella in the flesh it is hard not to be impressed and he is a fine stamp of a horse. He is 11 from 18 over fences, including five Grade 1s, and he is unbeaten this year when he has completed. He warmed up for this with a 9L romp in a Grade 2 at Thurles (20f soft) but he will be facing a much tougher task at Cheltenham. He has beaten Djakadam and Cue Card easily in the past and he definitely has strong form claims. He seems best on decent ground, and Elliott will be hoping that the rain stays away.
His sole defeat this year came when he fell at the second last in the King George at Kempton, and the way he was staying on he would have gone close if he stayed on his feet. However, he has failed to fire on his two previous visits to Cheltenham and he fell when still going well in the RSA Chase back in 2014. Last year he was third in the Ryanair behind Uxizandre, but Elliott was less than complimentary about the ride he was given that day by Bryan Cooper. He has yet to race over this far but his racing style would suggest he should have no issues with the trip. It will be interesting to see who Cooper decides to ride as he has a couple of options, but given a clear round Don Cossack will be there or thereabouts coming to the last. He every chance, and if he gets decent ground and is at his very best he could destroy them.
VAUTOUR 5/1 Paddy Power
This 7yo French bred son of Robin Des Champs is a real trailblazer and his spectacular jumping is a joy to watch when he is in full flight. He is 4 from 6 over fences and he just lost out to Cue Card in a thrilling finish to the King George after Don Cossack had tipped up at the second last. He already has two festival wins to his name, a 6L romp in the Supreme Novice in 2014 and an even easier win in the JLT Novice (20f) last year. There is no doubt about his affinity for the track, but whether a 3m 2f trip will suit around here is another question altogether.
That run at Kempton was his first go at 3m, and on such a flat track it was disappointing that he couldn’t hold off the late charge of Cue Card, who you couldn’t really call a doughty stayer. Coming to the last he looked to have poached an unassailable lead but Cue Card, who has never won beyond 3m, reeled him in. Vautour’s pedigree doesn’t exactly scream stamina either, and whatever about speed and jumping ability, you won’t win a Gold Cup unless you get every inch of 3m2f, and more. Not for me at his current odds of 5/1 as I can’t see him getting home over this trip up the stiff Cheltenham hill.
CUE CARD 11/2 Coral
This 10yo son of King’s Theatre has been a stalwart for connections and there won’t be a dry eye in the house if he can win national hunt racing’s biggest prize for the Tizzards. He has been reborn this season and wins over Dynaste, Silvinaco Conti and that thrilling King George triumph over Vautour have seen him well backed for the ultimate prize. He is 9 from 21 over fences and 5 of those have been Grade 1s. However, he has yet to prove that he stays beyond 3m, and though he has won twice from four previous visits to the festival, those victories have come in the Champion Bumper back in 2010 and the Ryanair over 21f back in 2013.
He has missed the festival for the last two years running, and this will be his first run beyond 21f at the track. He would surely have a much better chance of success in the Ryanair, but his three Grade 1 wins over 3m this season have forced the Tizzards’ hand and you can’t really blame them for having a go. However, Don Cossack beat him twice last year, and the second defeat at Punchestown (25f good/yielding) was by 15L. With the hill and trip unlikely to play to Cue Card’s strengths he doesn’t look value at his current odds of 11/2, and while I would love to see him win it I’m not sure he has the necessary stamina.
DJAKADAM 11/2 SKYBET
Another French bred 7yo trained by Willie Mullins and this son of Saint Des Saints was a gallant second behind Coneygree in last year’s edition. He is 4 from 9 over fences but he has just a single Grade 1 win to his name, the John Durkan at Punchestown (20f heavy) back in December. He fell at the tenth when still travelling well on his last outing here in the Grade 2 won by Smad Place, so confidence could be an issue coming into this race. However, he is sure to have been well schooled since and this has undoubtedly been the target since that cracking effort last season.
He showed he can handle extreme tests of stamina by landing the Thyestes (25f heavy) in scintillating fashion from My Murphy in 2015, and the runner up showed how good a win that was by going one better in the same race this season. He was well beaten by Don Cossack at Punchestown last April (25f good/yielding), but the attritional race he had in the Gold Cup a month earlier may have taken a toll on Djakadam that day. His fall last time out is a slight worry, but his stamina and ability is proven over this unique test, and at odds of 11/2 he looks sure to be bang there given a clear round.
DON POLI 6/1 BET365
Don Poli has been something of a forgotten horse going into this year’s Gold Cup and this 7yo son of Pogliote has a near flawless 5 wins from 6 chase starts, including three Grade 1s. His sole defeat over fences came when something was clearly amiss at Punchestown last season when he trailed in last of five behind Valseur Lido. He is better judged on his previous effort when he hosed up in the RSA Chase, and he has a 100% record at the festival as he took the Martin Pipe hurdle back in 2014.
