All eyes will be on Cheltenham this weekend, and today’s piece focuses on Saturday’s BetVictor Gold Cup.
The Grade Three began life as the Mackeson Gold Cup and was first run in 1960. Starting as a two-mile chase, the trip was upped to 2m4f in the late 60s. Martin Pipe is the most successful trainer with eight victories, seven of those coming in a devastating spell from 1996 to 2005.
In recent years Jonjo O’Neill (3 wins), Nigel Twiston-Davies (2) and Paul Nicholls (2) have all enjoyed plenty of success in the race. Seven-year-olds have a terrific record of late, with six wins from the last 10. Indeed, the race tends to go to a progressive young chaser, often in their second season over the larger obstacles.
Despite the race often attracting a large field, upsets have proved rare. Only one of the last 10 winners could be described as unfancied, though in that period only one favourite has struck gold. As is often the case at the Home of Jump racing, previous track experience is a huge positive. Seven of the past 10 winners had previously won at Cheltenham. This racecourse is a unique test, and many horses fail the strenuous examination.
The favourite for Saturday’s renewal is top-weight Kylemore Lough, now trained by Harry Fry. Lumping just shy of 12 stone is often a reason to dismiss a horse in such handicaps, but last year’s winner carried 11-11, and four of the last 12 winners have coped with more than 11 stone on their back. This fella has enough Cheltenham experience, and appears to act on the track, though he’s finished fifth in his last two visits. He came close to winning the Caspian Caviar Chase last December (now 2lb lower), and a repeat of that performance would see him go extremely close. Can Fry get more out of him than Kerry Lee? I’m a fan, and I fancy he’ll run well.
The Alan Fleming-trained Tully East is next best in the betting. A second-season chaser, he won at the Cheltenham Festival in March, when ridden beautifully by Denis O’Regan. He travelled like a dream that day and appeared to win with something to spare. Nevertheless, he’s 10lb higher in the handicap, and though he has the right profile, he’ll find this race much tougher to win. He’s a player, though I worry about that handicap mark. Another concern is the poor record of Irish raiders.
Paul Nicholls has a couple of entrants, and both are prominent in the betting. Le Prezien has track winning form, though was runner-up on his last visit, when finding Foxtail Hill impossible to pass. The pair had a mighty tussle in October at two-miles, though the extra half-a-mile should prove no obstacle. The pair are handicapped to finish side by side again, and you’d fancy both will go close. They’re tough to separate.
Nicholls’ other hope is five-year-old Romain De Senam. He’s won his last two, but is up 6lbs and will find this tough. He was runner-up in the Fred Winter of 2016, and probably should have won that day. The track and trip look ideal, and Nicholls took this race in 2014 with Caid Du Berlais, also aged five. I can see him getting outpaced coming down the hill, but I fancy he’ll be finishing well. He has the right amount of experience, but I worry he’ll have too much to do turning for home.
Ballyalton is an interesting contender. Back from injury, the Ian Williams-trained 10-year-old tuned up for this with a promising run over hurdles at Aintree. He won over course and distance at the Cheltenham Festival of 2016, and clearly enjoys his trips to Prestbury Park. He’s on a competitive mark, though his age is a negative based on the trends. Only three horses over nine have won the race.
The Pipe team have an outstanding record, though David has only managed the one success. Starchitect is two from seven over fences, and has a fair bit to find on Foxtail Hill, from their run at the course in April. Though talented, I don’t think this fella is quite good enough to win in this company.
One that is on a steep-upward curve is Jamie Snowdon’s Double Treasure. The six-year-old beat Two Taffs last time, though the runner-up was having his first outing of the campaign. He’s progressed dramatically over the Summer, but needs to find more if he is to be competitive here. Despite his four wins on the bounce, I fancy this could be a step too far.
There’s a couple I quite like at a price for the each-way punters out there. Theinval is trained by Nicky Henderson and was incredibly consistent during his first season over fences. He has some decent pieces of form to his name, especially the second-place finish to Cloudy Dream at Ayr in April. The sensational Fondmort won this race for Henderson in 2003, and this fella has a far better chance than his 25/1 odds suggest.
Another that interests me is the Twiston-Davies second string Splash Of Ginge. He rarely wins over fences, but his handicap mark has fell through the floor since the dizzy heights of 2015. He’s run well at Cheltenham in the past, and his last performance was encouraging. More rain would help, though I’m still tempted.
Greedy I know, but I’ll be backing three in the race. I fancy Nigel Twiston-Davies could have a day to remember, and I’ll be taking Foxtail Hill to win. He looks incredibly tough and is two from four in recent visits to the track. I’ll also have a little on Splash Of Ginge in the hope that the track and an eye-catching handicap mark spark a revival. Finally, I’ll be putting a couple of quid on Henderson’s seven-year-old Theinval. I’m convinced he’ll go close, though I do worry about his ability to cope with the famous hill.
Best of luck to all those having a punt.