With racing’s blue riband event just over a month away Jamie Taylor takes a look through the Cheltenham Gold Cup field and gives you his view on the race.
Roll back eleven months ago and Bobs Worth became the first horse to win the Gold Cup since Garrison Savannah in 1991 off such a layoff, having been side-lined since his victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup. This absence was mainly attributable to the ground being against him in the prep-races, so you’d have to imagine he’d have run in something like the Denman Chase at Newbury had things gone to plan.
Fast forward twelve months and Bobs Worth is aiming to become the first horse since Best Mate to land back to back Gold Cup’s, and before Henrietta Knight’s great triple winning Gold Cup King you’d have to go back to L’Escargot in 1971 to find the last consecutive winner.
A few key stats to be taking a look at when making a selection in this race;
12/13 winners of the Gold Cup had previously run within the last three months. (Bobs Worth in 2013 hadn’t run since Hennessy at beginning of December).
13/13 winners of the Gold Cup were aged between 6 and 9.
12/13 winners of the Gold Cup had run in that seasons King George or Lexus prior to success at Cheltenham. (Bobs Worth in 2013 didn’t run since Hennessy).
13/13 winners of the Gold Cup had previously won a Grade 1 contest.
13/13 winners of the Gold Cup were in the top three in the betting.
Long Run (2011) became the first 6yo to win the Gold Cup since Mill House back in 1963.
12/13 winners of the Gold Cup were officially rated 166 or above.
Bob Back (USA) (12.4f) — Fashionista (IRE) (King´s Theatre (IRE) (11.4f))
Notes: A real workmanlike old-fashioned chasing type. I’ve taken a while to warm to him but you cannot knock his record, it is truly outstanding. On just his fifth start over fences he won the Hennessy Gold Cup off a mark of 160, in doing so becoming the second highest rated winner of the race since 2000, surpassed only by Denman who won the race off 161 in his Gold Cup winning season. He then pitched up in the Gold Cup, aiming to win at the Cheltenham Festival for the third year in a row, having won the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle and RSA Chase on previous visits to the meeting. As the rain fell throughout the afternoon, the ground gradually started going against Bobs Worth who has been proven to be at his best on quicker ground, nobody told Bobs Worth though who despite being eight lengths down when hampered by the fall of Silviniaco Conti three out, gradually ground his way into contention to lead before the last, and really stuck his neck out up the run-in to draw further and further clear from the legless Sir Des Champs who had nothing left to give in second. In winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Bobs Worth enhanced his record at the track to 5 wins from 5 attempts (11111) including 3 Grade Ones at the highest level. His return this season to defend his championship started off with a below-par effort at Haydock when beaten a long way out behind Cue Card in the Betfair Chase. He returned to form in the Lexus Chase when powering away from his rivals off a modest gallop to put himself firmly back in the picture, although he hasn’t hit the heights of last season on RPR’s you’d expect Nicky Henderson will have left plenty to work with on this likeable individual.
King´s Theatre (IRE) (11.4f) — Wicked Crack (IRE) (King´s Ride (14.0f))
Notes: The best winner of the Ryanair Chase I’ve seen, powering away from a really good rival in First Lieutenant after making all, being taken on for the lead by Champion Court (who finished very tired) throughout. The way he powered up the hill that day after sustaining a relentless gallop throughout, suggested he’d have little trouble stepping up to this trip provided he was ridden a little more conservatively. After Cheltenham Cue Card was rolled out to Aintree to take on the incredible Sprinter Sacre in the Melling Chase, whilst no match for the great bay, he drew 19L clear of the 170 rated Flemenstar in third and rounded off his season in a positive note. He returned in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter in November attempting to give away over a stone to Somersby and Module, considering he was only beaten 6.75L over a trip short of his best this was an impressive comeback, a point which was further hit home on his next start when leading from pillar-to-post in an authoritative display in the Charlie Hall Chase at Haydock. He attempted to make all again in the King George and after looking like the winner as the jumped two from home, he was worn down by Silviniaco Conti who ground down the free-running bay on the run towards the final fence, maintaining that advantage to the line. This run came at a time where the Tizzard yard weren’t firing on all cylinders, with rumours of a low-level virus doing the rounds at the stable quashed by Tizzard thereafter. I think Cue Card is a better horse going left-handed, and you’d have to think despite stamina doubts over the extended Gold Cup trip he’d have to be thereabouts on the big day.
