(Photo by Kerry Hendry of http://www.lovetheimage.co.uk)
Cheltenham Gold Cup is always hotly anticipated with the race providing a test of class and stamina over three miles, two furlongs. As usual, it will be run on the Friday and there are currently thirty six entries. Previous Gold Cups and last year’s RSA Chase, as well as last weekend’s Irish Hennessy and Denman Chase will provide many of the clues.
Last year’s winner was the Irish-bred Bob’s Worth. He rounded a hat trick of wins for Barry Geraghty at the Festival. Bob’s Worth is five from five around the Gloucestershire track, and comes into the race this year as favourite. A poor showing at Haydock was followed up by victory in the Lexus Chase.
Only four remain from last year’s field, which includes Long Run, fourth-placed The Giant Bolster, and Monbeg Dude who was pulled up. Winning the Argento in January gave The Giant Bolster his third win round Cheltenham, and it looks like he could put in another good round. Long Run, while getting on a bit in age, won the race back in 2011. His usually very consistent performances have dropped off this season, including an unseating, while Monbeg Dude has won two Grade 3s round Prestbury Park. Knockara Beau saw off At Fisher’s Cross and Big Buck’s on his comeback recently, and both him and Long Run are engaged to run at Kelso next Thursday.
Katenko won on his first and only start round the undulating Cheltenham course and he picked up a Group 3 just over twelve months ago. His reappearance in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury saw him fall when travelling okay but he was very disappointing at the Berkshire track on Saturday. The winner of Hennessy, Triolo D’Alene, is a proven jumper, having also previously won the Topham Chase over the Aintree fences. He is the third of Nicky Henderson’s runners after Bob’s Worth and Long Run.
Last year’s first and second placed horses in the RSA Chase have also been entered. Lord Windermere went past Lyreen Legend as they battled it out up the hill last year. The former gave Jim Culloty a first winner at Cheltenham as a trainer, with Bryan Cooper in second in a week where he announced himself to the racing public as a future star. Boston Bob, who fell at the last, is also entered.
Cooper’s retainer with Gigginstown will likely see him ride one of their five entries, which are First Lieutenant, Last Instalment, Dedigout, Bog Warrior, and Roi Du Mee. Of those, Last Instalment could be the one he plumps for following his terrific win in the Irish Hennessy on Sunday.
The field as it stands is unlikely to have as many come March, with doubly-entered Teaforthree, Time for Rupert and Medermit unlikely to run. The latter two have entries for the Ryanair.
A revival of the form, which saw Captain Chris win two Grade 1s in 2011, including an Arkle in front of Finian’s Rainbow, could see him run well. Dynaste, meanwhile, has recorded nearly all his wins on flatter tracks. Last year’s hopes for him have faded and he may also go for the Ryanair.
Owner John Hales, who’s Azertyuiop won the Queen Mother ten years ago, is represented this year by Al Ferof and Unioniste. The former previously won the Supreme Novices’ and the Paddy Power Gold Cup Chase but was very disappointing at Newbury on Saturday, while the six-year-old Unioniste finished fourth in the RSA.
Al Ferof and Unioniste make up two fifths of Paul Nicholls’ trained entries. He also has Silviniaco Conti, who will be going straight to the Gold Cup. He lacks a race since last year, as well as recording most of his wins on flatter tracks, such as Newbury and Kempton.
Fellow owner Rich Ricci, who owns the versatile Annie Power, has only one entry in Arvika Ligeonnaire. A big concern for him will be going left-handed; he distinctly jumped to the right in a Grade 1 Novice Chase at Leopardstown in December 2012.
Barry Connell, who has Our Conor to look forward to in the Champion Hurdle, is represented by Mount Benbulben. He won the Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown last year and is likely to be ridden by Danny Mullins, in what will be his second start in the UK, following on from a seventeen length fourth in the King George round Kempton.
Last year’s Ryanair winner, and recent winner of the Betfair Chase at Haydock, Cue Card is surely going to be a live contender, while stablemate Theatre Guide also holds an entry.
Last weekend gave us more form to digest in the run up to the Gold Cup. The Denman Chase over three miles at Newbury was run in heavy conditions and four of the five runners hold an entry for the March showpiece. Harry Topper prevailed by twenty five lengths, from Al Ferof, with Katenko in third, and Vino Griego pulled up for the Moore team. Harry Topper was following up from his win in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in November.
The conditions in the Irish Hennessy came up soft-to-heavy with the field containing a further six Gold Cup entries. The Fort Leney form was confirmed as Last Instalment went eight lengths clear under Brian O’Connell. Philip Fenton, whose Tullow Tank was beaten earlier in the Novice Hurdle, trained the winner. Tidal Bay is unlikely to race in the Gold Cup, and he came in half a length in front of the other Gigginstown runner First Lieutenant. The RSA Form took a bit of a hammering, with Lyreen Legend and Lord Windermere in 5th and 6th, with Roi du Mee bringing up the rear.
Houblon des Obeaux and Cloudy Too make up the remainder of the field. The former won a good handicap at Ascot in November, while Cloudy Too won a listed race the same month in front of Tap Night.
As such, it is still a wide open Gold Cup. With plenty of double entries to negotiate, it might be adviseable to avoid any ante-post wagers. With Al Ferof and Last Instalment are still being considered for the Ryanair, I will play it safe and opt for last year’s winner Bob’s Worth to put in a repeat performance, and join the exclusive club of multiple-time winners of the great race.
Tip: Bob’s Worth