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The first highlight of the 2013/14 National Hunt season is the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham (full racecard here). The race is a Grade 3 handicap chase, run over two miles and four and a half furlongs, and the tapes are scheduled to rise at 2.30pm.
Twenty runners face the starter, headed by the classy Finian’s Rainbow, and below is my preview, as well as some trends and tips.
On top of all that, there’s a chance to win a £100 free bet, courtesy of Seanie Mac. Full details are at the bottom of this post.
There are some fairly strong trends in the Paddy Power, which should help us to pare the twenty-deep field to a more manageable number.
Last run: Fifteen of the last sixteen PP Gold Cup winners finished in the top six last time out, or were pulled up. If a horse fell last time, or ran worse than sixth, it has history against it in bidding to win here.
Age: Since Pounentes took this back in 1983, only one non-French-bred aged six or younger has prevailed. That was Celestial Gold, trained by Martin Pipe, a man with a formidable record in the race. The last horse aged older than nine to win was Clear Cut… in 1975! Look for a young French-bred, or a seven to nine year old horse to win the Paddy Power Gold Cup.
Interestingly, perhaps, seven of the last ten winners were aged seven.
Weight: All bar three of the last sixteen winners carried 11-03 or less. Whilst horses can, and have, carried bigger weights to victory, this tends to go to a ‘well in’ horse, with more to come than he’s fully demonstrated thus far.
Official Ratings: Allied to weight, only two of the last seventeen Paddy Power winners were rated outside of the 136-150 band. Dublin Flyer, off a whopping 163, took it – then called the Mackeson – in 1995, but since then only the classy ex-French pair of Al Ferof and Cyfor Malta have defied a 150+ mark to win.
Shortlisted against that trends profile are Battle Group, Astracad, Nadiya de la Vega, and Colour Squadron.
In a race like this, trends will take you so far, but plenty of horses get close to a ‘perfect’ trends fit and fall down on a single angle. And in any case, what I consider to be the most meaningful trends may not be what the next woman or man believes to be the nub of the profile. So it’s a game of inference at best.
Sensible then, to mix in some good old fashioned form study and, luckily for us, the geegeez racecards do a lot of the heavy lifting for us. Checking the Race Analysis tab reveals that Rajdhani Express, Tap Night, and Champion Court may also be worth noting, amongst others.
Let’s take a look at our trends horses first:
Battle Group has been moved around the trainers a bit in recent starts. Now with Johnny Farrelly after a brief stint with Kevin Bishop, having previously been trained by David Pipe, there is a niggling feeling in my head that he’s actually been trained by Pipe all along. Obviously, such a feeling is libellous when put to paper, so I’ll say right away that I’m bound not to be right on that.
In any case, he was sufficiently far ahead of the handicapper to win not one but two handicaps at the Aintree Grand National meeting, and then followed up off a much higher mark over hurdles at Haydock. Rested, he’s just four pounds higher here, and does have course, distance and going form when fourth in Hunt Ball’s Centenary Novices’ Handicap Chase. Place chance.
Astracad is a horse I like, despite him not winning as often as he maybe should. Off a mark of 142 today, he was just five lengths behind Johns Spirit two runs ago and now has a ten pound pull in the weights with that fellow. Although Johns Spirit may have more to offer, Astracad was staying on then and may be better suited to a stronger gallop here.
In between then and now, he ran second in a Grade 2 handicap chase at Aintree, form which suggests that 25/1 in a place is too big a price. Especially so as Astracad has lots of course form, a pre-requisite for most Paddy Power Gold Cup winners.
Nadiya de la Vega is a talented mare, but she may just be better on softer ground. On good, she’s won just the once and that over half a mile shorter. She does stay well, though, as when third in this race last year on soft. The fact that McCoy has elected to ride Tap Night is not a positive.
Colour Squadron is another that McCoy could have ridden, and everything about his previous form screams for more mud to be flying. He has been a sketchy jumper in the past too, and there will be safer options in this field.
