Cheltenham Gold Cup 2018 ten weeks out!
Posted Mon. Jan 8th 1.30pm
As 2017 disappears over the horizon so the 2018 Cheltenham Festival comes galloping into view. There looks a different shape to this year’s four day punting frenzy with Footpad looking to be the only Willie Mullins shortie on view and the future of the Irish economy resting squarely on Samcro’s ample shoulders. Ante Post betting at Cheltenham seems to have gone the same way as trams and hula hoops but it can never be a bad Festival if you can crack the Gold Cup winner.
The 2018 edition may not be the best ever, although the winner will surely get an official rating of OR170+, but it looks dastardly competitive. I thought it would be fun if we looked at the race as a handicap, as of now, to see if we can spot the winner and/or some value. It helps that the Official Handicappers both sides of the Irish Sea seem to be in some sort of agreement!
Cheltenham 4.00 SimpleSimonSays…Gold Cup Handicap 3m2½f Good to Soft
11.10 Sizing John (Potts Ltd) 8yo Jessica Harrington Robbie Power?
11.09 Might Bite (Knot Again Partnership) 9yo Nicky Henderson Nico de Boinville
11.07 Bristol de Mai (Munir & Souede) 7yo Nigel Twiston-Davies Daryll Jacob
11.07 Our Duke (Cooper Family Syndicate) 8yo Jessica Harrington Robbie Power?
11.07 Road to Respect (Gigginstown) 7yo Noel Meade Sean Flanagan?
11.07 Thistlecrack (J & H Snook) 10yo Colin Tizzard Tom Scudamore?
11.07 Whisper (Walters Plant Hire) 10yo Nicky Henderson Davy Russell
11.06 Double Shuffle (Crossed Fingers Partnership) 7yo Tom George A P Heskin
11.06 Native River (Brocade Racing) 8yo Colin Tizzard Richard Johnson
11.05 Djakadam (Mrs S Ricci) 9yo Willie Mullins Ruby Walsh
11.04 Balko des Flos (Gigginstown) 7yo Henry de Bromhead ????????????
11.04 Disko (Gigginstown) 7yo Noel Meade Sean Flanagan?
11.04 Tea for Two (Williams & Lakeman) 9yo Nick Williams Lizzie Kelly
11.03 Minella Rocco (JP McManus) 8yo JJ O’Neill Barry Geraghty?
11.03 Outlander (Gigginstown) 10yo Gordon Elliott Jack Kennedy
11.02 Coneygree (The Max Partnership) 11yo Mark Bradstock ????????????
11.02 Coney Island (JP McManus) 8yo Eddie Harty Barry Geraghty?
11.02 Empire of Dirt (Gigginstown) 11yo Gordon Elliott Brian Cooper
11.01 Blaklion (Such & Paletta) 9yo Nigel Twiston-Davies Sam Twiston-Davies
11.00 Un Temps Pour Tout (Prof C Tisdall & B Drew) 9yo David Pipe Tom Scudamore?
11.00 Valseur Lido (Gigginstown) 9yo Henry de Bromhead Noel Fehily?
10.13 Anibale Fly (JP McManus) 8yo Tony Martin Mark Walsh
10.13 Definitly Red (P J Martin) 9yo Brian Ellison Danny Cook
10.11 American (Jago Family Partnership) 8yo Harry Fry Noel Fehily?
10.11 Presenting Percy (Philip J Reynolds) 7yo Patrick Kelly Davy Russell?
10.10 Alpha Des Obeaux (Gigginstown) 8yo Mouse Morris Mark Enright
10.10 A Toi Phil (Gigginstown) 8yo Gordon Elliott Keith Donoghue
10.10 Black Hercules (A & G Wylie) 9yo Willie Mullins Paul Townend
10.10 Total Recall (Slaneyville Syndicate) 9yo Willie Mullins David Mullins
10.07 Killultagh Vic (Boyd Armstrong Anderson)) 9yo Willie Mullins DannyMullins
GENERAL Let’s be fair, if that thirty lined up it would be some race, especially as if the handicapper was running the book as well because it should be 25/1 any of them! Well I could see at least half of them facing the starter this March if not as many as twenty. Another way of looking at the race through their handicap marks is that, at one pound = one length, the handicapper thinks that Sizing John will win by a length but with six horses within six lengths of him and another fourteen horses should be within ten lengths!
