The contest we wait the entire week for, the blue riband event of the whole Festival, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. By this time you might be standing in the Bar with a bottle of Champagne waiting for the big race or sitting on the terrace with one hand full of scrunched up bet-slips and the other with the racecard frantically searching for the winner that’ll save the week. Everyone wants winners throughout the whole four days but there is something even more special about picking the winner of the Gold Cup, but hopefully we’ll all be up for the week anyway!
It’s a massive loss to the race that Sizing John won’t be defending his crown after suffering a fracture to his pelvis and I wish him a very speedy recovery, hopefully he’s back to have a chance at regaining his title next year!
Might Bite heads the market and I don’t think anyone can disagree with that given how the season has panned out for the majority of Gold Cup contenders, I actually think he deserves to be a little shorter. While his rivals have been floundering he has been winning and enhancing his claims for this event. I feel that he’s another favourite that people are trying to get beat for the sake of it, sometimes the answer to a difficult question is staring you in the face and that may well be the case here. Doubts about his stamina have been floating about but I can’t really buy into that personally, his performance in the RSA was nothing short of remarkable and the way he picked up again when Whisper came to him showed that he wasn’t running on empty and had plenty left in the tank. Onto that trait he has of drifting towards the chute at Cheltenham, that is far more of a worry to me than his stamina and I’d forgive him it if it was only the one occasion but he did the same thing when he hit the front in a Novice Hurdle here but luckily there was a rail up the centre of the track which stopped him. It’s clearly an issue when he gets to the front and he simply won’t get away with doing that in a Gold Cup so Nico is going to have to give him a supremely clever ride, keep him on the inside of horses and wait as long as he can after the last to hit the front. People are crabbing the form of the King George and on paper I see where they’re coming from, but the horse can only beat what’s in front of him and I think he was idling that day, if they got to him he would have pulled out more. I’m not saying he’ll definitely win, but if you’re purposely on the hunt for a reason to oppose him, there is no need, especially at the price.
However if you’re not a Might Bite fan and are searching for something at a bigger price then look no further than Road To Respect, I still think this horse is overpriced at 10/1 and he looks really solid. I really like the second season chaser angle for this race and he fits the bill, he’s a festival winner, improving, unexposed over staying trips and on the face of it seems to handle any ground. The doubts for a lot of people seem to be the conditions and his ability to stay the trip, that he wants a real spring surface. He won on decent ground at the festival last season and to be honest he bolted up, but he’s won on Heavy before including a 3 mile Point to Point and his form figures under rules over 3 miles or further since joining Noel Meade read 2121 which includes a first over 3m1f on soft ground. He won the Leopardstown Christmas Chase when last seen in a first time hood which seemed to eke out more as he ran to his highest RPR of 169. I think he’ll run a blinder!
The softer the ground the better for Native River who was third in this last year and he was mightily impressive on his return in the Denman Chase at Newbury in February. We have the dreaded speculation around the ‘bounce’ factor for Colin Tizzard’s inmate though and I for one am actually a little concerned as he is coming back from an injury and ran to an RPR of just 1lb lower than his Welsh National triumph, so it was a big performance after 330 days off the track and I wouldn’t be certain of him backing that up just over a month later. My thoughts are also that he wasn’t good enough to win the Gold Cup last year, so what makes this year any different? Unless it was really testing ground I don’t really fancy backing him a race which certainly doesn’t appear to have a lack of strength in depth.
Our Duke and Killultagh Vic are both very interesting contenders, the former won the Irish Grand National in facile style and got back on track for the season when beating Presenting Percy in the Red Mills Chase. But I have serious doubts about his jumping as he has clouted the odd one or two fences in recent starts and he won’t get away with it in a Gold Cup. That same worry also applies to Killultagh Vic who fell at the final flight on his last start when coming with what looked like a winning run. He’s only had the three starts over fences and with such limited experience coming into a Gold Cup I think there are more reliable options at the prices. He clearly has plenty of talent given he’s a winner of the Martin Pipe and also beat Thistlecrack over hurdles so if his jumping holds up he should have the ability to go close.
If this turns into a slog then Definitly Red could be one to keep an eye out for, he stays all day and I think he was going to go close in the Grand National last season when the saddle slipped. He’s won a pair of Grade 2’s this season including one at Cheltenham but whether that form is good enough to be winning in this company I’m not convinced and I think he does need to pull out more. But if this becomes a real stamina test then he will certainly be finishing well.
Total Recall is an intriguing horse who is very much on the upgrade after his Hennessy win, but this is a different kettle of fish and I think he’ll struggle to be involved at the business end. Edwulf is a talented inmate for Joseph O’Brien and gained a deserved first Grade 1 success in the Irish Gold Cup but for me he’s another one who I think will fall just short in a contest such as this. I could go on and on about the contenders for this deeply competitive renewal but the last one I’ll touch upon is Djakadam who’ll be having his fourth attempt at lifting the Gold Cup trophy for Rich Ricci and Willie Mullins. However, he hasn’t quite looked as good this season and even though it took The Fellow four tries to win this prestigious race, I don’t think it’ll be Djakadam’s year.
I’m a big fan of Road To Respect and have been nibbling away at him antepost, I think he’s being overlooked by many people. Might Bite is the most likely winner and I think he will take a lot of stopping on decent ground providing he doesn’t pull any shenanigans, but the wet weather would be a concern for me as I don’t think he’ll be the same force on soft ground, I can see it blunting his speed. Worsening conditions would be a help for Native River and if his jumping holds up then Killultagh Vic can go close.