Cheltenham Gold Cup 2015 Preview, Trends, Tips
It's not much more than two months until the tapes rise on the 2015 Cheltenham Festival, and so it's high time geegeez.co.uk kicked off its big race previews. In a curious year where the Champion Hurdle looks strangely uncompetitive, and the Champion Chase and World Hurdle have plenty more questions than answers right now, it's almost by default that we head straight to the big pot - the Cheltenham Gold Cup 2015 - for our first geegeez ante-post preview.
2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup Trends
These trends cover the last seventeen renewals of the Gold Cup, going back to 1997 (no race in 2001, due to foot and mouth outbreak), and are courtesy of horseracebase.
Age: Seven to nine-year-olds have a stranglehold on both the vast majority of winners and runners. But those at double digit ages have been well represented with little success. Specifically, Cool Dawn's 1998 triumph was the only one in the past twenty years.
The elder statesmen have notched ten places from 74 runners since 1997 (13.5%), which is again materially below the place strike rate of their younger counterparts (41/167, 24.5%).
Odds: Although this is something that cannot be judged until much nearer the time, there is plenty of cause for optimism for those who like to play at prices. Whilst Best Mate's second and third wins came at odds of 13/8 and 8/11; and Denman's 9/4 victory was the meat in a Kauto Star (5/4 and 7/4) / Paul Nicholls sandwich; there have also been winners at 16/1, 20/1 twice and 25/1 since 1997.
In a year with no outstanding candidate currently - with the possible, almost by default, exception of Silviniaco Conti - this is a race which looks ripe for a tilt at a price (or two).
Official Rating: It goes without saying that it takes a classy horse to win a Gold Cup, and Lord Windermere's victory last year off 152 was the lowest in the sample... by some way. That said, War Of Attrition had an official Irish rating of 157; and Cool Dawn - who was unrated at the time of his success - was around 150.
The fact remains that of the 13 winners since 1997 to have had a rating going into the race, all bar one were pegged at 166 or more. That is from a sample of just 47 horses (25% win rate), and was worth north of 20 points profit at SP.
It's a group that has included 7/1 Imperial Commander, 8/1 Synchronised, and 16/1 See More Business. Of the likely entries this year, only Silviniaco Conti and Bobs Worth are rated 166+.
Layoff: None of the 65 horses to have raced within a month of the Gold Cup was good enough to win the Gold Cup. Compare that with the 16 winners from the last 17 renewals to have run within 30-90 days. Of that group, clear pick from a rest pattern perspective are those returning off between two and three months away from the track.
They scored ten times from 40 runners (25%), and accounted for a further three placed efforts (32% place strike rate).
Distance: Although the Gold Cup is a test of stamina as well as class, only one winner since 1997 (Synchronised) had won beyond the Gold Cup distance of 3m 2 1/2f. That was from 80 runners to have raced over further. With just ten places to their name (12%), this was another under-performing group.
At the other end of the distance spectrum, none of the handful of horses to have raced exclusively at shorter than three miles was able to win, and only one placed.
Seven winners and 17 further placed horses had previously raced over the Gold Cup trip, most of them in previous Gold Cups.
Class: Every winner since Cool Dawn in 1998 had previously won a Grade 1 Chase.
Key Trials: The best pointers for the Gold Cup are the Lexus Chase, the King George VI Chase and the previous year's RSA Chase.
Four of the last seventeen RSA Chase winners have gone on to win the Gold Cup the following season. That quartet includes the last two Gold Cup winners - Bobs Worth and Lord Windermere - as well as Denman (2008), and Looks Like Trouble (1999). Sadly, O'Faolain's Boy misses the race due to injury.
The King George has heralded the Gold Cup winner six times since 1997, with Best Mate, Kicking King, Kauto Star (twice), Long Run and Silviniaco Conti all doubling up eleven weeks later. Of the RSA winners to claim Gold Cup glory the following season, only Looks Like Trouble ran in the King George (pulled up). Imperial Commander was beaten in the King George before winning the Gold Cup that same season, as
Silviniaco Conti was an easy winner of this season's King George.
