The Cheltenham Gold Cup has long been regarded as National Hunt racing’s blue riband, and over the years has produced some thrilling finishes to wow its spectators.
Roll back twelve months in time and the 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup produced one of the most bizarre finishes I have ever seen since I got into racing. As they turned towards the fourth last Noel Fehily is sat with a double handful aboard Silviniaco Conti, he jumps to the front over the third last and approaching the turn for home towards the second last he looks the most likely winner, Bob’s Worth then came to challenge and jumping the last it looks between those pair, both jump it efficiently and look set to battle on up the run-in. Half-way up the run-in Bobs Worth almost unseats Barry Geraghty when jinking markedly left, Silviniaco Conti weaves in and out and hangs right towards a new pack that has emerged down the near side headed by Lord Windermere who comes from out of the clouds, the rallying On His Own who looked beat jumping the second last, and The Giant Bolster from a similar position. All three of them hammer and tongs up towards the line with Lord Windermere getting the narrowest of verdicts from the game On His Own who was coming back at him again towards the line.
Meanwhile I’m sat at my desk wondering what on earth just happened. How on earth can a horse beaten off a mark of 154 in the Hennessy and barely sighted on two recent runs since be capable of winning a Gold Cup? Equally what happened to Bobs Worth who looked the strongest of stayers over this trip when grinding out victory 12 months previous? All of these questions whizzing round in my head, left me needing a double brandy and a lie down.
When observing the race the visual impression suggests that they’ve gone too quick out in front, given the fast finishing nature of both Lord Windermere and The Giant Bolster, when in actual fact between the first four flights they didn’t go quickly at all. This enabled On His Own to gain cheap ground in the early part of the race and maintain his gallop with what was an excellent ride by David Casey.
During the race On His Own only ran one sectional point quicker than his rivals and that was between the 22nd and 18th at the beginning of the race. Silviniaco Conti boasts two quickest sectional points (16th to 12th) and (6th out to 4th out) with Lord Windermere also boasting two quickest sectional points (10 out to 7 out) and (2 out to WP). The Giant Bolster also has one sectional point quicker than the field, this was obtained between (3 out to 2 out).
Looking at the sectionals enables us to see that On His Own conserved his energy between 10 out to 2 out, which enabled him to finish faster than those you’d have expected to have gone by him from the second last.
If we compared the fastest sectionals between 10 from home and the second last between the front four finishers we’d have…
For me Lord Windermere comes out clear best which suggests he is a horse better at Cheltenham than anywhere else having captured the previous year’s RSA Chase after capitalizing on the fall of Boston Bob. Silviniaco Conti if ridden with more restraint through the middle part of the race would most likely have finished second, with The Giant Bolster edging out On His Own for third.
I think that is enough reflecting on what happened 12 months ago, and it is now time to look forward to what could happen in two weeks’ time, as the Cheltenham Gold Cup is upon us once again.
A few key stats to be taking a look at when making a selection in this race;
- 13/14 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).
- 14/14 winners of the Gold Cup were aged between 6 and 9.
- 13/14 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).
- 14/14 winners of the Gold Cup had previously won a Grade 1 contest.
- 13/14 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.
- 12/14 winners of the Gold Cup were officially rated 166 or above.
Dom Alco (FR) — Gazelle Lulu (FR) (Altayan)
Notes: A real high-class chaser who hasn’t had things go his way in this race for the last couple of years, falling when still full of running in 2013, and then ridden too aggressively too soon when fourth here behind Lord Windermere twelve months ago. After disappointing on his comeback in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, he has put forth two excellent victories equipped with cheek-pieces and looks at the peak of his powers heading into this race for the third time. The cheek-pieces have clearly had the desired effect and he holds a favourites chance with the Nicholls yard going really well this season.
Oscar (IRE) (12.6f) — Satellite Dancer (IRE) (Satco (FR ) (15.0f))
Notes: Couldn’t believe my eyes when he won this race twelve months ago, but did so in the manner of the best horse in the race judged on sectionals I hold. Has never really gone well at Leopardstown so his recent third there when going for home far too soon is promising, and we know he loves Cheltenham with his two previous visits yielding two victories. If he was trained by Nicholls or Mullins he would be around 7/1 best, so the current 14/1 on offer has to be taken a closer look at.
