Cheltenham Gold Cup Ante Post Preview
February 6th '17 TREVA99
The Cheltenham Gold Cup is going to be another fascinating spectacle this year as one of the most exciting chase horses of the modern era in Thistlecrack gets set to go off favourite in his novice season having already clinched the King George over stablemate Cue Card. However, his latest run behind Many Clouds at Cheltenham last weekend has changed the complexion of the premier race at the Festival as trainers spot a chink in his previously impenetrable armour and we could see plenty of challengers line up on the day.
Let’s start by analysing THISTLECRACK, currently best priced at 7/4 having drifted as far as 5/2 after his first defeat over fences. Many Clouds out-stayed Thistlecrack up the Cheltenham hill over what was almost the Gold Cup trip and, whilst many have claimed this is his best performance, the opposition now know how to put him under pressure. His jumping still looked sketchy on a couple of occasions and with the ground described as ‘sticky’ it is clear that he won’t want any rain ahead of the race in March. He’s still clearly the right favourite but cracks have been opened and there is no doubt there will be a bigger field than there would have been before that performance, something he is yet to face in any of his races over fences let alone in the highest class race of them all.
Second favourite is another Colin Tizzard horse in NATIVE RIVER. He has won both the Hennessey and Welsh National this year in what can most definitely be described as his breakout season. Burrough Hill Lad won the Welsh National in 1983 and went on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup three months later, whilst 2010 Welsh National winner Synchronised landed the Gold Cup in 2012, so whilst the Welsh National is not the most conventional route it can be done. And he’s been heavily backed into best priced 11/2 with his staying ability virtually guaranteed. However, the quality of those wins are questionable and you would have to envisage yet another huge step forward if he is to land the Gold Cup in March.
DJAKADAM and CUE CARD come next in the betting best priced at 8s. Both are regulars at the top of the chasing game but have not produced the sort of form expected of them this season. Cue Card beat Coneygree at Haydock in testing conditions but was well below par when attempting to defend his King George crown at Kempton. Cue Card came down when travelling the best in last years Gold Cup and if producing his best form he will almost definitely have a say in the finish this time around, although at the age of 11 he would be the oldest Gold Cup winner since What A Myth clinched the prize in 1969. Djakadam has finished runner-up in the last two runnings of the Gold Cup but has never really reached the dizzy heights he was touted for. His victory over 2m 4f at Punchestown in December looked promising but he was subsequently beaten when heavy favourite for the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown later the same month, with Outlander and Don Poli both ahead of him that day. He is only 8 and you can’t write him off yet but for sheer value you have to look elsewhere.
You now reach double figure prices when looking at OUTLANDER and BRISTOL DE MAI but neither are without their positives. Outlander shortened dramatically after his Lexus Chase win, displacing Valseur Lido as Gigginstown’s top hope of regaining Don Cossack’s crown in 2017. He won very well at Leopardstown but has previous form figures in 2016 of 1F222F2 having been beaten into second by Djakadam, Sub Lieutenant, Zabana and Kylemore Lough. Not massively inspiring but that was only the 3rd time he had tackled three miles plus in his career. He has an outside chance if continuing to improve over the trip but it’s Bristol De Mai I am most interested in. He hacked up with absolute ease at Haydock in arguably a stronger race than the ones Native River has been winning off a similar mark. Now, many people have been quick to say that he saves his best for Haydock and has under performed elsewhere and those are valid comments. However, he stayed on behind Black Hercules in the JLT at the Festival last year and his jumping looks to be spot on. At just six-years old he has plenty of scope and whilst you could argue this year’s Gold Cup may be a step too far too soon there’s no doubting his ability. He has never fallen and has only finished out of the places twice (once in a two runner contest behind Seeyouatmidnight and once in a four runner contest won by Garde La Victoire on only his second start). The Peter Marsh Handicap Chase was his first go at three miles and he thrived, so in a race where you need to find value he could be the one.
Bar those seven you start to look at the possible runners who will have been enticed into running after Thistlecrack’s defeat. MINELLA ROCCO fell when challenging Many Clouds earlier in the season and with that now looking good form he could play a huge part – should he run a good race in the Irish Gold Cup. DON POLI, who has been nicknamed by a few people as ‘Don Slowly’, ran much better when second in the Lexus Chase and is a proven stayer having rallied to finish third in last year’s Gold Cup. He could surprise a few whilst CHAMPAGNE WEST has been a horse transformed since joining Henry de Bromhead and won the Thyestes Chase comfortably. With his jumping seemingly sorted he could be an interesting runner. The last to mention is SIZING JOHN who started the season as a two-miler and is now potentially looking at taking on the Irish Gold Cup. Should he impress his price will shorten significantly, making him one to watch.
Thistlecrack remains the most likely winner but with his price shortening since the initial drift there’s no point backing him in the ante post market. The field could be bigger than first expected and his price could be bigger on the day. With that in mind I’d be looking at BRISTOL DE MAI for the EW value. He’s unexposed at the trip and has plenty of potential with an excellent run under his belt. He’s certain to go for the race if fit and he should put up a good showing from the front.