Cheltenham ’12: Gold Cup

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On the final day of the 2012 Cheltenham Festival, comes the main event, the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
A Grade 1 in stature, the Blue Riband contest is open to horses aged five and above. The Gold Cup is run over three miles, two furlongs and change, on the New Course, with twenty-two fences standing between success and abject failure.

Quick Stats
The golden age bracket is between seven and nine, and in recent times, horses towards the very top of the market have been the ones to focus on. It clearly pays to have won or at least placed in a previous festival race, while anything that falls short of a mid-160 rating has it all to do.

Long Run – Nicky Henderson
7yo bay gelding
Cadoudal (FR) – Libertina (FR) (Balsamo (FR))
Could only manage third in the 2010 RSA, and filled the same spot in the Paddy Power Gold Cup the following season, but everything clicked at Kempton when storming away with the King George. The Gold Cup was to follow, despite the odd error on the way round, and on the back of that performance, many expected him to go on and dominate the division, but so far this season, that hasn’t happened. His Achilles’ heel was brutally exposed in both the Betfair Chase and the King George, and for all that he got his head in front over the weekend, when claiming the Denman Chase, it wasn’t an inspired performance. Still, as the reigning champion, he must be accorded maximum respect for all that his odds of 5/2 are highly uninteresting.

Kauto Star – Paul Nicholls
12yo bay gelding
Village Star (FR) – Kauto Relka (FR) (Port Etienne (FR))
Dual Gold Cup winner who has been rejuvenated this season, to an extent I think very few thought even possible, especially when folding so tamely at Punchestown. His jumping was foot perfect when raising the roof at Haydock back in November, a race that was in some quarters deemed his last hurrah, but that proved far from the case as a staggering fifth King George was to follow. Once again, jumping with aplomb, King Kauto applied pressure to the young champion; hunting out the mistakes that would for the second consecutive race, provide him with the upper hand. A lot has been made of his age, and granted the statistics for twelve year olds in this race don’t make particularly pleasant reading, but strangely, despite his record here over the years, I think Prestbury Park is no smaller a hurdle for him to navigate. Why?? Because I’ve never been entirely convinced that this track suits him, and for all that he has fantastically turned back the clock this season, this for me is where he is at his most vulnerable.

Grands Crus – David Pipe
7yo grey gelding
Dom Alco (FR) – Fee Magic (FR) (Phantom Breeze (UK))
Attentions switched to chasing after running up against the all-conquering Big Bucks last season, both here and at Aintree. Made a highly impressive chase debut, here in November when tanking his way round to a ten length success and immediately shot towards the top of the RSA market as a result. Reputation remained intact at Newbury a fortnight on, despite appearing to idle considerably at the business end of the race and a month on from that, delivered a top notch performance to land the Feltham, the form of which hasn’t exactly been franked since. It asks a lot to race the way he does, and win a Gold Cup, or even an RSA come to think of it, which, with the recent withdrawal of Last Instalment, I think is his far likelier destination, but in terms of the Gold Cup, he still has an awful lot to prove against this level of opposition.

Burton Port – Nicky Henderson
8yo bay gelding
Bob Back (USA) – Despute (IRE) (Be My Native (USA))
Consistent, talented and vastly progressive chaser who took second place in the 2010 RSA, before waltzing away with the Mildmay at Aintree the following month. A bad mistake four out, cost him all realistic chance in the Hennessy Gold Cup the following season, but regrouped well to claim second place. Returned from over a year on the side-lines to contest (and I mean that in the loosest possible terms) the Denman Chase last weekend, where he gave Long Run a late scare, despite receiving what we’ll call a ‘sympathetic’ ride. Likely to have needed that race badly, and given he appeared to have the measure of the reigning champion all ends up on that occasion, with improvement a distinct possibility, he is a very serious contender.

Synchronised – Jonjo O’Neill
9yo bay gelding
Bob Back (USA) – Despute (IRE) (Be My Native (USA))
Highly likeable sort who certainly doesn’t lack for stamina, evidenced by his victory in the Welsh National just over a year ago. Scaled new heights when winning the Grade 1 Lexus Chase at the very end of 2011, but the Irish staying chase division looks fairly week at the moment and his ability to feature against this calibre of opponent is certainly up for question. Of equal concern would be conditions come the third week of March, which will likely be against him in this company, if anything other than soft and testing.