Time to weed a few out, so here’s my bite sized opinion of the possible contenders!
Sizing John Currently wears the crown and has looked pure class since March winning G1’s at Punchestown at their April Festival and on seasonal debut until it all went pear shaped at Leopardstown in the Christmas Chase (Lexus as was). Never travelling, he was “clinically abnormal” after the race and the Harrington yard had just one winner in December suggesting a low level virus of some sort. The Irish Gold Cup in a month’s time could be a big test? We know he acts on Spring ground, handles Cheltenham and he got the trip last year. Could go straight to the Festival.
Might Bite Has he grown up? Like many a teenager as a novice he was quirky at best, nuts at worst! He did win the G1 RSA last season here at the Festival on the Old course, then impressive at Aintree, beating stable mate Whisper both times. Looked much more pliable in both starts this season and some of his leaps would clear the average bus but I still have niggly doubts about his stamina, his jumping under pressure and his levels of concentration. The general opinion of his success in the King George at Kempton over Christmas was “underwhelming”. He is progressive and perhaps he just does enough?
Bristol de Mai If this race was run at the Somme he would be a shoo-in! Second to Black Hercules in the 2016 JLT, seventh in the Gold Cup last season he has yet to show he is any more than a flat track, heavy ground bully albeit a very good one.
Our Duke Chose to miss Cheltenham last season and it wouldn’t surprise me if they did so again. Built his reputation by destroying the field from the front in the Irish National off OR153. Currently on the easy list having scoped badly after disappointing behind Outlander at Down Royal but reportedly getting there. I’d like to see some form against the big boys not Bless my Wings!
Road to Respect Noel Meade has a rapidly improving 7yo on his hands. Hacked up in the Byrne Plate handicap over 2m5f at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, then pipped an errant Yorkhill at Fairyhouse and rounded off his season winning the Grade 3 3m1f novice chase at the Punchestown Festival. Opened this season touched off by Outlander at Down Royal but showed his true colours when winning the Grade 1 Christmas Chase at Lexus beating Balko des Flos and Outlander with the fancied pair Sizing John and Djakadam running listlessly behind. So that’s trip, grade, ground, course all covered and horse, jockey and trainer are all in form.
Thistlecrack I believe that one’s personal opinion of how Thistlecrack ran in the 2017 King George will determine whether you think he wins the 2018 Gold Cup. He is a multiple G1 winner with the World Hurdle and the King George on his CV. Despite being ten years old he has low mileage on his chasing clock and this will be his first attempt at the Gold Cup as despite being favourite for much of last season he missed the 2017 race through injury. So back to the King George, if you thought he ran a race suggesting he was coming back to form and that the extra yardage and stiff finish at Cheltenham would eke further improvement then he is a player. However my personal view is that last season’s thrilling but tragic Cotswold Chase in which Many Clouds paid the ultimate price for victory took Thistlecrack to a place that he has no intention of revisiting. He is a class horse who I expect to jump and travel but I feel that the more Tom Scudamore has to ask for the less he will get in response.
Whisper Whichever way you look at it he can’t beat Might Bite. If Presenting Percy turned up here would be interesting to see who Davy Russell rode, if he has the choice?
Double Shuffle He was put up 15lb for running Might Bite to a length in the King George last Boxing Day and is probably the reason the form of that race is looking average at best. Double Shuffle is an honest staying chaser at his best going right handed on a flat track over 3m. If he was mine of course I would run him in the Gold Cup, the handicapper says I’ve only got to find five pounds to win the damned thing BUT I would definitely have the Gold Cup at Punchestown in late April ringed in my diary as that could be race where things stack up in HIS favour.