ROAD TO RICHES
Gamut (IRE) — Bellora (IRE) (Over The River (FR ) (12.7f))
Notes: Made it into our Top 5 Handicap Performances of 2013/14 piece with a superb victory in the Galway Plate back in July, and has continued to improve as the season has progressed. Although beaten on stepping down in trip at Gowran on his next start he responded with a resounding all-the-way success in the JNWine Champion Chase at Gowran on his next start, beating Rocky Creek by 11 lengths. A month later he followed that performance up by adding the Lexus Chase to his resume with a strong staying performance under Bryan Cooper who gave him a well measured ride on the front end. He is certainly one to fear heading into this and his make-up suggests Cheltenham will suit his style perfectly, although it is obvious concern that he has never run here before but that didn’t stop Synchronised in 2012.
Gold Well — Hillcrest (IRE) (Thatching (7.7f))
Notes: Very much a spring horse and for the last three seasons has been campaigned as such. A winner of a very competitive handicap at The Festival last season (Ma Filleule second), he improved once again to win the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree three weeks later by a staggering 10 lengths from Don Cossack. With the blinkers replaced with cheek-pieces for his return at Carlisle behind Many Clouds he ran well below form as expected at that time of year, and followed that up by unseating early on at Aintree in December. The blinkers were re-applied for his prep outing for this race when bolting up against inferior opposition at Kelso by some 25 lengths. They are clearly the key to him and he looks tuned to run a massive race in two weeks’ time.
King´s Theatre (IRE) (11.4f) — Baden (IRE) (Furry Glen (12.8f))
Notes: The gelded son of King’s Theatre is a tricky one to assess in that his form doesn’t really amount too much when you look closely at it. Didn’t jump well enough in last season’s RSA Chase and looked slow when the pace quickened, he beat a non-stayer in Ballycasey on his next start at Punchestown. He did made a pleasing comeback in the Lexus Chase when fifth behind Road To Riches and although you’d have expected him to need the outing it is difficult to see him improving enough to beat that rival. Last time up came over the same course and distance when winning the Irish Hennessy Gold Cup (Grade 1) from handicapper Foxrock and Lord Windermere, and in my opinion picked up the pieces as the those pair went for home far too soon. He doesn’t look good enough to win the Gold Cup to my eye, and 10/1 looks terrible value.
Cloudings (IRE) (12.2f) — Bobbing Back (IRE) (Bob Back (USA) (12.4f))
Notes: Was a relatively smart novice last season who enjoy a luckless passage before being brought down by the fall of Don Cossack in the RSA last year. He was most likely feeling the effects of the fall when re-appearing only to disappoint at Aintree three weeks later. Freshened up over the summer he has improved with each outing for trainer Oliver Sherwood, capturing the Hennessy Gold Cup off 151, before winning the Argento Chase giving weight to Smad Place (8lb) and a 1.25L beating. Comes into the race on top form and you can expect him to run his race once again, although he is relatively unproven on ground quicker than soft and at the prices he looks short enough for me.
Bob Back (USA) (12.4f) — Fashionista (IRE) (King´s Theatre (IRE) (11.4f))
Notes: In my opinion hasn’t been the same horse since winning the Gold Cup in 2013, and it could well be that race has left an everlasting mark on this once top-notch staying chaser, although I doubt running him at Haydock on his comeback helped matters either. He managed to win the 2013 Lexus Chase although in honesty it didn’t have to be anywhere near his best to win that contest, and probably replicated the level of form shown in his victory in the RSA Chase in 2012. Fourth in this race last year with no real excuses, and hung violently left on the run-in as the action developed up the near side. Well beaten on his return at Leopardstown in December he has plenty on to recapture his old form, but you cannot knock his record at Cheltenham which stands at (111115) and therefore gives him a punchers chance.
Bob Back (USA) (12.4f) — Bavaway (Le Bavard (FR ) (16.4f))
Notes: Things haven’t really clicked for the gelded son of Bob Back this season after promising so much when signing off at Punchestown last April, winning the Punchestown Gold Cup to add to his Melling Chase victory earlier that month. He does give the impression he is very much a spring horse, but he’ll need to be to have a say against rivals who already have him held on form lines this season.
THE GIANT BOLSTER
Black Sam Bellamy (IRE) (12.7f) — Divisa (GER) (Lomitas (11.1f))
Notes: An admirable sort who always turns up and runs his heart out in this race, and aims to do the same again for the fourth year running. Ridden with restraint in last year’s renewal he began to make his move shortly after seven fences from home, running the fastest sectional between 3 out to 2 out, and that move got him into contention. He ran the final furlong second fastest and kept on all the way to the line, and you’d expect David Bridgwater to add the hood to his visor combination as it worked so well in this contest twelve months ago. History suggests he’ll run his race once again but once again is likely to come up just short of what is required to win this.