Midnight Chase – Neil Mulholland
10yo bay gelding
Midnight Legend (UK) – Yamrah (UK) (Milford (UK))
Progressed well through 2010, and was many peoples idea of a live outsider for the 2011 Gold Cup, where he ran creditably to finish a very distant fifth. Ran a nice race under a big weight in the Rowland Meyrick, on the back of a tumble in Ireland, before enhancing his course credentials with an all-the-way success in a very sub-standard Argento Chase, but said course form is about the only plus point I can give him, as he appears woefully out of his depth, and ridiculously under-priced. In short, there is more chance that I win Miss World than he does, the Gold Cup.

Quel Espirit – Willie Mullins
8yo grey gelding
Saint Des Saints (FR) – Jeune D’esprit (FR) (Royal Charter (FR))
Fairly smart hurdler who made a bright start to chasing at Limerick, only for things to somewhat unravel thereafter. In with every chance when crashing out at Leopardstown two from home, in the PJ Moriarty, then three from home in the RSA a month later. Once again his race was to end prematurely at Punchestown, though this time a shade unluckily when brought down by a loose horse. Confidence restored this season with two bloodless wins against minimal opposition and a deserving big victory followed in the Grade 1 Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown, though in truth it appeared a race that didn’t require a lot of winning, for all that the figures were strong. Fairly certain he possesses the requisite ability to be a contender here, more certain than I’d be with Synchronised anyway, but I would have slight reservations about his jumping under pressure holding true.

Others of note:
The lightly raced Weird Al didn’t make much of an impact in the 2011 renewal and despite a good performance in winning the Charlie Hall back in October, and a solid effort in the Betfair Chase, he doesn’t make much appeal. The same could be said for former Hennessy Gold Cup winner, Diamond Harry, who didn’t cut much ice on his reappearance in the aforementioned Betfair Chase, and posted a dismal display in the Argento Chase.

What A Friend ran a fine race to come forth in this race last season, but is a very in-and-out horse (usually out more than in!!) and makes only minimal appeal from a place perspective.

Time For Rupert was all the rage last year to claim the RSA, but fell considerably short in that task and was quite readily accounted for by Weird Al earlier this season. Connections obtained a confidence boosting win in a minor event at Newbury, but given his performance in the Argento Chase thereafter, it didn’t do the trick and even place claims look non-existent.

Finally, the 2011 Arkle winner, Captain Chris, deserves a mention, if only a brief one; He has failed to complete in two of his last three starts, but in between those runs came a solid third in the King George, where he reportedly tore off a shoe. Considered by many a ‘spring horse’, if able to repeat that performance it’s not unthinkable he could find his way into the money, though I highly doubt he has the stamina to pull that off.

Verdict
Like many, I would dearly love to see Kauto Star conquer the Gold Cup for a third time, but if he does, it won’t be with my money on his back. Long Run enjoyed a confidence booster at the weekend, but the Denman Chase was for me, the racing equivalent of the 2010 German Grand Prix; a win by default. I must admit, I’ve never been all that taken by him anyway, and on his performances this season, I’m happy to take him on with stable mate Burton Port. The fancy prices have obviously now gone, but having watched the Denman Chase back a few times, I still think anything in the double-figure category remains very much on the side of value, because for me, he should be around the 8/1 mark pushing Grands Crus for third favouritism. Never out of the first two in eight chase starts, and only once out of the first three in fifteen runs under rules, Burton clearly has a huge amount of ability combined with a serious engine, giving him a very realistic chance of winning, not to mention a very solid chance of making the frame. People may point to the fact that he was in receipt of ten pounds at Newbury, but go back a couple of seasons to when he met Long Run in the 2010 RSA and you’ll see that shouldn’t be an issue, especially when you add in the absence he was returning from. What may be an issue though, speaking of said absence is the possible bounce factor creeping in, which may floor the bet completely truth be told, but with that nigh impossible to predict, we pay our money, we take our chance and I’m more than happy to take a chance on the high class Henderson inmate.

[notification_box]2pts each-way Burton Port @ 12-1 with BetVictor, WilliamHill [/notification_box]

 

Racing and breeding enthusiast, racehorse owner, semi-professional gambler and an opiniated, verbose, pain in the arse, now trying to make his way in the murky world of law. To be honest, I'm far more interested in flat racing, particularly the Juddmonte Farms operation and the juvenile division; As such, the race that most interests me at the Cheltenham Festival would have to be the Champion Bumper. You 'could' follow me on twitter and facebook, but it really wouldn't be worth your while!!

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