Tuesday 16 December 2014

Cheltenham Gold Cup Preview

The Cheltenham Gold Cup, generally considered to be the ‘Blue Riband’ event of the National Hunt season, takes place on Friday, March 13, 2015. Twelve weeks or so may seem like a long time in horse racing but, notwithstanding the result of the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, the Cheltenham Gold Cup market is well formed. We thought it was time to cast an eye over a handful of the possible contenders, some obvious, some less so, to see if there’s any value to be found in the ante post lists.

Last year’s winner Lord Windermere (12/1), who is 2-2 at the Festival, having won the RSA Chase in 2013, is an obvious starting point. Jim Crowley’s 8-year-old was disappointing on his first three starts last season and looked an unlikely winner of the Cheltenham when detached in last place before halfway. However, he eventually held on to beat On His Own (40/1) by a short head, despite hanging badly in the closing stages, with Silviniaco Conti (9/1) and Bobs Worth (11/1) behind in fourth and fifth. On His Own finished tailed off on both subsequent starts, while Silviniaco Conti has since won the Betfred Bowl at Aintree and the Betfair Chase at Haydock, so it’s hard to know what to make of the form.

Don Cossack (25/1) was still travelling well enough when falling in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham in April – in so doing, bringing down Many Clouds (20/1) – and beat Boston Bob (20/1) and Lord Windermere by 4½ lengths and half a length, on unfavourable terms, at Punchestown in December. That said, Gordon Elliot’s gelding had already run twice before this season and still has something to learn about jumping fences so, while he’s clearly going the right way, he still has plenty to find with the likes of Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti.

Holywell (14/1) recorded a career-best effort when staying on strongly to beat Don Cossack by 10 lengths in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree last April, but jumped less than fluently when only third, beaten 16½ lengths, behind Many Clouds on his reappearance at Carlisle and again when unseating his rider at Aintree next time. The Gold Well gelding clearly has bags of ability, but it remains to be seen to what extent his jumping problems limit his progress.

One horse that clearly has no such problems is Many Clouds (20/1), who also demonstrated his stamina when staying on strongly to win the Hennessy Gold Cup, over 3 miles 2½ furlongs, at Newbury in November. He’s currently rated 14lb inferior to Silviniaco Conti, according to the BHA, but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he could find the required improvement between now and March and he makes no little appeal at the odds on offer.

The fact that the bookmakers bet 8/1 the field is an indication of just how wide open the Cheltenham Gold Cup appears at this early stage. Of course, former combatants such as Lord Windermere, Silviniaco Conti and Bobs Worth are likely to prove popular once again, but we’re going to throw our hat into the ring with Many Clouds (20/1 with Boylesports). Oliver Sherwood’s 7-year-old jumps and stays well and could still be open to significant improvement after just eight starts over fences.

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