ON HIS OWN
Presenting (13.8f) — Shuil Na Mhuire (IRE) (Roselier (FR ) (16.0f))
Notes: A cracking runner-up in this race last year and visually it looked an excellent performance to come back at those ridden with more restraint. As I’ve alluded to above he was ridden very cleverly by David Casey on the day, conserving energy throughout the race after getting an easy lead in the early stages. He ran a cracking race when second to Road To Riches in the Lexus Chase but was most disappointing in the Hennessy Gold Cup over the same course and distance at the beginning of this month. If he is over whatever caused him to perform below expectations that day then you’d fancy him to go well, but quite whether he’ll be the beneficiary of such a brilliant ride second time around is open to debate.
Karinga Bay (12.9f) — Plaid Maid (IRE) (Executive Perk (10.8f))
Notes: Will he won’t he? Is the question we are all asking about his participating in jump racing’s most prestigious prize. Has swept all before him in the novice division since heading over fences this season, and put his rivals firmly to the sword in the Denman Chase (Grade 2) at Newbury the last day, in a performance which earned him a higher rating than Denman received when winning his RSA Chase so convincingly (before following up in next season’s Gold Cup). Very much unknown as to the limits of his potential but based on what we’ve seen so far should he go this route then he’s going to be firmly in the mix.
Smad Place was an excellent runner-up to O’Faolain’s Boy in the RSA Chase twelve months ago and has been brought along slowly by Alan King this campaign. Looked in need of the run when fifth beaten twenty lengths in the Hennessy Gold Cup on his return in November (ran first time up in attempt to conserve handicap mark) and then filled second place behind Many Clouds in the Argento Chase at Cheltenham last month. He again looked like he’d improve for the outing, and certainly will benefit from the often faster pace of the Gold Cup but he was getting weight from Many Clouds (8lbs in fact) and still couldn’t beat him and although likely to be running on when many have cried enough, for me lacks the class needed to take a race of this prestige.
Djakadam has done virtually nothing to justify his price in the market, and won one of the worst Thyestes Chase’s you’ll see for a while albeit by a wide-margin the last day. A well beaten eighth in the Hennessy before that, his previous effort around Cheltenham resulted in a failure to complete as he fell mid-way through the contest. Whilst it isn’t impossible to see him improving, he would have to be something special to match Long Run’s performance when winning as a six-year-old in 2011 and in all truth this looks beyond him.
Houblon Des Obeaux has been in the form of his life this season shouldering big weights in a couple of top handicaps this season, most notably when attempting to give 17lb and a beating to The Young Master at Ascot in December. He gave 6lb to Many Clouds for a 3.25L beating in the Hennessy in November, and if you think 8/1 is a reasonable price regarding that rival then the 50/1 on offer about this fella is fairly overpriced. Did get comprehensively beaten by Coneygree at Newbury in the Denman Chase last time up however, and almost certainly to be up against it again here.
Sam Winner is another to have improved since returning this season, firstly winning a handicap impressively off a mark of 147. He then followed up to win a Listed race at Aintree beating Medermit and Ma Filleule (heads for the Ryanair Chase), before running arguably the race of his life when third in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown on ground softer than ideal. Equipped with the first time cheek-pieces for that occasion, that certainly brought out more improvement in him and he certainly travelled with more fluency through his race than we’d seen previously. Has been given a break since that effort and if ridden with a little more restraint this time round can outrun his odds (currently 33/1 Ladbrokes).
Whilst it is fair to say this isn’t the most vintage Gold Cup we’ve been accustomed to having been thrilled by displays from the likes of Kauto Star and Denman and to a lesser extent Long Run and Bobs Worth in recent years, it is certainly a competitive one and for that I think it presents a great spectacle for the racing fan.
Silviniaco Conti will be bidding to make it third time lucky in this race having fallen when full of running on his first attempt, and then doing too much too soon here 12 months ago. He appears to have improved for the fitting of cheek-pieces this term and comes into this race at the top of his game. I think he has been unfairly given the hashtag of #SickbagConti by the lads over at The Final Furlong Pod (which is absolutely brilliant by the way so check it out), and it is highly possible a serving of humble pie may be dealt on the final day of the 2015 Cheltenham Festival.
Carlingford Lough is an absolutely rank price at 10/1, hasn’t been much over fences and the race fell into his lap when the front pair kicked on in the Hennessy last time up. Had previously looked slow in the RSA Chase the season before round here and had beaten a non-stayer in Ballycasey on his win at Punchestown. I wouldn’t be backing him at double the price he is.
