In what might seem a crazily premature preview, I'm going to look at some of the trends and profiles associated with recent winners and placed horses in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Yes, I am going to do this in the week prior to the two biggest recognised trials for the Cheltenham Gold Cup!
My reasoning is this: if we can second guess what will happen next week based on history, then we have a chance of bagging the value before the trials are run. This gives us a) the chance of a nicely contracting horse on which to possibly trade out, 'green up' or otherwise sit upon smugly; and, b) security in the knowledge that even if the horse is beaten in the trial (or doesn't run there), plenty of big priced horses have hit the board in recent renewals of the Gold Cup.
So, enough preliminary bluster, and on with the show.
I've looked at various angles and aspects with relation to the Gold Cup, and I've especially looked at the winners' and placed horses' form before Christmas, i.e. up to now.
I've also looked at pointers which either will not be subject to change (such as age) or will be subject to not much change (such as official rating).
First, let's take a look at that age stat... Last year was truly anomalous, with the winner, Long Run, being the youngest - at six - since Mill House in 1963. And both placed horses, Denman and Kauto Star, being eleven - older than any placed beast since the magnificent twelve year old, See More Business, finished third in 2002.
On that basis alone, I might be prepared to consider Kauto Star as a 12yo (Denman now retired), but I'm more likely to look elsewhere, as See More Business was a 40/1 poke when placing. Kauto Star is a best priced 12/1.
Excluding last year's triumphs for youth and experience, it is generally the case that mature horses between the ages of seven and nine prevail.
Indeed, the previous eleven winners matched that age range, and with Long Run now seven, and Kauto surely not a realistic win proposition, it's heavy odds on that we'll revert to that three year parameter.
Again ignoring last year, and the previous 22 placed horses were aged as follows: 3 x seven year olds; 7 x eight year olds; 7 x nine year olds; 4 x ten year olds; and, See More Business as a 12yo.
So when looking for a value each way bet, I'd be fairly happy to consider anything aged seven to ten. Equally, I'm not expecting that to narrow things down too much!
However, there is merit in working at this, given that even though the last eleven winners all came from the first three in the betting, of those 22 placed horses, TEN of them were priced at 25/1 or bigger. A further four were 10/1 or longer.
Clearly, the available odds will contract and expand considerably between now and the Friday of Cheltenham week, when the Gold Cup will be run. But we can be fairly sure that as long as Long Run performs at least creditably and without injury at Kempton on Boxing Day, most contenders will be lining up at double digit prices for the blue riband.
OK, so far so good. Now let's put some form meat on these theory bones.
Firstly, let us consider the two pre-eminent trial races for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. They are the King George VI Chase, run at Kempton next Monday; and, the Lexus Chase, run at Leopardstown next Wednesday.
In fact, remarkably, we have to go all the way back to Cool Dawn, the ten year old winner of the 1998 Cheltenham Gold Cup to find the last winner not to race in either the King George or Lexus Chase earlier that season.
Finally, let me also tell you that the lowest official rating of a Gold Cup winner this century was Best Mate's first win, when he was rated a 'paltry' 169 (!)
So class prevails, and any horse currently rated lower than 160 is quite unlikely to make up the ratings ground to be a realistic contender in my view.
Of the eight in the King George (a pretty disappointing turnout for a race worth £180,000), neither Golan Way (rated 150) nor Nacarat (159) will cut it at Cheltenham in the Gold Cup. Perhaps surprisingly, the Gold Cup third favourite - Captain Chris - is the next lowest rated on 164, and will surely need to step up on that to win a Gold Cup. There's a good chance that Captain Chris would have won last time but for tipping up at the last, but the key concern here is that his only chase win at beyond two miles was over 2m5f over the pan flat Kempton circuit in a Grade 2.
He looks a questionable stayer to me, and there are surely better wagers for the Gold Cup than him. Obviously, if he routs 'em in the King George I'll be taking to my traditional slab of humble pie in a day or five! But it is instructive to note that pretty much every single win or placed horse in a Gold Cup in the last ten years had already won over three miles plus or finished second over that trip on ground softer than good.
Next in the King George official ratings are both Somersby and Diamond Harry, on 166. The former looks more likely to go for the Ryanair I'd have thought, but the latter will probably show up for the biggie and has the numbers to scrape into the 'contenders zone'.
That leaves the trio of Long Run, Master Minded and Kauto Star at the top of the ratings pile. Everything is known of Long Run and Kauto Star, in terms of their Gold Cup chances. This is reflected in the fact that Long Run is a general 5/2 shot for Gold Cup glory, and Kauto Star 12's despite being twelve when the tapes go up next March.
A saver on the jolly wouldn't be a terrible idea, but as a value proposition there's nothing of even remote interest in those two.
But what about Master Minded? Well yes, sure, he's a doubtful stayer. But did you see that run at Aintree last April in the Melling Chase, over two and a half miles? He was (according to me before the race - cue more humble pie) 'gone at the game', and he was a doubtful stayer. And he murdered Albertas Run, who was racing over his optimal trip and was the reigning Ryanair and Melling Chase champion.