His form this year has been solid with two wins from as many runs and he beat Many Clouds on his seasonal reappearance at Aintree (25f soft). He followed that up with a gutsy half length win over First Lieutenant during the Leopardstown Xmas meeting. He had a tough race that day but he has been given plenty of time to recover, and he is sure to be in tip top shape on race day. He stays well, jumps well, loves the track and he has proven that he can handle the electric atmosphere at the festival. He is another with serious claims and he can’t be discounted at odds of 6/1.
SMAD PLACE 12/1 SPORTING BET
This dashing 9yo son of Smadoun wouldn’t have been on many peoples’ radar as a potential Gold Cup winner coming into this season. He was never sighted in last year’s edition, beaten 27L in ninth, but he has won three from four this season and the manner of his 12L Grade 2 victory ahead of Many Clouds here back in January (25.5f heavy) has catapulted him into the picture for the biggest prize of all. His win in the Hennessey in spectacular fashion off a mark of 155 was another cracking effort, but he won’t get such an easy lead here.
He has already proved himself at the festival with a superb second in the RSA back in 2014, and he has a decent strike rate of 5 from 12 over fences. However, he has come up short on his three most recent runs at the highest level, and he was almost 17L behind Cue Card when they met in the King George. If there is a deluge and it comes up heavy it will enhance his prospects, but there are other mudlarks in the field too, and no matter what the ground conditions I just can’t see him being good enough to beat the best of these. Will likely go fast from the front, and his presence in the race should ensure that stamina will be a key factor in determining the winner.
BEST OF THE REST
At bigger odds there are quite a few contenders that shouldn’t be totally written off, and last year’s third, the Gigginstown owned Road To Riches, is available to back at odds of 16/1 with Coral. This 9yo son of Gamut is a dual 3m Grade 1 winner and though his biggest wins have come on soft/heavy he has shown in the past that decent ground holds no fears. Indeed, his trainer Noel Meade has often said that he is a good ground horse. This strong traveller was only 3L behind the winner last year and he could give each way backers a good run for their money at 16/1.
Valseur Lido is yet another Mullins and Gigginstown contender and this 7yo son of Anzillero is a dual Grade 1 winner, including over 25f (good/yielding) at Punchestown last Spring. However, he has failed to complete on his last two starts and it is hard to be bullish about his chances after that. The Gold Cup is the ultimate test of jumping, speed and stamina and you usually need a horse that ticks all three boxes to win it. For that reason this fella is best watched, even if odds of 20/1 with BetVictor are mildly tempting. It will be interesting to see how close he can get if he puts in a clear round.
Grand National hero Many Clouds ran a lovely race in this last season before going on to Aintree, and it is likely he has followed the same plan this season. One horse that could surprise with a good run at massive odds is the John Kiely trained and JP McManus owned Carlingford Lough. He is currently priced up at 50/1 with Bet365 and that is a huge price for a horse that has racked up four Grade 1 wins, including a 25f win (good) at Punchestown. He slammed Road To Riches on heavy ground last time, but he was well beaten when sent off at 14/1 for this last year. However, though he has won on heavy and soft he has always been viewed as a decent ground horse by connections, and if it comes up good on race day he could be a dark horse to run a big race at monstrous odds.
As can be seen from the above this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup is an absolute minefield with a case to be made for a host of runners. There is nothing between the prices of the market leaders and it will probably stay that way until news of jockey bookings leaks out from the yards and owners that have multiple runners. Of the Mullins raiding party it is Djakadam that makes most appeal, though Don Poli is not far behind him in the pecking order. I can’t see Vautour possessing the necessary stamina and with Smad Place in the field stamina is what could prove the difference.
A similar sentiment applies to Cue Card and while there won’t be many travelling better half a mile out it could be a different story once they hit the hill, and the extra 2f could be his undoing. For me the most solid option is DON COSSACK for Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown at 4/1 with William Hill. This fella has beaten almost all of these already, and not only has he beaten them, he has done it convincingly. In my opinion if he turns up in peak condition, and if the ground good to soft or better he will win this and win it well.
At huge odds you could do a lot worse than having a small each interest on Carlingford Lough if the ground comes up good. He showed he still has lots of ability with his wide margin win on unsuitably heavy ground last time, and he was well hyped for this last year as AP McCoy’s last ever Gold Cup ride. He will have the assistance of proven Gold Cup jockey Barry Geraghty in the saddle and on a decent surface he is worth a couple of pennies each way at odds of 50/1 with Bet365.
1.DON COSSACK 4/1
3.CARLINGFORD LOUGH E/W 50/1
4.DON POLI 6/1