It’s never too early to take a look at one of the highlights of the National Hunt season, so here is a preview of the Cheltenham Gold Cup with a couple of ante-post tips thrown in!
Last year’s winner Bob's Worth (5/1 Ladbrokes) reappeared on Saturday in the Betfair Chase. Unfortunately he didn’t run his race, with the Haydock track not suiting his running style. Nicky Henderson hinted that the Lexus may be his next point of call, looking like they’ll travel for a suited track and to try to get his season back on track. Although statistically speaking it is a very difficult task to win back to back Gold Cups (the last horse to do so was the incredible Best Mate), you have to be impressed by the manner in which Bobs Worth won the race last season. A course like Cheltenham is very demanding and therefore it is a massive positive that this horse has won at the track numerous times. He seems well suited to the course and thrives up the stamina sapping hill.
Silviniaco Conti (10/1 Coral) had is only career fall in this race last year, when travelling well until departing with jockey Ruby Walsh 3 out. His only other run at Cheltenham was back in December 2010, when he finished one paced in third behind Menorah and Cue Card over 2m1f. Again, he made his reappearance in the Betfeiar Chase and finished a creditable third behind Cue Card and Dynaste. He will more than likely head to the King George next and could well come on for his first run.
After a disappointing run in the Charlie Hall, connections of Long Run (33/1 Betfred) later revealed that the horse had scoped dirty and was due for a trachea wash. Long Run is an extremely consistent horse, having been placed in every race in his career prior to his last two runs. He won the Gold Cup in 2011 and will be looking to achieve what only the iconic Kauto Star could, in regaining the crown. Although he produced a better run in the Betfair Chase finishing fourth, I can't help but feel that he hasn't quite got what it takes to win the ultimate 3m Chasing prize. His jumping can sometimes be quite sketchy, an attribute which the Cheltenham course will pray upon. Connections have recently hinted they may well bypassing the race for a tilt at the Grand National preferred instead.
Second to Bobs Worth last year; SIR DES CHAMPS (6/1 Ladbrokes) is likely to take the same preparation route as last year. He looks likely to go for the John Durkan, followed by the Lexus and Hennesey at Leopardstown before heading to the Gold Cup. He beat and was placed amongst some of the best chasers last season, with the likes of Long Run and Flemenstar failing to get the better of him. A proven stayer and battler, he has all of the credentials to be a Gold Cup winner, and the Willie Mullins trained horse is likely to be Davy Russell's mount for his retained owner Michael O'Leary.
This opens the way for the star of last year’s Festival Bryan Cooper to get back on FIRST LIEUTENANT (14/1 Coral). He has so far been quite disappointing on his two runs this season, the latest of which saw him finish well behind Roi du Mee at Down Royal. His next assignment also looks to be the John Durkan, and there is an obvious concern that this race has come too quick. No disrespect to Davy, but this horse seems to come alive when Cooper is on board. They bonded well as a partnership last season, and if Cooper takes the mount then he has to have an each way chance for the Gold Cup. As of yet he has questions to answer regarding the trip but he's bound to be tested beforehand and could well improve for the step up. For me his price makes plenty of each way appeal at the moment.
Connections will be hoping that a switch of stables will help ignite Flemenstar (33/1 Coral). Arguably one of the best up and coming stars at the beginning of last season, the horse has failed to beat any of the big guns since finishing a gallant third in the Lexus Chase last December. He was successful in the Fortina Chase under new trainer Tony Martin, and is another one likely to head to the John Durkan this weekend. Flemenstar has proved that he can stay the 3 miles, and I think he has the class and ability to run well at Cheltenham. Yet another good ante-post each way option.
Dynaste (16/1 Betfred) will be hoping to go one better at the Festival this year, after finishing second behind Benefficient in last season’s Jewson. He has proven he can stay the distance after winning the Feltham on Boxing Day and Mildmay at Aintree's Grand National meeting. An impressive second to Cue Card in the Betfair Chase, the 7 year old showed he has plenty of potential, and is bound to come on for the race. He looks to be heading to the King George next, and I really fancy his chances there.
Some of the others to note include Lord Windermere (20/1 Ladbrokes) who hasn’t been seen since winning the RSA at last season’s festival, and stayed on well up the hill on that day. We should know more about him after this weekend, with trainer Jim Culloty confident and bullish about his chances in the Hennessey. Benefficient (50/1 Coral), the winner of last seasons Jewson, has yet to show this form this season, finishing fourth in the Charlie Hall. Boston Bob (20/1 Betfred) has jumping issues, having fallen on his last two outings (including in the RSA last year) and will surely be up against it with the class of horses likely to line up for the Gold Cup.
In summary, Sir Des Champs has the ability and potential to run a huge race and I really think he can do so in the Gold Cup under Davy Russell. This gives Bryan Cooper the chance to jump on First Lieutenant; a horse he gets on with really well with and seems to get the best out of. So I’m going to opt for two Gigginstown selections – Sir Des Champs to win and First Lieutenant to be placed.
SIR DES CHAMPS (WIN) (6/1 Ladbrokes)
FIRST LIEUTENANT (EACH WAY) (14/1 Coral)