So he definitely stays at least two and a half miles on a flat track. And I'd bet he will stay three on a flat track too, which makes Master Minded of some interest on Boxing Day. But three miles two and a half furlongs over the undulations of Cheltenham? That may be stretching the elastic of plausibility to snapping point.
Over in Ireland, the declarations for the Lexus Chase include Quito de la Roque and Rubi Light. Thirteen are declared there, with Rubi Light rated 166 and Quito de la Roque 169. Of the remainder, only Joncol (161) is rated above 160.
I've backed Quito de la Roque for the Gold Cup already at 20/1, but I have to concede that I really like Rubi Light. Like Long Run, he's only a six year old (seven next year), and he also comes out of the French provinces. At a best priced 20/1 currently, Rubi Light offers some value, though I'm not sure that the probable quickish ground or his front running style is ideal for his Gold Cup tilt.
Nevertheless, should he win the Lexus Chase, he'll probably be around 10/1 or shorter, especially if Master Minded and/or Kauto Star fail to fire in the King George.
In terms of the last eight winners of the Gold Cup, seven of them had won a Grade 1 Chase either the previous season, or before Christmas in their Gold Cup-winning season.
If we run our shortlist of Long Run, Kauto, Master, Diamond, Quito and Rubi through that filter, we discover that all bar Diamond Harry tick that box too and, in truth, the Gold Cup winner is likely to emerge from that remaining quintet.
I'm more than happy to exclude the amazing Kauto Star, as the last twelve year old winner of the Gold Cup was What A Myth in 1969. Even if Long Run was to fail to run or complete in March, I still couldn't envisage Kauto being the best of the rest. With all due apologies to the sentimentalists and respect for his achievements in a truly stellar career, he won't be winning the Gold Cup.
Master Minded has the aforementioned stamina reservations to answer to, but aside from that his profile is robust. He'll be nine next March, has plenty of winning form at the track and on the ground, and has bags of class (higher rated than any British or Irish chaser, bar Long Run and Imperial Commander, who is out for the season).
25/1 on him might just be worth a small interest, or at least a cover bet for stronger fancies.
My Gold Cup WIN recommendations are thus:
Quito De La Roque - 2pts at 16/1 Paddy Power, Ladbrokes, Coral, William Hill
Rubi Light - 2pts at 20/1 general
Long Run - 2 pts saver at 11/4 sportingbet
Master Minded - 0.5 pt saver at 25/1 sportingbet, VC, Stan James
Total of 6.5 points staked, and a minimum return of 7.5 points even if Long Run wins.
All the latest Cheltenham Gold Cup betting is here.
The place markets are something of a bugger's muddle, but there are still some interesting trends. How robust they are, only time will tell, but let's throw caution to the wind and see where we get to.
Of the last eight silver medallists, six had won either a Graded handicap chase or a Grade 1 before Christmas or in the previous season. And seven out of the eight lost at least once after Christmas.
That brings in the likes of Diamond Harry, who won the 2010 Hennessy Gold Cup. But I'm looking for a 'real price' on one here, and the 25/1 is just not big enough!
So how about Bostons Angel? Clearly best suited by attritional conditions - a long trip and a fast pace - he hasn't had that since winning last year's RSA Chase, a Grade 1 over three miles at the Festival. He probably dossed having got to the front there, and might be value for a length or two more over Jessies Dream, Wayward Prince and Magnanimity.
Wayward Prince is a good horse and will be on the comeback trail after a lacklustre start to his season when he heads to Wetherby on Boxing Day; and it's possible that Magnanimity will match hooves with Quito De La Roque and Rubi Light in the Lexus, a race also marked out for Bostons Angel.
But only Bostons Angel and the so far absent Jessies Dream have the demonstrable class of recent Gold Cup placed horses. 40/1 about the former is worth a couple of quid, I'd say.
Looking to those horses to have filled the bronze position in the last eight years shows that all eight either won or were placed in a Grade 1 or the Grand National before Christmas or the previous season. All bar one failed to score in Grade 1 company after Christmas.
So here we're looking at our contenders quintet (including Kauto Star), who do not win one of the two trials. And Ballabriggs would be worthy of the most speculative of support if I had any insight into running plans. Obviously, the long term target is the Grand National, but plenty of National contenders have warmed up in the Gold Cup.
Mon Mome was third at 50/1 in 2010, having won the 2009 National, and before falling in the 2010 version. And Hedgehunter was 2nd in the 2006 Gold Cup, in between winning the 2005 Grand National, and running up in the 2006 renewal.
Ultimately, this looks waaaaay too speculative even for me, though I did have a cheeky fiver on Ballabriggs to be placed in the Gold Cup at 36.4 on Betfair!
My Gold Cup PLACE recommendation is:
Bostons Angel - 1 pt e/w at 40/1 totesport, Betfred, William Hill
OR 10.0 place only on Betfair
View the latest Cheltenham Gold Cup 2012 betting here.
By this time next week, the Cheltenham Gold Cup market will have firmed up considerably as a consequence of the results being known for both the King George and Lexus Chases. We can only hope for promising runs from ours, but even if that doesn't happen, as you'll have read above, all will not be lost...