Thursday, March 14, 2013

Cheltenham Festival 2013 - Gold Cup day

Tomorrow's Gold Cup looks an intriguing renewal with 11 declared and the winner most likely to come from the first four in the market. In the past decade the favourite has obliged on six occasions; in that timeframe Synchronised was the biggest-priced winner, returned at 8/1 last year.

Nicky Henderson's Bobs Worth, rated 171, appears the worthy favourite. Small but with the heart of a lion, he won the RSA Chase last year, the Hennessy in December and is unbeaten at the track.

The worry is his preparation; he was forced to miss an engagement in the Argento Chase on account of a 'low grade' infection. Supporters point out that he has run well previously following a long lay-off but in the past 20 years every Gold Cup winner had seen the racetrack after the Christmas Day.

Ireland's main hope is Sir Des Champs. Last season he won the Jewson at the Cheltenham Festival and went on to take the Champion Novice Chase at the Punchestown Festival over a trip of three miles one furlong. This one clearly likes the track and supporters expect further improvement over the extended trip here. Off a rating of 168, he has something to find with the other principals.

On official ratings Silviniaco Conti (175) is the best horse in the race. This season he has beaten Wayward Prince in the Charlie Hall, Long Run and The Giant Bolster in the Betfair Chase and The Giant Bolster again in the Denman Chase, giving that rival four pounds on that occasion.

The slight worry is that all his wins at three miles plus have come on flat courses and there's a question as to whether he'll act on this track and see out the extended three mile two furlongs with the stiff uphill finish. In 2010 he won the Coral Hurdle over two miles three and sixteen months ago as a novice was quick enough to win over two miles five at Wincanton.

Long Run won the 2011 Gold Cup recording a rating of 179 in the process; his third in last year's renewal was given a mark of 182 yet this season he has struggled, given 172 for his neck defeat of Captain Chris in the King George at Kempton.

Amateur jockey Mr Sam Waley-Cohen, the owner's son, is on record as saying ideally he'd like to fit cheekpieces to his mount half way through the race; clearly that's not possible so connections will try the sheepskin aids for the first time tomorrow. This one is not the most fluent of jumpers and has a tendency to throw in the odd howler here and there, yet often his momentum seems unaffected. Following his jumping performance in the Feltham in 2009, a race he won, I never thought he could win a Gold Cup but, yet again, I've been proven wrong.

You pay your money and takes your choice; 6/1 Long Run looks reasonable value for a horse that's been there and done it before.

The each-way chances appear to be Captain Chris, Cape Tribulation and The Giant Bolster.

Captan Chris has had an excellent season and looked unlucky in the King George, although he came on the scene from a different parish that day. Better ground will suit but connections say he prefers to race right-handed.

At the age of nine Cape Tribulation is in the form of his life and in Denis O'Regan has the perfect partner for his hold-up style of running.

I backed The Giant Bolster each-way at 66/1 last year and just for a moment I thought he might win. He didn't and in the past placed horses haven't tended to improve enough to win. His jumping can look a little fragile on occasions but he certainly acts on the the track.

I'm aware Long Run bids to become only the second horse in history to regain the Gold Cup (and Oscar Whisky's run earlier today is an additional worry) but at eight years of age he's young enough. I take Long Run to win (6/1 Ladbrokes) with The Giant Bolster the each-way chance at around 14/1.

I've been impressed with Gevrey Chambertin this season and David Pipe will have done his utmost to ensure the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle is won for his father but the grey has his share of weight (although Tom Bellamy claims six) and there's no value in his price.

In similar vein, thirty five minutes later Nicky Henderson saddles six of the 24 runners in the race named after his father.        

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