Back our 20/1 and 14/1 shot against the field for Cheltenham Festival's blue riband event
Silviniaco Conti sets the standard by some way for this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup and he’d surely be shorter than the current 3/1 if he had winning form at Cheltenham, where he’s 0-3.
That glaring omission from his CV is understandably putting a lot of punters off, yet he’s the clear form choice and has looked better than ever since the cheek-pieces went on two starts back, allowing him to double his tally of King Georges and Betfair Chases. He looked certain to score in last season’s Gold Cup after leading over the last only to wander and drop back to fourth, but those wayward tendencies could be down to the fact he was suffering from ulcers. Now 100 per cent healthy and with his trainer Paul Nicholls still having the option of reaching for blinkers on the day, he’s a solid favourite.
However, I’m wary of giving him another chance having backed him for the last couple of years to my cost. I can’t think of one horse who has won a Gold Cup on the back of two failures and Nicholls’ decision to go straight to Cheltenham without a prep is a worry too as he’s always needed a run in the past to get him straight– his seasonal reappearance defeat in the Charlie Hall is evidence of that. This year’s race may take less winning as we’re hardly in a vintage era for staying chasers but, even so, I wouldn’t dream of backing him at just 3/1 knowing he still has to climb that hill. He’ll be bigger on the day too.
Finding one with the potential to shorten is the whole point of ante post betting and there are grounds for thinking last season’s Irish National winner SHUTTHEFRONTDOOR is too big at 20/1 with Boylesports, who are ‘non-runner no-bet’ (NRNB). The Jonjo O’Neill-trained eight-year-old looks to be on a steep upward curve form-wise and while he didn’t beat much on his reappearance at Carlisle, he won as he liked.
He’s due to run again in next month’s Irish Hennessy and a lot depends on how he gets on there. He’s as short as 8/1 for that Leopardstown Grade 1 and it looks a winnable race given the betting is headed by ten-year-old Boston Bob and 11-year-old On His Own, with Carlingford Lough and Lord Windermere, who will both struggle if the usual conditions prevail, also prominent. If he wins, the 20/1 would be history and should he flop and get rerouted to the Grand National instead, we are covered anyway thanks to NRNB.
If all goes well, he could head to the festival as the stable number one which would be something as his stablemate and 14/1 chance HOLYWELL is 2-2 there. He won’t be landing a hat-trick judging on a couple of stinkers this term, with his jumping going to pieces at Aintree last time, and he’s likely to have a confidence-booster over hurdles on his next start. He’s not one to give up on, though, as all his best form has come in the spring, with his defeat of Don Cossack in a Grade 1 at Aintree, with RSA winner O’Faolains Boy and Hennessy hero Many Clouds further behind, looking exceptional. Given his trainer’s record of getting horses to peak at the big spring festivals, he simply has to be backed too, with NRNB providing added insurance.
Road To Riches was a good bet at 20/1 before he won the Lexus Chase but the cat is well and truly out of the bag with Noel Meade’s improving eight-year-old. I was fortunate enough to get a few quid on at that price shortly after he crossed the line at Leopardstown – it pays to be quick off the mark – but I couldn’t possibly put him up as a pick now at just 8/1, with his lack of Cheltenham experience a negative. He’s heading straight there so he won’t be much shorter on the day.
Of the rest, Djakadam impressed when impressively winning the Thyestes Chase off top weight, proving his stamina for three miles in the process, but the Gold Cup is a massive step up and he may do better next year with more experience under his belt. Of more interest is the aforementioned Carlingford Lough (20/1). He was never travelling in last year’s RSA Chase after hitting the first and was far from disgraced when chasing home Road To Riches in the Lexus last time. Good ground is important to him so he’s one to back on the day and the same can be said of last year’s winner Lord Windermere (16/1), who looks sure to put up a stout defence.