Dom Alco (FR) — Gazelle Lulu (FR) (Altayan)
Notes: No match for Cue Card on seasonal return in the Betfair Chase, the gelded son of Dom Alco reversed the form in the King George was a powerful late effort to draw away from the pace-setting rival. On all known form this is probably the best performance Silviniaco Conti has put together on the track, and looks an improved horse this year for trainer Paul Nicholls. His run in this race last year still lives long in the memory, given the way he travelled throughout the race until coming to grief when still yet to play his hand at the third last, it looked at the time he would have gone very close to winning had he completed the course. He isn’t the biggest horse in the world but is powerful, game and will relish any ease in conditions on Gold Cup day. Given the fact he looks to have improved, he looks sure to play a very big hand in the finish of the 2014 Gold Cup.
Flemensfirth (USA) — June´s Bride (IRE) (Le Moss (12.4f))
Notes: The veteran of the field, he has proven a revelation since being switched to Paul Nicholls, racking up several decent prizes. A fantastic third off 163 in the Welsh National on bottomless conditions when last seen, he is entered up for the Irish Hennessy at the weekend where he is set to lock horns with a few of these. Sixth in the race in 2011 behind Long Run, he has skipped the last two renewals, and whilst it would be great to see this likeable veteran in mix it with the staying chasing elite, the only way I can see him holding large enough claims were we to get a very soft ground Gold Cup. He is also bidding to be the oldest winner of the race since it started over jumps in 1924, and the oldest since What A Myth in 1969 – all of which suggests a win is unlikely.
Dom Alco (FR) — Maralta (FR) (Altayan)
Notes: An impressive winner of the Paddy Power Gold Cup back in November 2012 and was side-lined with injury until his return at Ascot in November, where he readily accounted for French Opera in a performance rated just 4lbs below his best on RPR’s. He followed up that effort with a distant third in the King George behind stable-mate Silviniaco Conti and Cue Card, although was never really travelling with any real fluency on ground softer than ideal. Has looked like he can mix it at this level but needs to prove he can stay this trip (is bred to do so). He is entered up in the Denman Chase at Newbury this weekend should that meeting go ahead, and it will depend on that performance where he goes next – although there are rumours he could be aimed towards the Ryanair Chase instead, despite his owners’ inclination to go towards the Gold Cup.
Presenting (13.8f) — Fourstargale (IRE) (Fourstars Allstar (USA) (11.9f))
Notes: Was a horse I tipped last season for the Ryanair Chase at large odds, only to see him go off 2-1 favourite (10s taken). Things seemed to happen too quickly for him that day in what was an exhibition round by the high-class Cue Card, and the step-up to this trip seems a good idea. Mouse Morris usually leaves plenty to work on with this horse, so I wouldn’t be too worried about the below-par form shown by First Lieutenant in the first two runs of the campaign, in fact it isn’t too dissimilar to last season where he returned to form with a narrow second in the Lexus Chase before improving to take second in the Ryanair. He looks to be coming along nicely and looks one of the main contenders ahead of this year’s Gold Cup, and a good performance in the Irish Hennessy at the weekend will put him spot on for this. That said in previous runs to date Bobs Worth has the measure of this likeable old-fashioned sort, and it’s hard to envisage a turnaround in the form.
Captain Chris is an admirable sort who arguably equalled the best run of his career when running out a facile winner of a listed chase at Kempton last time out. Sixth in last year’s Gold Cup he ran a big race for a long way despite jumping right-handed at most fences, and only got tired in the closing section of the race. As I touched upon in last year’s article, that despite winning an Arkle Chase at the course, I’ve always held the belief that Captain Chris is a much better animal going right-handed and stats back that up, so once you equip that with the fact the last winner of the race aged above 9 was Cool Dawn (aged 10) back in 1998 it is hard to see him reign victories here against top quality opposition.
Long Run an emphatic winner of this race back in 2011, has filled third spot for the last two renewals running gallant races in defeat both times. He hasn’t looked the force of old since returning from a summer break, and has failed to fire on all three starts, most recently when fitted with a first time visor in the King George on Boxing Day. Connections are reported to be targeting the Grand National this time round so it remains to be seen whether he’ll even line up in this, but even if he does it would be difficult to envisage him playing a hand in the finish.
The Giant Bolster hasn’t been the force of old since a punishing run in last year’s attritional Gold Cup test saw him out on his feet on the run-in. He was my advice in the race last year with the thought around decent ground bringing him into the frame having filled second spot in the race 12 months previously. He clearly likes Cheltenham as his form figures of (6F1UU12451) suggest, and seemed revitalised by the application of a visor and hood when running out a facile winner of the Argento Chase last time out. It’s hard to see him being good enough to challenge the principles in this, although he shouldn’t be a million miles away from third place. Historically the Argento Chase has a poor record when pinpointing future winners of the Gold Cup, and I can’t have him this time round.