Many Clouds has been admirably consistent this year, and that consistency has seen him pick up a head of steam heading into this race on the back of three victories this term. Amongst them was the Hennessy Gold Cup off a mark of 151, and became the first horse since Grey Abbey in 2005 to shoulder a maximum penalty to win the Argento Chase at the end of January. Unproven on projected quicker ground and at 8/1, I’m happy to swerve him in favour of something else.
Djakadam is priced up purely on reputation and not on what he has done on the track, Smad Place hasn’t looked quite up to this level although he will be plugging on up the hill when many have cried enough.
Bobs Worth has no real excuses on his run in the race last year and a repeat of that isn’t good enough. The combination of his dour win here two years ago and that run at Haydock on the speed-favouring track looked to have soured him and Henderson’s yard haven’t exactly been in the best form this season either.
Coneygree presents an intriguing puzzle should connections opt to go for this race instead of the RSA Chase which would be much more in keeping with his experience over fences. He has looked superb in his last couple of outings and has been awarded a higher rating than Denman during his novice season, so there is cause for optimism for connections with a view for going for this race. The memories of what happened to the awesome Gloria Victis should pose as a warning for connections, and although that was a freakish accident it was very much a case of too much too soon for one of the best novice chasers I’ll ever see set foot on English soil.
Boston Bob signed off last season at the top of his game and clearly holds a lofty reputation at Closutton, but Ruby Walsh opted to jump off him in favour of On His Own the last day and he hasn’t looked the force of last season on his starts to date. His best form would give him chances of running into a place in this, but it isn’t looking likely at this stage.
Houblon Des Obeaux excels with carrying big weights in competitive handicaps and although overpriced it’s hard to envisage him getting involved in this contest despite his form in the book. Sam Winner is another to have run well this season and although you’d expect him to run his race he is being campaigned with the Grand National in mind the following month, so it’s hard to see him having a say in matters either – could run on into around 4th or 5th though.
The Giant Bolster as admirable as he is finishing placed in two Gold Cup’s doesn’t look good enough this time round. We can expect the hood to re-join the visor combination sported this season, which saw his form improve last spring to take third in this race. He is likely to be thereabouts again but just lacks that little bit of class needed between placing and winning these big races.
Holywell was so impressive when dominating his opposition when a runaway 10 length winner of the Novices’ Chase at Aintree last spring, following up an impressive handicap victory at this meeting off a mark of 145. Will wear the blinkers he goes so well in (unbeaten in them over fences), and tuned up nicely to win an egg-and-spoon contest at Kelso midway through this month. Quite what he has beaten outside of handicap company remains open to question given what they have done since, possibility of Many Clouds feeling his Cheltenham spill, Don Cossack not staying the trip and O’Faolain’s Boy not following up after a hard race at Cheltenham in the RSA didn’t leave him with much to beat – especially when considering the possibility Wonderful Charm could have suffered from his well-documented breathing problems.
His ratings suggest he is more than capable of playing a hand in the finish of racing’s blue riband, and he will be readied to peak once again by Jonjo O’Neill but he may just find one or two too good for him at this level of competition, something which he has yet to face over fences.
Road To Riches has been a real revelation this year for Noel Meade and has improved with each outing since running away with the Galway Plate back in July. Last seen when putting forward a powerful staying performance to win the Lexus Chase (Grade 1) back in December, he has been given time to freshen up for his big assignment by his shrewd handler. The better ground is likely to bring out the best in him, he’ll have no problems with the trip and is very much one I expect to be on the premises jumping he last.
As I alluded to earlier on in the piece if Lord Windermere was trained by either Nicholls, Mullins or Henderson he would be almost half the price he is currently available at. His run in the Hennessey Gold Cup at Leopardstown last time out was full of promise given his poor form around that circuit throughout his career. Davy Russell sent him for home too soon as the race developed, and this allowed Carlingford Lough to pick up the pieces.
There is little doubt that run will bring him on for this race, and that Foxrock would have been fully tuned up to try to plunder that Grade 1 prize (betting suggests he was), so I’d expect Lord Windermere to confirm form with that rival should he line up despite similar run patterns in the Hennessy.
Lord Windermere’s sectional performance in this race twelve months ago pointed him out to be a worthy winner, and although it didn’t receive the ratings you’d have hoped (rated lowest in over 10 years) there is cause to think he was worth a little more than the margin gives him credit for. In the last 14 years, 13 winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup (Bobs Worth the exception in 2013) had taken in either the King George Chase of Lexus Chase prior to victory in that season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Whilst in my mind I have a narrow preference for Lord Windermere, I cannot get away from the promise shown by Road To Riches this season and with further improvement likely back on better ground I have to back both at the current prices.