On the final day of the festival the stands will be packed, with all eyes on the ‘Blue Riband’ event, the Gold Cup. As the most prestigious race in the National Hunt calendar, this Grade 1 event is open to horses aged five years and older. Run on the New Course over three miles, two and a half furlongs, there will be twenty-two fences standing between the runners and possible glory.
Last year was billed as ‘Kauto Star v Denman’, with Kauto Star starting the race odds-on to retain his crown. The crowds were, however, left disappointed as Kauto Star fell four out. Meanwhile, his longstanding rival could only manage a well held second as Imperial Commander was crowned the new champion.
10 year trends:
10/10 had run between two and five times that season
10/10 were aged between seven and nine
10/10 started in the first three in the betting
9/10 had won a graded chase that season
9/10 had run between six and fourteen times over fences
9/10 had won or been placed at a previous festival
8/10 had an official rating of at least 166.
Imperial Commander – N Twiston-Davies
10yo bay gelding
Flemensfirth (USA) – Ballinlovane (UK) (Le Moss (UK))
Reigning champion after justifying trainer’s belief that the 2010 running was not a two-horse race. Won very well that day, but failed to follow-up at Aintree when never travelling before unseating rider. Has an outstanding record at Cheltenham, winning 5 times from his last 6 visits. Course form is often key to picking a winner and the current champion certainly ticks that box. Won the Betfair Chase on seasonal reappearance but unseen since, due to injury. That a slight concern, as one can doubt whether he will turn up in similarly spectacular condition to last year. Still must be considered the one to beat.
Long Run – N Henderson
6yo bay gelding
Cadoudal (FR) – Libertina (FR) (Balsamo (FR))
Arrived at the Festival last year for the RSA chase with a huge reputation, but disappointed when finishing third behind Weapons Amnesty. Jumping was very poor that day and trainer believes his performance was the result of a long season. Made his seasonal reappearance, back at Prestbury Park, when a strongly fancied favourite to land the Paddy Power Gold Cup. Could only manage third once again with more poor jumping on show, and that run appeared to indicate three miles was a minimum for him. Finally confirmed his promise, when dethroning Kauto Star, in the rescheduled King George, winning by a wide margin. Trainer believes he is the best chance he has had of winning the Gold Cup. I disagree with him however, and could not possibly back this horse for a number of reasons; Firstly, I think he is still too young to win and is perhaps one for the future if continuing to improve. Secondly, I cannot trust that his jumping will be good enough to land this prize, as it will need to be near-flawless for him to be crowned champion. Finally, I could not place faith in Waley-Cohen to outride the top jockeys in a race of this calibre, even if he was on the best horse, which I don’t believe he is.
[frame_right src=”http://www.cheltenhamtips.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/denman_2389616-150×150.jpg” href=”#”]Denman[/frame_right]
Denman – P Nicholls
11yo chestnut gelding
Presenting (UK) – Polly Puttens (UK) (Pollerton (UK))
‘The Tank’ arrived at Cheltenham in 2008 unbeaten over fences and having only tasted defeat once in his career. Ruby Walsh stayed loyal to the reigning champion however, and Sam Thomas was laughing as Denman left him for dead, two out. Has finished runner-up in this race twice since, and in 2009 won a second Hennessy Gold Cup off a huge weight. Attempt to win his third Hennessy in a row unsuccessful but ran an outstanding race to finish third, behind Diamond Harry, in what was his only appearance of the season. Has undergone another operation since then which trainer believes might bring him back to his very best, and if that is the case, this race may well be over before it has begun! Outstanding course form, gallops all day, jumps well, but will have to defy a number of the key race trends to come out on top.
Kauto Star – P Nicholls
11yo bay gelding
Village Star (FR) – Kauto Relka (FR) (Port Etienne (FR))
Will go down in history as one of the greatest steeplechasers of all time, and in 2009 became the first horse in history to regain the Gold Cup, when putting in one the best performances you will ever see. Began last season solidly, holding off Imperial Commander at Haydock before adding a magnificent fourth King George to his collection. Sent off odds-on to win a third Gold Cup, however a bad mistake at the eighth looked to have ended his chances and seemed a beaten horse when falling heavily four from home. Reappearance victory at Down Royal looks nothing special and appeared as if best days were behind him, when thrashed by Long Run in the rescheduled King George. Possibly had his excuses that day, as trainer reported him to be suffering from a low-grade infection. Still, that performance means there will be two contrasting opinions amongst punters, come March; Those who feel he is a shadow of his former self, and those who feel, he is still the best in the business. Could make odds of 8/1 and bigger look silly.
Diamond Harry – N Williams
8yo bay gelding
Sir Harry Lewis (USA) – Swift Conveyance (IRE) (Strong Gale (UK))
Very successful hurdler, winning six on the bounce before finishing third to Mikael D’Haguenet at the 2009 Festival. Switched to chasing after finishing third, behind Big Bucks, in the Long Walk. Successful start to chasing saw him win twice in Grade 2 Novice company, before putting in a complete no show in the RSA chase, jumping poorly before being pulled up. Only start to date this season saw him jump beautifully, when gamely holding off the highly regarded Burton Port, in the Hennessy Gold Cup. Had Denman back in third that day, but improvement necessary to confirm form, now off level weights. One of a few horses in this race with only one seasonal appearance and is relatively inexperienced over the larger obstacles; Only one horse since 1963 has won the Gold Cup with less than six chase starts, while in addition, recent trainer comments fairly disconcerting and current price far from inviting.
Kempes – W Mullins
8yo bay gelding
Intikhab (USA) – Unicamp (UK) (Royal Academy (USA))
Has won two Grade 1 chases at around three miles, but looking through his form, I just cannot see a Gold Cup winner here. He won the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown on heavy ground, but quality of the standard here was absent that day. Frankly, a number of these would have to be pulled out before I placed my faith in him, and unarguably, he will have to improve immensely on all known form, in order to prove me wrong.
Others of Note:
Pandorama has some strong chase form in the book, with the beating of RSA champion, Weapons Amnesty, the standout. Could be one destined for top honours, but being pulled up on his only visit to these shores, is of concern. Midnight Chase and Joncol could be two of the bigger priced runners that attract each-way support, but I don’t think too much of the form they’ve posted to date. Tidal Bay is another horse who will be backed at a big price, having finished strongly when second behind both Imperial Commander and Neptune Collonges respectively. I think his form and performances flatter to deceive though, and I couldn’t back a horse for the Gold Cup, that has failed to win any of his previous nine appearances over fences.
The key trends for this race, rule out pretty much every runner, and therefore, as in 2009, expect some of these trends to fall. No winning horse, in the last ten renewals, has been aged older than nine, but I expect this stat, above others, to be broken. This is due to the first three in the betting, holding the aces, with Denman the one I expect to repel all challengers and come out on top. Another ten year old, I fancy to run a big race, at nice prices, is Neptune Collognes. He looked back to something like his best, last time out, and offers solid C&D form. If you are looking for a new kid on the block, Pandorama would be the most likely of those to step up and deliver in my mind; However, for me, there is one more year left in the famous old guard.
[notification_box]1pt win Denman @ 7/1 with Boylesports and William Hill. [/notification_box]