Knockara Beau is being prepared for this race after being the first horse to beat Big Buck’s in 19 runs when winning the Cleeve Hurdle last time out. He has the age stat against him and has been beaten in handicaps off marks in the mid-140s. It is difficult to imagine him getting involved here, despite any ease in the ground and I can’t have imagine he can improve enough to feature here.
Lord Windermere looked to win a below-par renewal of the RSA Chase last March and has gone a long way to confirming that view beating well beaten on both starts this term, firstly in the Hennessy Gold Cup off what should have been a competitive mark of 154, and more recently in the Lexus Chase when well beaten behind Bobs Worth.
Lyreen Legend is another who comes from the RSA Chase having finished second to Lord Windermere in the contest a year ago. His form since returning from a break was a fifth placed effort in the Lexus Chase behind Bobs Worth and it’s hard to see him closing the gap on the principles here.
Rubi Ball finished a gallant third to Bobs Worth in the Lexus Chase last time up. Once a very good horse in France around 4 years ago had lost his way prior to a revitalised effort in the Lexus Chase last time out, but it’s hard to see him being good enough against this level of opposition, and he isn’t the best jumper in the world either – something which can often be exposed around here.
Last Instalment is a horse I hold in very high regard, and one I thought had potential to develop into a serious Gold Cup candidate back in his novice chase days. Has been side-lined with injury for the last couple of years but made a really pleasing return at Thurles in the Kinloch Brae last month and ought to come on plenty for that outing. Is pencilled in for the Irish Hennessy at the weekend, and should he come through that assignment unscathed he’d have to enter calculations as a value alternative at a massive price for those looking at the W/O Bobs Worth each-way market. It would take some performance for him to return from two years off and lift the Gold Cup, and despite my liking for him I cannot see it but he shouldn’t be underestimated.
Dynaste was a good second to Cue Card in the Betfair Chase at the start of the campaign, but ran below form at Kempton on Boxing Day behind that same rival. Looks likely to head for the Ryanair Chase instead, where he’d go with a bold claims.
Whilst taking into account last season’s RSA Chase form isn’t anything to write home about it would suggest that any attempt from Lyreen Legend or Lord Windermere would end in failure should any of the pair take up the challenge.
The Irish Hennessy this weekend will enable us to know more about just where First Lieutenant is in terms of Gold Cup quality, he has looked like he could run a major race over this sort of trip but think was beaten on merit by this year’s defending champion Bobs Worth in the Lexus Chase last time up.
Silviniaco Conti looks improved this year, and after coming on for the run in the Betfair Chase followed up with an impressive victory in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day. In doing so he posted his best performance to date, and the way in which he travelled in this contest last year suggests he’ll go very close to winning this year given he looks to have improved.
The Giant Bolster is an admirable sort and is the horse I backed in this last year, but has shown us he isn’t good enough against this top-level of opposition and he’ll be fighting it out for minor placing’s on all known form.
Al Ferof looks likely to head down the Ryanair route, as does Dynaste although the owner of Al Ferof is keen to have a tilt at the Gold Cup. He’ll need to have improved again to close the distance down on his stable-mate and Cue Card based on their Kempton running, and I’m yet to be convinced he either stays this trip or is good enough to beat the main three.
The tough one to get a handle on is Cue Card. I actually do think he’ll stay especially if he gets some decent ground. He is a better horse going left-handed and his victory in the Ryanair Chase last year was outstanding, especially considering he went a relentless gallop throughout and was drawing away again at the line. In my opinion it’ll come down to how he settles in the early stages, and if he is taken on by one of the rags for the lead. I can certainly see him making the frame, but he may prove vulnerable to the more stamina-laden sorts as they hit the rising ground.
Taking all this into account, I really can’t see past a follow-up victory for BOBS WORTH who is taken to retain his crown. The manner in which he stuck his neck out to win this race last season is still fresh in the memory, which when taking his love affair with the course into account looks like the perfect marriage. His victory in the Lexus Chase last time showed signs he still retains all ability, and in the last 13 years 12 winners of the Gold Cup had taken in either the Lexus Chase or King George, a trend which was broken last year by Bobs Worth himself having only one prior start in the Hennessy Gold Cup.