Native River Last year’s third in the Gold Cup is yet to be seen on a racecourse this season. The thinking of Team Tizzard seems to be that he is at his best on his second and third outings. So it is prep in the Denman, second run in the Gold Cup and third run in the National. Ambitious. His top two runs were in winning the Hennessey and the Welsh National, both handicaps. In my opinion he would be a National horse winning a Gold Cup but I felt the same about Synchronised! A soft ground Cheltenham would enhance his chances.
Djakadam He looks like a burnt out wreck of the horse that stormed to victory in that foggy Thyestes Chase three years ago! The formbook says Sizing John has his number. Does he stay 3m 2f? Does he get up that Cheltenham hill? Both of his last two Grade 1 victories were over 2m4f at Punchestown and perhaps that C&D are his best chance of returning to the winner’s enclosure? However if there is one trainer that could wave his magic wand and freshen this horse up it is the wizard, Willie Mullins. If Djakadam does step back in trip for the RyanAir, Ruby Walsh’s choice of ride in the Gold Cup would be interesting!
Balko des Flos Where has this one come from? Of course he won the ultra-competitive Galway Plate last summer over 2m6½f off OR146 for which he was raised twelve pounds. Ran third in the Grade 2 Clonmel Oil chase behind Alpha des Obeaux but most recently was stepped up to three miles and split Road to Respect and Outlander in that Christmas chase at Leopardstown last December for which he was put up another six pounds to the dizzy heights of OR164. Only a 7yo and certainly the best his French sire, Balko, has produced. Sent off at 16/1 for the JLT last season, he was leading four out when he fell in a red hot race that saw Yorkhill beat Top Notch, Disko and Politogue! Progressive, untested beyond three miles but surely a big player in the RyanAir?
Disko Where the hell is he? Third in last season’s JLT but impressive in beating Anibale Fly by five lengths in the Growise Champion Novice Chase over 3m½f at the Punchestown Festival. Opened this seasons account beating Ballyoisin half a length in the Grade 2 at Down Royal over a clearly too short 2m3½f but absent since the 4th November. Allegedly the apple of trainer Noel Meade’s eye and it is my belief that he thinks that if they were both fit and firing that Disko would be his best chance of winning a Cheltenham Gold Cup. However will Gigginstown give him the chance? Meade has been here before with Road to Riches.
Minella Rocco Second in last season’s Gold Cup staying on strongly. Most recently fourth in the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown when done for toe but the trainer, Jonjo O’Neill, suggested he was going down the handicap route. Indeed ever since he won the 4m NH chase at the Festival in 2016 he has looked a Grand National winner in waiting and I am of the opinion that like Native River he would be a National horse winning a Gold Cup. Niggly concern that O’Neill has a habit of getting horses to peak for four days every March.
Outlander Splendid Gigginstown owned Grade 1 winning yardstick. Goes to all the big gigs, frequently places but the formbook suggests he is well held by Road to Respect.
Coneygree Fragile, talented, won the Gold Cup as a novice in 2016. Trained by family Bradstock. He is a rare visitor to the racecourse and impossible to fathom. If he turned up in the shape he was two years ago and jumped and galloped like he did then he would have many in this field way out of their comfort zone and would be a tough nut to crack, that is an enormous IF. Sadly I feel his time has gone.
Coney Island Always highly thought of but this son of Flemensfirth out of a Milan mare is very lightly raced, just ten starts to date, with only four over fences. As a novice he split Our Duke and Disko in the Grade 1 Neville Hotels chase at Leopardstown over 3m in December 2016, top form indeed but then unseen until he hacked up in a three runner 2m5f C2 Graduation Chase at Ascot that fell apart as the runaway leader was cooked turning for home and the other horse was the “gone at the game” More of That. A single figure price for this seasons Cheltenham Gold Cup is beyond me. I want to see him against the big boys prior to Cheltenham. Kinloch Brae, BobbyJo or the Irish Gold Cup?
