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The Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup is the centrepiece of the Cheltenham Festival and regularly finishes off the four day meeting in style.  Last season was no different with Bobs Worth powering up the hill to victory after looking comfortably beaten coming up to two out.  The 2014 renewal promises to be another classic with a strong field of runners sure to line-up.  At this time of year many of the Gold Cup contenders are about to begin their seasons and with that in mind i’ve taken an early look at the ante-post market in the search of some value.

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This weekend Haydock Park will host this year's Betfair Chase.  Some of the key Gold Cup contenders (Bobs Worth, Silviniaco Conti and Dynaste) are entered in whats being billed as a ‘mini Gold Cup’.  Undoubtedly, after this weekend the ante-post market should shift considerably and we should have a clearer picture as to the challenge Bobs Worth will face when he tries to hold on to his Gold Cup Crown in March.

As the current market favourite, Bobs Worth (3/1 Betfred) goes into this weekend looking to get his season off to a flying start.  This Nicky Henderson trained powerhouse has won 9 out of the 12 races he has contested under rules.  That statistic is even more impressive when you consider that he is yet to be beaten going left handed and also is yet to be beaten around Cheltenham.  His victory last year emphasised his most prominent attributes – he has an unbelievable desire to win and seemingly bottomless stamina reserves.  He stayed on strongly that day and it seems that the demands and characteristics of Cheltenham plays to his strengths immensely and brings out the very best in him.

His main contender, if the markets are to be believed, comes from Ireland in the form of Sir Des Champs (7/1 Ladbrokes).  This horse finished seven lengths behind Bobs Worth in last season’s running and personally I find it difficult to see how he might turn that form around.  Sir Des Champs is a very good horse who likes to guarantee a genuine pace up-front, however this tactic is somewhat counter productive at Cheltenham as it offers a lead to horses like Bobs Worth who are able to out stay this Irish raider.  That coupled with the fact that he is prone to making jumping errors, some of which prove to be very costly, it seems that the demands of Cheltenham don’t exactly play to his strengths (despite the fact that he won the 2012 Jewson by 4 and half lengths).  At the current odds I think the value lies elsewhere.

Next in the market sits SILVINIACO CONTI (8/1 Coral).  This Paul Nicholls stable star was mightily unlucky in last season’s Gold Cup when he fell three out whilst travelling, arguably, the best of all the runners.  Last year he picked up both the Betfair and Denman Chase in impressive style and went to Cheltenham with genuine Gold Cup aspirations.  Unfortunately we weren’t able to see his full ability either at Cheltenham nor when he went on to Aintree and failed to win the Betfred Bowl.  The latter of those two runs can be ignored as he was clearly tuned-up for Cheltenham and had gone over the top.  He remains a horse with a lot of class, and with the retirement of stable stars such as Denman and Kauto Star, Paul Nicholls will be looking for this horse to fill their shoes.  A point worth mentioning is that Bobs Worth has only been beaten by four horses in his entire racing career, one of those being Silviniaco Conti .  That result came in the Feltham Novices’ Chase in 2011 where Silviniaco Conti finished a length ahead of Bobs Worth.  Although they both lost to Grands Crus that day and there were various different factors to consider, it is at least an interesting point and at 8/1 there certainly is some juice in his price.  

Of those at bigger odds, the David Pipe trained DYNASTE (20/1 Stan James) is an interesting contender.  This 7 year-old ended his novice chasing season last year with a comfortable 6 length victory in the Mildmay Novices Chase at Aintree after being beaten in the Jewson at the festival.  The extended three mile trip on offer at Aintree definitely seemed to suit as he replicated the form he showed when winning the Feltham at Kempton on boxing day.  This horse has a huge amount of class and is unexposed over this trip and over fences, so there could well be far more improvement to come this year.  Definitely best when held up off the pace, he could deploy similar tactics to Bobs Worth last year and use his stamina reserves to bring himself into contention in the final few taxing furlongs of the Gold Cup.  In the whole he jumps very proficiently and, as previously stated, he has plenty in reserve so looks a tempting price at the moment.

Bobs Worth will prove extremely difficult to beat in the Gold Cup however, at 3/1 he’s a little skinny for my liking this early on in the season.  At the moment I'm happy to leave him well alone and reconsider him after his performance on Saturday.  The Betfair Chase will definitely alter the Gold Cup market and I'm hoping that after the weekend the favourite’s odds will drift.  Although Bobs Worth has plenty of class I doubt Haydock is the best place to start his season off at.  The track is a tight; flat, left-handed course which ideally suits horses with speed as opposed to stamina.  If he is at all vulnerable it will be at a track such as this on his first start of the season.  Nicky Henderson primes his horses for the big Festivals in the Spring and often they come on for their initial runs.  

On that basis I rather back two for the Gold Cup now at bigger odds in the hope that they will perform well in the Betfair Chase and therefore shorten in the ante-post betting.  I will detail a thorough analysis of the runners in the Betfair Chase in a preview article later on in the week but for the moment I am very interested in Silviniaco Conti and Dynaste.  The former of the two has already established genuine Gold Cup credentials after travelling so well for so long in this year’s running as well as having already won the Betfair Chase last year, he should have everything in his favour come Saturday.  The latter, Dynaste, has had a minor set-back this year which caused him to miss both the bet365 Hurdle and the Paddy Power Gold Cup last weekend.  He has obvious questions to answer about his fitness for this weekend but nonetheless remains an interesting contender for the Gold Cup considering the possible improvement thats still to come.

If I had to nail my colours to one horse to win the Gold Cup at this moment (ignoring the odds) I would obviously choose Bobs Worth.  However I’m willing to risk that his odds may increase after this weekend’s racing so I'm happy to wait and try to get a bit more value.  Silviniaco Conti is a rock-solid horse who has plenty of class and will provide a stern test to Bobs Worth.  I think its worth backing him now in the hope he wins on Saturday and also its worth considering the each-way prospects of Dynaste for the Gold Cup.  He may not be fully primed if he lines up on Saturday but could well offer some interesting value at 20’s for the Gold Cup.  Here’s hoping Bobs Worth doesn’t rout the field on Saturday and I don't end up with egg on my face.

 

Gold Cup Selections – 

SILVINIACO CONTI (WIN) (8/1 Coral)

DYNASTE (EACH-WAY) (20/1 Stan James)

 

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