The will he or won’t he question that has surrounded the participation of warm favourite Unioniste in tomorrow’s Paul Stewart IronSpine Charity Gold Cup Chase (aka the December Gold Cup) was finally settled by heavy overnight rain in the Cotswolds. He will run in the race.
Unusually, the issue was not whether the horse would get the going he needs, but whether any of the horses above him in the weights would not go. The decision had to me made by 0900 this morning to allow Unioniste, as first reserve for the race, to take his place in what will be a maximum filed of 17 runners.
Ferdy Murphy had entered both Divers and De Boitron, although the first choice for both of them is in a handicap chase at Doncaster. With frost still in the Yorkshire ground yesterday, there was the distinct possibility that racing there would be called off. But if it went ahead, and Murphy’s two horses went there, the Cheltenham race would have gone off with less than a full complement.
Murphy had planned to make a decision this morning after speaking to the owners, but was clear his priority was to give the owners the best chance of a run for their horses. In the case of Divers that was quickly sorted out and Mark Ball, of owners Let’s Live Racing tweeted, "Divers taken out of Cheltenham race, thus allowing @PFNicholls Unioniste to run. Divers goes to Doncaster. The rain is landing at Cheltenham, ground wouldn't suit Divers, so it's a no-brainer to allow another runner to race." Shamefully, Boylesports are still taking bets on Divers for Cheltenham.
Unioniste is that rarity, a four-year-old chaser, and although younger horses do predominate in this particular race, if he wins he will be the youngest to do so. He is currently second favourite at 11/2 behind Alan King’s Walkon. He has gained his place at the head of the market after only two novice chases, winning the first at Aintree in October, and then coming home in third place behind Dynaste at Cheltenham last month.
Trainer Paul Nicholls doesn’t see it as any problem that the horse is six pounds out of the handicap, as most of that is negated by Harry Derham’s 5lb claim. Nicholls told At The Races, “Harry's taking 5lb off so he's going to carry 9st 9lb, so it's 1lb away from his mark. He's low down because he got a mark of 137 and a 7lb four-year-old allowance. In effect he's quite nicely in. Obviously with the weight he had it was ideal. Harry takes 5lb off, so 9st 9lb is an attractive weight."
The weight may be fine, but as a betting proposition, surely there no value in Unioniste.