What are the best bets on Gold Cup Day?
13:30 JCB Triumph Hurdle, 2m1f
Last year’s 1-2-3: Peace And Co (2/1f), Top Notch (7/1), Hargam (8/1) – 16 ran.
Ivanovich Gorbatov was all the rage in the ante post market after a stylish success at Leopardstown over Christmas, only for the bubble to burst with an odds-on defeat last time in a race won by Footpad. Given that heavy defeat it’s surprising that he’s still vying for favouritism and backers are banking on him improving on the better spring ground – quite likely as a son of Montjeu.
However, there are dangers wherever you look and Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins train eight between them. Nicholls’ apparent first-string is Zubayr, who galloped to the head of the market with a debut victory in the Adonis Hurdle, used as a prep for the stable’s previous Triumph winner Zarkandar and also Nicky Henderson’s Soldatino. However, there is a slight suspicion that race was set up for him and he’s certainly no value now at just 4/1.
His stablemates Connetable, Frodon and Tommy Silver are a different matter as they can be backed at double-figure odds. The former is the highest rated runner in the field after defeating Kingwell Hurdle winner Rayvin Black and last season’s Triumph winner Peace And Co at Sandown, getting weight admittedly, and his trainer has compared him favourably with the aforementioned Zarkandar. Certainly, he looks a tough staying type who should thrive in this and he gets the vote at bet365’s 12/1, though there’s a strong case for backing him at 10/1 with Sky Bet given they are refunding losing stakes on the race as a free bet (applies to the win part of each-way bets).
Mullins’ big hope looks to be Footpad who has won three out of four for the Closutton team, including the Grade 1 Spring Hurdle last time. His experience will stand him in good stead and he is feared most.
Alan King’s pair of Sceau Royal and Who Dares Wins could also have a say in a wide open renewal.
SELECTION: Connetable each-way @ 10/1 Sky Bet (money back if a loser)
14:10 Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle Race, 2m1f
Last year’s 1-2-3-4: Wicklow Brave (25/1), Sort It Out (17/2), Quick Jack (8/1), Max Dynamite (14/1) – 24 ran.
An impossible-looking race but recent history might provide us with a clue. Seven of the last nine winners have come from Ireland, with five of them trained by a Mullins. Willie Mullins had his first festival handicap victory in this race with Thousand Stars in 2010 and he’s added two more since, including Wicklow Brave (25/1) 12 months ago.
You’ve probably guessed where I’m going with this and you’d be right as I’m going to talk first about the stable’s apparent first-string Great Field, who is currently favourite. A French import, he was a stylish winner on his British / stable debut at Leopardstown in February, despite failing to settle, and he’s now making his handicap debut with Barry Geraghty up. It would be no surprise if he turns out to be graded class in time and, with the guaranteed strong pace sure to suit him, he’s a worthy favourite.
But I’m a sucker for Cheltenham form and the Greatwood Hurdle run here earlier this season could well provide the winner in SUPERB STORY. Dan Skelton’s charge was beaten just half a length on that occasion by Old Guard, who has since progressed to the cusp of Champion Hurdle class, and he would have found the ground slower than ideal. A winner at Wetherby on ‘good’ previously, he looks sharply progressive and his trainer has likely waited for this in the hope of better ground – his prayers have been answered!
Of those at bigger prices, Hawk High catches the eye at bet365’s 33/1 (1/4 odds, 184.108.40.206.5). He finished well beaten in this 12 months ago on ‘soft’ but gets good ground for the first time since winning at Aintree in 2014, having landed the Fred Winter on similar going previously.
SELECTION: Superb Story @ 9/1 Paddy Power (money back as a free bet if 2nd) & Hawk High each-way @ 33/1 bet365 (five places)
14:50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle Race, 3m
Last year’s 1-2-3: Martello Tower (14/1), Milsean (33/1), No More Heroes (6/1) – 19 ran.
Connections of Barters Hill toyed with the idea of running in the shorter Neptune but this absolutely looks the right race for this staying type, who arrives here unbeaten in seven starts (four bumpers and three hurdles). He’s done it the hard way too, making all on all three of his hurdle starts, and he showed his battling qualities on his first attempt over 3m at Doncaster last time, having been strongly pressed by the runner-up Ballydine approaching the last.
However, his style of running will give some hope to the other jockeys and the news that he “pulled out stiff” on Wednesday morning according to his trainer Ben Pauling has to be a concern for potential backers. I think he can taken on and I’m warming to the chances of GANGSTER, who is trained by a certain Willie Mullins who is carrying all before him much like 12 months ago. But there’s more to like about the six-year-old than just his trainer. As a half-brother to Ascot Gold Cup winner Rite Of Passage, he is bred to be a stout stayer and having showed enough speed to win over two miles at Listowel in September, he easily pulled clear of the opposition when landing a Grade 3 over 3m before Christmas.
He’s not been seen since and has been difficult to train according to Mullins, who also confirmed he has only recently got over a small setback. However, he works “fantastically well” when right and is “fine at the moment”, so there’s every reason to think he is going to run his race – surely he wouldn’t be running if connections weren’t happy with him? Furthermore, as a strong travelling sort he will benefit from the run of the race by sitting off what promises to be a strong gallop, picking off the leaders late on. Well, that’s the theory and I reckon it’s worth paying the 7/1 to find out.