The Lexus Chase run at Leopardstown over Christmas has emerged as a credible Gold Cup trial through the wins of Best Mate (2003), Denman (2007), and Synchronised (2011). Eleven lengths behind Bobs Worth last season in the Lexus was Lord Windermere, who won the Gold Cup. Likewise, War Of Attrition was behind Beef Or Salmon in the 2005 Lexus before winning the Gold Cup later that season.
This season, Road To Riches was an impressive winner of the Lexus on soft to heavy ground.
Running Style: Geegeez Gold has a pace tool which breaks horses run styles down into four main categories: led (4), prominent (3), midfield (2), and held up (1). Using those same groupings on the last dozen winners and placed horses in the Gold Cup gives us this picture:
Although there is little about which to be categorical, we can see that those that keep their powder dry early - racing in mid-division or held up - have fared best, with eight wins from the twelve years.
Early leaders unsurprisingly find it hard to hang tough, and just three have clung on for bronze. If you like a perennial pace pusher, beware.
Cheltenham Gold Cup 2015 Form Preview
The Gold Cup 2015 has a wide open look to it, with only Silviniaco Conti showing consistent top class form. Wins in the Betfair Chase and the King George, for a second year in a row, have propelled him to 3/1 favouritism and that looks absolutely fair.
His problem, for punters at least, is that he went into last year's Gold Cup off a similarly authoritative King George romp but curled up on the Cheltenham run in. It is hard to erase that memory and, though Noel Fehily may adopt more patient tactics this year - he took it up at the fourth last in 2014, plenty early enough - there's a persistent niggle about Silviniaco Conti's stamina.
To wit, his King George wins have been when beating doubtful stayers - Dynaste and Cue Card - at three pancake flat miles, let alone the punishing three and three-eighths in the west country. [I know at least some readers will feel Dynaste does stay, but even his connections don't trust him to last out the Gold Cup trip].
So here's the deal with Silvi Conti: he's comfortably the most credible favourite in the field, but he's not one I want to be with, given the stamina reservation. In an open year, it looks like being a big field, and thus every chance of a searching gallop.
The good news is that, if we overlook Signor Conti, it's 10/1 bar. Now you're talking!
Clear second choice in the market is the Lexus Chase winner, Road To Riches. His has been a steady progression through the chasing ranks, having started out as a thrice beaten novice at trips of up to 2m5f. In his defence, those were all Grade 1 events, and more recent evidence suggests they were all at sub-optimal distances.
In fact he's unbeaten in three chase starts at two and three-quarter miles or beyond. Importantly, Road To Riches is proven on a variety of different going, from heavy to good. True, he's yet to race beyond three miles, so there is a stamina question to answer. But, unlike Silviniaco Conti, he has yet to suggest he can't stay the Gold Cup trip.
Rather, he got tapped for toe in the Lexus before staying on best to see off On His Own, Sam Winner, Boston Bob, Carlingford Lough, First Lieutenant, Lord Windermere and Bobs Worth: all are in the frame to re-oppose in March.
Given the depth of that race, and even allowing for the fact it will have been a dress rehearsal rather than the big performance for a subset of the contenders, this was an impressive staying effort, and a career high. It was also a second consecutive Grade 1 win at three miles, and Noel Meade's eight year old looks a pretty solid option.
Our next task is to try to find legitimate excuses for the beaten Lexus horses to put them back in the Gold Cup frame. On His Own probably should have been awarded the 2014 Gold Cup in the stewards' room last year, and he ran a cracker again here, staying on doggedly when others were wilting.
In fact, I'd say he ran right up to his best, though he may have been suited by the slightly easier ground than he faced in the Gold Cup last year, and is likely to face again in the Gold Cup this year. He's just turned ten now too and, while that's not a death knell, it is a knock against his chance. One can't help but feel he's destined to rue the clemency of the on track beaks in March 2014 with regards to Lord Windermere's meandering, interfering passage.
Third placed Sam Winner ran a blinder on ground softer than ideal. He's a four time Cheltenham course winner, and he won over a furlong further than the Gold Cup trip there in November, lugging top weight of 11-12 in a Grade 3 handicap chase.