Empire of Dirt Not seen since pulling up in the Betway Bowl last April and it will be some feat for an 11yo to win this season’s deep version of the Gold Cup. Beaten just three quarters of a length by Sizing John in the Irish Gold Cup a year ago and fourth to Un de Sceaux in the 2017 RyanAir at Cheltenham explains the horses high mark and if he returns to the festival the Ryanair would seem the most likely target.
Blaklion It is often forgotten that this bonny horse won the RSA at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival. He is a fine jumper, all guts and stamina although the jury is out whether he stays the Grand National trip? His second to Bristol de Mai in this seasons Charlie Hall looked solid after the victors wide margin BetFair Chase win at Haydock. To me he is another who would be a National horse winning a Gold Cup but thoroughly deserves his place in the field.
Un Temps Pour Tout Never heard him spoken about in Gold Cup terms but David Pipes 9yo has won the last two runnings of the 3m 1f Ultima handicap chase on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival. So that is trip, Spring ground and the Festival boxes all ticked. Why not? Surely when they forked out £450K to buy him the Gold Cup would have been the plan. Not seen since that last Ultima victory but the trainer told ATR back in November “You won’t see him until the second half of the season as he comes good in the Spring and he will have a Grand National entry at the same time.”
Valseur Lido A top grade novice when with Willy Mullins winning Grade 1 chases at 2m4f and 3m1f and was third in the 2015 JLT to Vautour and not far away when falling in the King George when Cue Card pipped Vautour. Transferred to Henry de Bromhead he won the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal and was fourth to Outlander in the 2016 Lexus chase. He was then off the course for a year, on the home gallops he fractured a cannon bone that required surgery, before running a promising fifth under the intelligent guidance of Noel Fehily, an eye catching booking, in what had now become the Christmas chase at Leopardstown over 3m1f. Interesting.
Anibale Fly Hosed up in the Grade B 3m Paddy Power handicap chase at Leopardstowns Winter festival. Greater racing minds than mine suggested trainer Tony Martin may have been “hiding his light under a bushel” by campaigning him over too short a trip but he had no problem getting three miles and his official mark rose eleven pounds from OR148 to OR159. Won his bumpers on heavy ground and the only time he has run on Good ground was when sent off 3/1F for the 2016 Kauto Star novice chase at Kempton and he didn’t go a yard, this is the race that Might Bite had in the bag but fell at the last! Recently his trainer said “After the Leopardstown win you’d imagine he could be a Grand National type.” The Irish Gold Cup on February 4th seems his next target. Owner JP McManus also has Coney Island and Minella Rocco who would seem the more likely Cheltenham Gold Cup candidates. Anibale Fly is a progressive, classy 8yo. As for Grand Nationals, could be Irish 2018, Aintree 2019?
Definitly Red Trainer Brian Ellison certainly thinks he deserves a shot at the Gold Cup. However with wins round tracks like Aintree, Ayr, Wetherby and Doncaster suggesting he is best suited to a flatter course and in two visits to Cheltenham he is yet to complete having pulled up in Martello Tower’s Alfred Bartlett and falling in Minella Rocco’s 4m NH chase, the SkyBet or the Grimthorpe, which he won last year, at Doncaster look his quickest route to the winners circle albeit probably having to carry top weight. Then surely it’s back to Aintree for another tilt at the Grand National, he tops my shortlist, after only a slipping saddle caused him to pull up last year and at the time I thought nothing was going better.
American He must drive trainer Harry Fry to despair? Oodles of talent but legs of glass, is there a better jumper of a fence in training? (OK, Grand Vision was pretty good!) Yet to win beyond Listed company and must have Soft in the going. Peter Marsh at Haydock or the Grimthorpe at Haydock would seem logical targets but Harry Fry could have his eye on Ireland?