Shantou Village, who chased home Yanworth here on Trials Day, is the one I’m most frightened of with his stable in fine form.
SELECTION: Gangster @ 7/1 Paddy Power (money back as a free bet if 2nd)
15:30 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Steeple Chase
Last year’s 1-2-3: Coneygree (7/1), Djakadam (10/1), Road To Riches (8/1) – 16 ran.
Smad Place, the brilliant Hennessy winner and at it again when dishing out an easy beating to Many Clouds on Trials Day here, can be backed at 9/1, which says a lot for the four horses ahead of him in the betting: Djakadam, Don Cossack, Don Poli and Cue Card. It must be long odds-on that one of the five will prevail, but who to plump for?
They are all Grade 1 winners and have the necessary class, though Don Poli falls a bit short on the ratings and he’s been discarded by Bryan Cooper for the other Don, despite a couple of festival wins on his CV. It must have been a difficult choice.
Don Cossack has yet to show his best in two runs at the track – falling in the 2014 RSA and making a crucial blunder when third in last season’s Ryanair – and it was his jumping that let him down in this season’s King George, coming down two out when staying on and looking dangerous. Only two of the last 20 winners had an F in their chase form figures in their Gold Cup season, which is a concern.
That’s also a black mark against Djakadam who endured a nightmare prep when taking a nasty fall in the Cheltenham race won by Smad Place. He’s the only one of the five not to have run in either the King George or the Lexus and that’s another negative as 16 of the last 18 winners had run in one of those Christmas highlights. It would be foolish to rule out last year’s runner-up on that basis, but we need to narrow them down somehow.
I can’t believe Smad Place is going to nail his first Grade 1 at the 12th attempt, so that leaves us with CUE CARD. Colin Tizzard’s star has become a regular at the festival, winning twice (Champion Bumper & Ryanair) and has looked better than ever this season thanks to an operation for a trapped epiglottis, adding the Betfair Chase and King George to his burgeoning CV. That puts him in line for a £1 million bonus should he strike gold and I doubt he will fail through lack of stamina with several close relatives excelling at this end of the distance spectrum.
When you factor in the fact his stable is in excellent form, he really does stand out as the best bet in the race at Paddy Power’s 4/1, with their ‘money back if 2nd’ concession providing some added insurance.
SELECTION: Cue Card @ 4/1 Paddy Power (money back if 2nd)
16:10 St. James’s Place Foxhunter Steeple Chase Challenge Cup, 3m21/2f
Last year’s 1-2-3: On The Fringe (6/1), Following Dreams (50/1), Paint The Clouds (11/4f) – 24 ran.
All eyes will be on former Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendleton rather than any of the equine talent on display and her mount Pacha Du Polder is no forlorn hope at a best-priced 25/1 (bet365) after scooting home in his Wincanton prep. I can’t see it myself but hers has been a great achievement already and it’s been great publicity for the sport. I wish her well!
Moving on to what might win and, on last year’s dominant performance alone, On The Fringe would be an odds-on chance for this. However, he disappointed on his reappearance at Leopardstown last month and that leaves him with a question to answer. In his defence, he would have needed that race quite badly, his first run back since last May, with his trainer Enda Bolger no doubt keen not to see him knocked about on very testing ground. The 11-year-old can therefore be forgiven that below par effort but, even so, his current price of 3/1 doesn’t exactly set the pulse racing and it could be that one of his younger rivals improves past him, but which one?
It Came To Pass is the youngest of the lot at just six and this close relative to Lord Windermere is certainly an interesting runner. The form of his second to the ill-fated You Must Know Me in the aforementioned Leopardstown race puts him in with a leading chance, although he’s unproven on ground this fast and lacks experience with just two runs under Rules.
Of the rest, I’ve a healthy respect for last year’s third Paint The Clouds and 12th Current Event, whose chances were compromised when the ground turned soft and won’t have that excuse this time, but a tentative vote goes to AUPCHARLIE. Henry De Bromhead’s gelding has win his last two points, had a touch of class about him when racing under Rules and will have the services of top amateur Jamie Codd, who knows his way round here and gave Cause Of Causes a dream ride to win Thursday’s Kim Muir.
SELECTION: Aupcharlie each-way @ 9/1 William Hill (money back as a free bet if 2nd)
16:50: Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, 2m41/2f
Last year’s 1-2-3-4: Killultagh Vic (7/1), Noble Endeavor (14/1), Roi Des Francs (3/1f), Kauto Grand Mogol (33/1) – 21 ran.
SELECTION: Squouateur @ 4/1 Paddy Power (money back as a free bet if 2nd)
17:30 johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Steeple Chase Challenge Cup, 2m1/2f
Last year’s 1-2-3-4: Next Sensation (16/1), Eastlake (12/1), Croco Bay (14/1), Ned Buntline (4/1jf) – 20 ran.
SELECTION: Sizing Codelco each-way @ 16/1 bet365 (1/4 odds, 220.127.116.11.5)