Not beaten far in the Lexus, he was also not beaten far in the RSA Chase last March, but that may be the story of his Grade 1 career: he wasn't beaten far in the G1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow as a four year; he wasn't beaten far in the Triumph later that season; and he hasn't been beaten that far in those two G1 chases this term.
He's a phenomenally consistent lad and he might just have been bottomed by the February run in heavy ground prior to the RSA last year. This time, granted a slightly easier run to the Festival, he can make the frame. 33/1 non-runner no bet underestimates his chance.
Boston Bob is another about whom there are valid stamina doubts. He's a gutsy street fighter, with a stellar record at two and a half miles. Now a ten year old, he's another that might have to cede best to younger limbs, but he does stay better now than he did. On balance, though, I prefer the chances of others.
Only eight lengths behind the winner in the Lexus Chase was Carlingford Lough, a horse I admit to having backed speculatively at the start of the season. This was his seasonal debut, and in that context it was a very fair effort: he travelled well through the race, jumped better than he sometimes does, and just ran out of puff late on.
It might be that he doesn't quite stay the Gold Cup trip, in which case the Ryanair entry looks sensible. But he's a Grade 1 winner at three miles over both hurdles and fences, and he was actually sent off favourite for the 2013 Irish Grand National over 3m5f.
He's talented and quirky, but even if he puts in an absolutely foot perfect round, it is hard to see him beating them all off.
That comment doesn't apply to Lord Windermere who showed last season that trainer Jim Culloty learned a lot from his guv'nor when riding, Henrietta Knight. Target training is an art, and Culloty's ability to notch a second Cheltenham Festival Grade 1 win with Lord W, having not been closer than sixth in any of the three intervening runs, was an object lesson in the art; and mirrored the careful planning of Hen for Best Mate's hat-trick of Gold Cups, all steered by Culloty.
So it is again that Lord Windermere has been no better than third in two runs since his Gold Cup triumph. Both those runs would have been on terrain at least a modicum softer than ideal, and both offered more promise than did the trio which preceded his Gold Cup win. He simply has to be a runner again, with conditions certain to be optimal.
Bobs Worth, on the other hand, has too many questions to answer. The 2012 RSA Chase and 2013 Gold Cup winner ran a screwy race in the Gold Cup last year, jumping the last upsides before weakening to fifth after covering more ground laterally than forwards. He was sent off the 6/4 favourite that day, and was again favoured - at 5/2 - in the Lexus, implying he wouldn't need it too much after nine months off the course.
In the circumstances then, especially as he's now turned ten, he's opposed.
Away from the Lexus, the challengers still come, and it might be that one of the less acclaimed horses sneaks up on those flashing their blades in the big Grade 1 contests. The most likely pair on that score are Holywell and Many Clouds.
The former was a comfortable enough winner of the Festival Handicap Chase last year, and followed that up with a demolition of Don Cossack and co in the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices' Chase at Aintree. But his jumping has generally been sub-par - typified by two notable mistakes before unshipping his rider at the eighth at Aintree the last day - and that's not an exciting attribute for a possible Gold Cup wager.
Many Clouds, however, has a pleasingly progressive profile, albeit still with something to prove. A close second to subsequent RSA Chase winner, O'Faolain's Boy, in the Reynoldstown last February, Many Clouds was still lobbing along when brought down in that rough renewal of the novice stayers' championship.
It may have been a blessing in disguise and, though he was a remote fourth to Holywell in the aforementioned Mildmay thereafter, he's looked an animal on the up this term. On his first run of the season, he was a taking winner of a Listed chase that also featured Holywell as well as Nicky Richards' 159-rated chaser, Eduard.
He stayed on best over that inadequate two and a half miles, aided doubtless by the soft ground. It was sodden underfoot once more when Many Clouds lined up for the Hennessy, itself a fair portent of Gold Cup prospects, as the 8/1 joint-fifth choice in the market.