Of the trends horses, then, I like Astracad the most, though Battle Group is a slippery fish of a horse… if you see what I mean.
Rajdhani Express won the Centenary Novices’ Handicap Chase last year (though it was called the rewards4racing etc then), and followed up in easy fashion at Ayr, when he thumped the re-opposing Tap Night fifteen lengths. He was lucky to win there, however, as Changing Times came down at the last fence when beginning to assert. Nevertheless, Rajdhani Express has course and distance form in the locker, and has run well after a break before.
Tap Night is such an interesting horse. Although almost always trained by Lucinda Russell, the first part of their relationship was when he was running on the flat in America for her, at Parx, Delaware, Monmouth and Belmont! Despite his dirt-y past, Tap Night has developed into a gritty chaser, albeit one with a propensity for finishing second.
The two question marks with him are that he flunked on his only race here, and he ran only acceptably on his only race in a proper big field. Although I’ve opposed McCoy at Cheltenham this weekend to my cost once already (placepot yesterday, worth about £2,000 to me if Oscar Whisky had beaten Taquin de Seuil), I’m taking him on again here.
Champion Court has been very well supported, and on form it’s not hard to see why. He’s won three of his twelve chase starts, and been placed in nine of them, and can boast three Grade 2 course and distance wins – two over fences, and one over hurdles. The ground should be fine for him and although he has plenty of weight, he’s earned that. On ‘home turf’, he has a decent chance, albeit that the value has probably gone from his price now.
Ballynagour has been very heavily backed in the last day or so, when it was confirmed that stable mate Dynaste would skip the race. The thing with this chap is that a) he was smashed into last time here when disappointing as the 7/2 favourite in the Byrne Group Plate, and b) he’s not certain to appreciate the quick ground.
Countering that to some degree is that a) he’s trained by David Pipe, and he and dad Martin have won the race eight times (!) since 1996, and b) he did finish a close second in a point on good ground, and he’s not shown he can’t act on it.
All things considered, he’s no value, despite the likelihood of improvement to come.
Johns Spirit was a good winner over a similar distance at the track last time out, and he comes here on the up after just nine chase starts. This is a clear class elevation though, and again his price offers little scope for value punters at around 8/1. Besides which, as I’ve written, if you like his chance, you have to like Astracad’s at three times the price.
There’s little else of appeal, though the suspicion remains that Attaglance is capable of winning a big handicap, and he’s very well weighted currently. Good ground suits him well, and he’s a stone ‘well in’ assuming he can go close to matching his hurdle rating. Not all horses can. 33/1 is pretty chunky, though, and tempting at that.
As always, it’s a ferociously competitive renewal of the race, and there are plots and jobs aplenty. The strong record of the market in the race – eleven of the last sixteen winners came from the top three in the betting – leads me to make a serious case for Champion Court. But I’m also interested in a couple of bigger prices, each way naturally enough.
They are Astracad, for a trainer (Nigel Twiston-Davies) who has won this race twice since 2008; and Attaglance, for the wily Malcolm Jefferson, a horse who was good enough to win the Martin Pipe over hurdles here, and then follow up in the Aintree equivalent, both on this sort of quick turf. 25/1 and 33/1 offers plenty of leeway to get it wrong!
Seanie Mac, one of the fastest growing bookmakers in Ireland and with an expanding customer base in UK, have kindly offered a £100 free bet prize to the winner of our Saturday competition.
To be in with a chance to win, you must have a Seanie Mac account and you must place a bet of £10 or more on any event with them.
Once you’re qualified for the competition, you simply need to leave a comment below with your Seanie Mac username in the ‘website’ field.
Then, just add your prediction for the first three home, in the correct order, in the Paddy Power Gold Cup.
The winner will be the closest to predicting the 1-2-3.
I’m guessing there will be around 50 eligible entries (i.e. with a Seanie Mac account and having placed a qualifying bet), so you’ve a 2% chance on luck. Of course, if you’re a shrewdie, you’ll be able to swing things much more in your favour.
I’ve started the ball rolling with my prediction.