Presenting Percy Another who hacked up in a handicap defying top weight off OR145 for which he was raised twelve pounds to OR157. At last season’s Cheltenham Festival he put the field to the sword in the Pertemps handicap hurdle and is clearly a talented horse. Currently well to the fore in the RSA ante post market I just wonder if his sporting owners might just fancy a tilt at the Gold Cup with an improving 7yo who is bang in form? If they did who would Davy Russell ride? This fella, Whisper or one of the Gigginstown battalion?
Alpha Des Obeaux Fourth to Might Bite in the 2017 RSA, second to Total Recall in the Munster National conceding sixteen pounds he is somewhat in limbo. If he does run at Cheltenham this March personally I would love see him carry close to top weight in that Tuesday 3m Ultima handicap but I fear they will throw him at the RyanAir chase as he won the Clonmel Oils chase this season over a similar trip.
A Toi Phil
I’ll finish the field of thirty with three trained by Willie Mullins that would all have to come under the heading, “Wildcards”. There is talk of Djakadam running in the shorter RyanAir which begs the question, “What will Ruby Walsh ride in the Gold Cup?” Black Hercules Back in 2016 we all thought he was a good thing for the 4m NH chase when Mullins switched him to the JLT and he duly obliged. Clearly talented he is just starting to have entries again. Total Recall Left Sandra Hughes, went to Closutton and heigh ho he wins the Munster National off OR129 and the Ladbroke Trophy (the Hennessey in old money) off OR148. Very much a case of a horse being “minded” over a shorter trip. Mullins has nominated the BobbyJo at Fairyhouse on February 25th before a crack at the Grand National in April but we’ve all played and lost on Willy Bingo before! Killtulagh Vic For me this was the training performance of the Christmas/New Year racing with massive credit going also Colm McBratney who nursed him back. He hardly jumped a flight at Punchestown but ran away from the likes of Ex Patriot, Tigris River and Ivanovich Gorbatov. Team Mullins has suggested he will be seen next in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park. If he makes Cheltenham this March the Ryanair would seem the logical race but this is Willy Mullins. Quoted for the Stayers hurdle but I wouldn’t rule out a Blue Riband appearance nor for that matter top weight in the Byrne Plate!
So before I open the golden envelope I would like to throw three stats at you and regular readers will know I love a stat or three! Firstly this century, horses that didn’t win the Gold Cup at their first attempt but are back again are O from 66, Secondly all horses aged ten or older are 0 from 67 and thirdly horses that had a prep race on heavy ground are 0 from 72+. For those reasons alone I can’t have Thistlecrack, Whisper, Outlander, Coneygree , Empire of Dirt, Bristol de Mai, Djakadam, Native River, Minella Rocco and Tea for Two!
Health concerns with Sizing John and Our Duke rule them out for me. Blaklion, Definitly Red, Minella Rocco, Total Recall and Native River would be more likely to be the first five home in the Grand National. Presenting Percy, Valseur Lido and Kiltullagh Vic are worthy long shots and if Disko lines up in March he will be running under the penalty of my money.
Might Bite has to be a player but I will repeat what I said in the Spotlight section, “I still have niggly doubts about his stamina, his jumping under pressure and his levels of concentration.” Backing him now at 4/1 would only be as a “saver”.
To me Gigginstown Stud have the strongest hand and as I am looking for young legs with Cheltenham form who has current Grade 1 form ROAD TO RESPECT seems to be their ace.
The 11/1 currently available with William Hill represents value to me and I recommend a three star*** win bet.
Pricewise (Tom Segal) is due to have a Cheltenham Gold Cup ante post piece in the Racing Post on Thursday January 11th which could well shake up the market.
Cheltenham Festival entries begin this week.
9 Jan – Gold Cup, QM, Ryanair
16 Jan – Champ Hurdle, Mares, Stayers
23 Jan – Arkle, NH Chse, RSA, JLT
30 Jan – Supreme, Neptune, Triumph, Alfred Bartlett
20 Feb – Ultima, Close Bros, Coral, Fred Winter, Pertemps, Byrne Plate, Kim Muir, County, Martin Pipe, Grand Annual
27 Feb – Cross Country, Bumpers, Mares Nov, Foxhunters