Continuing my series of looking at the major Championship races at this year's Cheltenham Festival, dear reader, today I'm going to take a view on the Gold Cup. And, as the title suggests, I'll leave no stone unturned. (Essentially, if I mention every horse in the race, the statement will be true...!)
As usual, I'll be relying heavily on history to help me read the future, so let's get stuck in:
- 26 left in, as Nozic is not going to run.
- All of the last ten winners, and 14 of the last 15, were aged 7-9. Here, we lose Arteea (no hoper), Big Buck's (going for the World Hurdle), Knowhere, Our Vic, The Listener and, perhaps most notably, War of Attrition (former winner, but now ten).
- The last 11 winners had all raced between 2 and 5 times that season. No hoper Cerium is joined by slightly more serious contender Denman, in failing this stat. Others to stumble here are Milan Deux Mille, My Will and Snoopy Loopy, for whom it's been a long and memorable season, but this is a bridge too far.
- 9 of the last eleven winners had won or placed at a previous Festival. The two who didn't were Kauto Star (fell as favourite for the Champion Chase, would surely have placed bar a fall); and See More Business, who was carried out by an errant horse the previous year. This takes out my Halcon Genelardais (4th last year in the race), Imperial Commander, Notre Pere, and State of Play. Just ten left now.
- Now, consider this. No horse previously placed in a Gold Cup has gone on to win the race the following year since 1983. We lose Kauto Star and Neptune Collonges.
- If you don't like that, then consider this: no previous winner has EVER regained his crown after losing it the following year. Can Kauto Star be the first? Possibly, but he's not for this stats man. Eight still in.
- All of the last ten winners had won one of their last three races. This excludes my other ante-post fancy Albertas Run, as well as Air Force One, Snowy Morning, and Star De Mohaison.
The final quartet then are: Barbers Shop, Exotic Dancer, Madison du Berlais and Roll Along.
Roll Along has entries elsewhere and is unlikely to line up here. The other three will all take their chances.
Exotic Dancer was beaten fair and square the last two years (3rd in 2007, 4th in 2008), so I can't have him.
Barbers Shop would be a very popular winner, trained as he is by Tony Hancock, erm, I mean Nicky Henderson (am I the only person who thinks the brilliant trainer is a dead ringer for the, er, brilliant dead comic?); and owned by Her Majesty the Queen. But he's never won better than a Listed chase, and this is a huge step up in class.
Which leaves the enigmatic Madison du Berlais. He had a horror season last year, when he may have been suffering the effects of a very heavy campaign in 2006/7. However, this season, he's won both the Hennessey Gold Cup (which Denman won en route to Gold Cup glory last season); and the renamed re-routed Aon Chase (which Denman also won en route to victory last season).
At around 8/1 (9/1 on Betfair), he looks a belting each way bet. With doubts (in my mind at least) about the Nicholls trio at the head of the market, I reckon we could be in for an upset this year. Although Madison would hardly be that, he would mark an end to the Nicholls stranglehold that's seen him win the last two renewals, and secure a podium clean sweep last year.
Outsiders with a squeak for a place are many and varied. I've nailed my ante post colours to the masts of Albertas Run (for whom all will be in his favour on the day and - though not a fully fledged trends horse - has a great chance as last year's RSA winner) and the slogger Halcon Genelardais (4th last year, will run his race again, but will likely be too slow for these).
One that might be interesting for a small each way bet is Star de Mohaison (e/w). Very lightly raced over fences, he's only been out of the frame once in 9 chase starts (including five wins), and that was when 4th in a quag here in January. The problem is that he is entered in the William Hill Chase as well and may not run here. It would not be the greatest shock however, if the Nicholls 'fourth string' was the one to keep the Cup on the mantlepiece at Ditcheat.
Onto matters nearer to now, and Night Orbit (in whom I own a small share) races at Wolverhampton again today (2.50). He's getting a little disappointing and the jockey booking is not inspiring. At the price, I'll be having a small bet, but only because I'll fume if he wins. I couldn't recommend that you wager the beast, though stranger things have happened. [It's certainly an ordinary enough race!]
Julia also runs Sand Repeal in the opener - it looks a warmer race, and again I'd not be rushing to bet the horse.
Finally, I'm taking advantage of a friend's generosity and have bagged myself a very cheap ski deal (only had to pay for budget airline flights and a lift pass), so posts may be few and far between until next Monday. However, I will have my laptop with me, for email support and - mainly - because I am kneedeep in data for the impending flat turf season (starts March 30th, in case you didn't know). More when I'm back.
Hoping your Monday is somewhere between tolerable and glorious - weather here in London is veritably vernal today!!
p.s. There's some excellent comments on the Champion Hurdle post (click the February archive on the right hand side, and it's 24th Feb); what are your thoughts on the Gold Cup? Do you agree with me about Denman, Kauto and Neptune? Or am I talking through my number-laden hat? Who wins the Blue Riband?