Guest post written by Willy Weasel.
The Paddy Power Gold Cup, formerly the Mackeson Gold Cup, is run over 2 miles 4½ furlongs on the Old Course at Cheltenham, where it forms the highlight of the three-day Open Meeting. This year’s renewal is due off at 2.35 p.m. on Saturday, 17 November, so it’s high time we had a look at the leading contenders.
Favourite, at the time of writing, is David Pipe’s 7-year-old Grand Crus (7/2), who made a highly successful transition to fences last season, winning three times. His victory in the Feltham Novices’ Chase, over 3 miles, at Kempton on Boxing Day marked him out as one of the best novice chasers in the country and, although he could finish only fourth, beaten 18 lengths, behind Bobs Worth in the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival he still has plenty going for him.
It’s interesting to note that six out of the last 10 winners of Paddy Power Gold Cup were 7-year-olds, six out of the last 10 winners were in the first three in the betting and four out of the last 10 were trained at Nicholashayne, one by David Pipe and three by his father, Martin.
Statistics aside, Grand Crus won on his reappearance last November and has won over 2 miles 5 furlongs on good, good to soft and soft going, including over the stiff fences at Cheltenham, so he seems sure to run well if David Pipe has hit fit and ready to do himself justice after being off the course for 248 days.
Keiran Burke’s 7-year-old Hunt Ball (7/1) enjoyed a hugely successful 2011/12 season, winning seven of his nine starts, including the Pulteney Land Investments Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. He rose fully 85lbs in the handicap last season and he’s due to race off a mark another 3lbs higher here, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can remain competitive off a career-high mark after an absence of 219 days.
Philip Hobbs’ 7-year-old Walkon (14/1) finished just half a length behind Grand Crus in the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and reopposes on 14lb better terms, but it would be fair to say that, on the whole, he became disappointing after a promising start over fences last season. It would be folly to dismiss him out of hand, but he’s probably best watched until he shows something like the form that enabled him to record two Grade 1 wins over hurdles.
Martin Keighley’s 7-year-old Champion Court (14/1) has 7 lengths to find with Grand Crus on their running in the Steel Plate and Sections Novices’ Chase over course and distance last November, but reopposes on 7lb better terms and appears to have improved in the interim. Indeed, he finished a respectable second in both the Jewson Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, behind Sir Des Champs, and the John Smith’s Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree, behind Silviniaco Conti, on his last two starts last season.
Sir Des Champs is best priced at 6/1 favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, while Silviniaco Conti is best priced at 16/1 for the blue riband event after routing a field that included last year’s fifth and seventh, Time For Rupert and Midnight Chase, in the Bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby last Saturday.
It’s worth noting that Champion Court had already run twice before over fences, while Grand Crus was making his seasonal debut, and his debut over the large obstacles, when they met over course and distance last November, but Martin Keighley’s charge must have reasonable prospects of reversing the form. He’s never won beyond 2 miles 5 furlongs, so soft going may put pressure on his stamina, and he, too, is returning from an absence of 218 days.
Nick Williams’ 7-year-old For Non Stop (10/1) finished 9 lengths behind Champion Court in the Jewson Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and reopposes on 7lb worse terms. However, For Non Stop at least proved his well being with a 23-length demolition of Philip Hobbs’ 9-year-old Wishfull Thinking (25/1) and ten others in the Betfred Monet’s Garden Old Roan Chase at Aintree last week, so there may not be as much between them as the weights suggest this time around.
Andy Turnell’s 8-year-old Michael Flips (16/1) finished 16 lengths behind Champion Court and 7 lengths behind For Non Stop in the Jewson Novices’ Chase, but meets those two on 9lb and 16lb better terms, respectively. He ran a promising race in the Byrne Group Handicap Chase at Ascot last Saturday, showing up well before making a mistake at the third last and fading to finish fifth, beaten 9¼ lengths. He should be better for the run, his first since last March, but still looks to have work to do to trouble the principals here.
Upper Lambourn trainer Nicky Henderson has sent out eleven winners in the last fourteen days and clearly has his string in rude health, so it would be unwise to leave his 6-year-old Nadiya De La Vega (16/1) out of calculations for the Paddy Power Gold Cup. Two 6-year-olds have won the race in the last ten runnings and the mare stayed on well to win the Betvictor.com Handicap, under A.P. McCoy, over 2 miles 4 furlongs at Cheltenham two weeks ago. She’s be raised 8lb for that success, but acts on good, good to soft and heavy going and may have some improvement in here.
Similarly, it would be unwise to leave champion trainer Paul Nicholls out of calculations. The Ditcheat trainer has a handful of entries, the best of which may prove to be the 7-year-old Al Ferof (16/1). He’s 3lb better off for the neck he beat For Non Stop in the Markel Insurance Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown last December and, although he failed to add to that win last season, he’s unexposed at this trip and is another who could easily find more improvement after just five starts over regulation fences.
On reflection, Champion Court was in the process of running an excellent race when unseating his rider on his seasonal debut at Perth last September, so probably doesn’t need much getting ready. He’s better off at the weights with Grand Crus this time around, likes to make the running and jumps well enough to lead the field a merry dance around Prestbury Park. All in all, he looks pretty good value at 14/1 to win the Paddy Power Gold Cup, perhaps on the way to better things.
In the absence of the Martin Keighley-trained pair, Champion Court and Havingotascoobydo, who were declared non-runners earlier in the week, the likes of Grand Crus, Hunt Ball and, perhaps surprisingly, Walkon, have all been well backed in the ante post market for the Paddy Power Gold Cup. However, the two that have proved their fitness and well-being are For Non Stop and Nadiya De La Vega and they look the value bets against the field.
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