The Real Whacker puts Gold Cup hopes on the line at Cheltenham

Patrick Neville is optimistic The Real Whacker can re-establish his Gold Cup claims in the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday.

The eight-year-old won each of his three starts over fences at Prestbury Park last season, completing his hat-trick with a thrilling victory over Gerri Colombe in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at the Festival in March.

As a result The Real Whacker headed into the new campaign as one of Britain’s leading Gold Cup contenders – and while he has not troubled the judge in two starts so far this term, Neville believes he can show his true worth this weekend.

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“He’s all ready to go and we’re looking forward to it,” he said.

“We’ve had a great run with him. He came out of the King George fresh and well and we’re very happy.

“I’m hoping the ground dries out a little bit, but it is what it is.”

The Real Whacker was pulled up on his reappearance in Cheltenham’s Paddy Power Gold Cup in November before making late gains to finish fourth in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Neville’s stable star is now as big as 66-1 for the blue riband, but the North Yorkshire-based Irishman is not giving up on his Gold Cup dream.

The Real Whacker and Patrick Neville last week
The Real Whacker and Patrick Neville (Ashley Iveson/PA)

He added: “I wouldn’t take any notice of his first run (of the season), it was only a starting point for him really. It probably wasn’t the proper race to run him in, but we had to start somewhere.

“We were happy enough with the run in the King George and happy with how he came out of the race, so we’re hoping for a big run on Saturday.

“He is better on better ground, but we couldn’t be happier with him and he’d want to be showing up well there on Saturday and giving a good account of himself (to go for the Gold Cup). I think he will.

“We’ve had a clear run with him, so I’d be happy there’s no ifs or buts with him.”

The Real Whacker’s rivals include the Venetia Williams-trained Betfair Chase hero Royale Pagaille, rerouted here following the abandonment of last week’s Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock, while star novice Stay Away Fay bids to give trainer Paul Nicholls a sixth Cotswold Chase success.

Stay Away Fay on his way to victory at Sandown
Stay Away Fay on his way to victory at Sandown (John Walton/PA)

The latter has plenty to find on ratings following just two chase starts so far, but the Ditcheat handler is rarely averse to a challenge.

He told Betfair: “He won the Albert Bartlett with a brilliant performance at this track in March and I’ve been thrilled with his progress as a chaser this season.

“He has taken really well to fences, winning both times and is a strong stayer who will gallop all day.

“He is schooling smartly, looks fab and worked great on Thursday morning, but I appreciate that he is in at in the deep end in this and has it all to do. I’d rather run him this weekend than wait three weeks for Ascot (Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase), which is a bit close to Cheltenham.”

Last year’s winner Ahoy Senor is back to defend his crown, but has a bit to prove having been pulled up on each of his two starts so far this term.

Jamie Snowden’s Datsalrightgino, on the other hand, lines up off the back of a career-best performance when landing last month’s Coral Gold Cup at Newbury under an inspired Gavin Sheehan.

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“We thought we would try going up in trip in a big race like the Coral Gold Cup and thankfully it all paid off,” said Snowden.

“This was a race that I earmarked after Newbury. He has got to step forward again coming out of handicap company as he won the Coral Gold Cup off 148, so this is a different kettle of fish.

“Off a mark of 159, it does make life tough in handicaps. If we are not up to Gold Cup class then we will probably have to look at decent handicaps, which could include the Grand National.”

Capodanno in action at Punchestown
Capodanno in action at Punchestown (Niall Carson/PA)

The Willie Mullins-trained Capodanno, last seen finishing a distant third behind Gold Cup-winning stablemate Galopin Des Champs in Leopardstown’s Savills Chase, completes the field.

Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “It’s a very competitive race, but Capodanno ran a cracker at Christmas behind Galopin Des Champs.

“Last season he just got held up a few times, but he was a Grade One novice chaser and we thought rather than banging heads with Galopin Des Champs again (in next weekend’s Irish Gold Cup) and maybe Fastorslow, this race might be a cleverer choice.”

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