Paul Nicholls aims for another successful Saturday, having last week captured the Tingle Creek at Sandown with Politologue.
The Ditcheat handler tops the training charts for the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup with four victories. Those wins have come since 2009, and he saddled four-year-old Frodon to victory 12 months ago. Tomorrow he heads to Cheltenham with a trio of challengers, including the top pair in the betting, who also sit at the head of the handicap.
Five-year-old Clan Des Obeaux tops the weights and arrives off the back of a decent performance at Haydock. He defeated Vintage Clouds in testing conditions despite having to give his opponent 7lbs. Prior to that, a couple of scrappy jumps late-on allowed Whisper to get the better of him at Kempton. He’s certainly got the stature for fences, but you get the feeling that this fella remains a work in progress. He looks ungainly at times, struggling to get that big frame organised at his fences. The famous hill should suit, but he’ll need to avoid errors in the latter stages if he’s to win this.
Le Prezien was third in the BetVictor last month behind Splash Of Ginge and Starchitect, but is slightly better-off at the weights. He wouldn’t want it as testing as last time, though does go well in soft ground. He clearly likes the track, and this trip looks his optimum. He’s a classy and consistent sort, and with Barry Geraghty on top, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t go close again.
Nicholls also has Romain De Senam among the 11 entrants. Though his breeding suggests testing conditions would be fine, his trainer has said that soft ground is far from ideal. He struggled in the BetVictor, when fading late-on for a fifth-place finish. It’s tough to see him turning that form around, though he is a progressive looking youngster.
The same can probably be said of the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Foxtail Hill. I’m a fan of this horse, but he’s a ‘free-going’ sort and failed to get home in the testing ground of the BetVictor Chase. He beat Le Prezien over the minimum trip back in October, but I fancy we’ll need to wait until the Spring to see him back at his best.
Splash Of Ginge was the star of the show a month ago, and is by no means out of it this time, despite a 5lb rise in the handicap. Though not as desperate as November, the ground will still be soft, and as such the winner will need reserves of stamina to see-out the 2m5f trip. It’s also important to mention that this race is run on Cheltenham’s New Course which has a stiffer finish than the Old that hosted the BetVictor. I’m anticipating a bold run from the nine-year-old, who remains on a fair mark.
Ballyalton was fourth in the BetVictor, and is another that enjoys his trips to Prestbury Park. He’d be the first 10-year-old to win this race since 1974, though a season off the track means he has few miles on the clock. Like Le Prezien, he’ll likely go better on less testing ground, though has form with soft in the description. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him in the mix, though he’s vulnerable to a more progressive sort.
King’s Odyssey is third-best in the betting, and was tipped-up by Paul Kealy in his Weekender piece. Jumping is key to this fella, having come down when going well in last year’s race. His return at Carlisle was decent if not spectacular, and he does have the all-important course form, having won a novice handicap chase at the start of 2016. I’m not convinced he’s good enough despite a fair looking handicap mark. He’ll enjoy conditions, but I fancy errors are likely as the race hots up.
Starchitect only just failed to land the BetVictor and should go close again. A couple of slight errors at the last two fences arguably cost him victory that day, and with a clearer round he and Splash Of Ginge should again be side by side. He’s a leading contender.
Finally, a mention for the David Dennis-trained Deauville Dancer. He’s the 33/1 outsider of the field, and has been on the go since May. He’s run 10 times in that period, with nine of those coming over fences. He’s won five of them, and this six-year-old looks a much-improved horse. Though only a three-runner affair, his last performance at Doncaster was without doubt his best, and I was impressed by the accuracy of his jumping. His breeding suggests he’ll cope with conditions, and though this is by far his toughest test, he will be ably assisted by Aidan Coleman, who won this race aboard Niceonefrankie in 2014. The trainer almost captured the Badger Ales last month, and this fella has a chance.
Paul Nicholls has a strong record in the race, and I’ll be siding with Le Prezien to make it third-time lucky this term. He’s come close in his last two visits to the track, including that close third in the BetVictor. I’ll also have a small punt on Deauville Dancer. This could prove a step too far for the six-year-old, but he arrives in good order, and I’ll take a chance that there’s further improvement that will make him competitive at a big price.
Best of luck to those having a punt.