Carrying 11-06 he was three lengths too good for the gallant top weight, Houblon Des Obeaux; and twenty-odd lengths-plus too good for all bar Merry King, himself a length behind Houblon in third. This was a fine performance from an ascendant stayer in a race in which both Denman and Bobs Worth have advertised their Blue Riband credentials earlier in their winning seasons, in the last seven years.
Coincidentally, Bobs Worth was also a seven year old when winning the Hennessy, as was Many Clouds; and carried 11-06, as did Many Clouds. I also backed Many Clouds, at a huge price, at the start of the season, and I'm happy enough with my ticket.
The most likely elements to beat him are, firstly, that he's still a tad shy of the normal level of ability required to win a Gold Cup. That is mitigated somewhat by it having the feel of a sub-par renewal and the fact he's on such a progressive trajectory.
More concerning to me personally is his predilection for precipitated upon pistes. That is to say soft ground. Indeed all victories bar a bumper win on good to soft three years ago have been achieved on soft or heavy turf. It could be soft or heavy for Gold Cup day, but realistically conditions will likely be a fair bit quicker than that.
Six of the last ten Gold Cups, including four of the last five, have been run on good ground. Three more were on good to soft, and just Bobs Worth's 2013 victory was achieved on soft going in the past decade. Perhaps the Bobs Worth comparisons will extend to the state of the ground too, but the balance of history suggests Many Clouds will need to perform under what may be skies bereft of many clouds.
Further down the lists we go in what is a market full of horses with hopes higher, and odds typically lower, than formbook chances. But, with the advent of a number of bookies going non-runner no bet, we might be able to have a pop at something with a money-back concession if it doesn't run.
One of mild interest on that score is Al Ferof. He's never raced beyond three miles and he's never won beyond two and a half. Moreover, whilst this ten year old winner of ten races under rules is older than I'd normally engage with, the price and bookie concession are mildly appealing in this case. Here's why...
Of that trio of t'ree mile losses, two were in the King George turning back after a month off. Both were staying on efforts behind his half-brother, Silviniaco Conti (both sired, like Unioniste and Neptune Collonges, by Dom Alco), and both followed wins in the Amlin Chase.
His third defeat at three miles was on heavy ground, and I'd excuse most horses defeat on heavy even when they've been classy enough to win against inferior horses in a bumper on it.
My case for Al Ferof rests on him never having proven he doesn't stay beyond three miles, and upon a rock solid contention that this is a horse who is best fresh. Indeed, here's his record (taken from Geegeez Gold form) when he's been turned out after 60 days or more.
If you're struggling to read the fine print in the image, you can enlarge it by clicking thereupon. Or, alternatively, I could simply tell you that Al Ferof is unbeaten in five completed starts after a break of 60+ days.
So yes, it's a bit of a punt that he'll get the trip. And yes, it's a bit of a punt that he's good enough (though he's actually the second highest rated UK-based horse in the race). And yes, he's a ten year old.
And, perhaps most materially of all, he's more likely to run in the Ryanair Chase. But that's where non-runner no bet comes in. If he does race in the Ryanair, or even the Champion Chase, we'll get our dough back, no damage done.
But as a 33/1 shot with a superb record fresh, and the non-runner no bet 'get out of jail free card' in our corner, he's another to tempt a few beans from the Bisogno bank.
2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup Tips
It's a fascinating betting race, and one where there's a big price - if not necessarily a value one - at every turn bar the jolly. As I've said, Silviniaco Conti's stamina is enough of a concern to look elsewhere, and there are a few I like against him to varying degrees.
I've already backed Carlingford Lough and Many Clouds at very big prices, and if it came up soft the latter would have a great chance.
More credible ante-post selections though are these, I hope:
2 pts Road To Riches 8/1 bet365, Skybet, totesport, Paddy all non-runner no bet (10/1 BetVictor all in run or not)
1 pt Lord Windermere 16/1 Ladbrokes (all in run or not) (12/1 general non-runner no bet)
0.5 pt Sam Winner 33/1 totesport, Betfred, Paddy non-runner no bet
0.5 pt Al Ferof 33/1 totesport, Betfred, Paddy non-runner no bet