Grands Crus for Gold Cup?

Doubts about the participation of Kauto Star in the Cheltenham Gold Cup have raised the chances of David Pipe's novice Grands Crus switching to that race from the RSA.

The possibility came to light last night where Pipe and Kauto Star's trainer, Paul Nicholls, shared a platform at the Cheltenham Festival preview event held at Wincanton racecourse. Initially, Pipe was noncommittal, simply saying that Grands Crus would be left in both races at the five-day entry stage and a final decision as to which race he would take part in would be left as long as possible.

However, Alice Plunkett, who was chairing the event wasn't letting him off the hook as easily as that, and when she probed a little deeper Pipe said, "If Kauto Star goes out of the race (the Gold Cup), he’s the second favourite. What would you do?"

Yesterday, Nicholls thought his 12-year-old veteran had just a 50-50 chance of trying for a third Gold Cup victory, following a schooling fall last Friday. Certainly neither trainer seemed over impressed with what last year’s winner Long Run, whose price as favourite ranges between 11/10 and 13/8, has done this season.

Pipe suggested that the current champion had become "perhaps a little bit lazy now", and added that Tom Scudamore, who rides Grands Crus was confident he would have won Long Run’s recent prep race.

Nicholls also played down the likelihood of a repeat victory for Long Run, saying, "I'm not convinced he’s trained on this year. He had a lot of races in France when he was three and four years old. If Kauto Star doesn't run, it's quite an open Gold Cup."

He also suggested that Burton Point, trained, like Long Run by Nicky Henderson, would have won the Newbury race in which the two finished first and second had he been trained by any one else. If he's right, then the 7/1 available on Burton Point has to be reasonable value. But not, according to Nicholls, as good value as the 40/1 which Coral and William Hill are still offering on What A Friend, his third placed horse in that Newbury race. That, according to Nicholls is a massive price as his charge "will improve enormously for the run. He's definitely got place chances."