Paul Nicholls’ Southfield Theatre is 7/1 favourite to take the Bet365 Gold Cup Chase at Sandown today but this is a wide open race with some interesting Irish challengers (4.10pm Saturday on Channel 4).
Southfield Theatre needs to show much more than he has so far this season. In his three starts he has finished last twice, beaten over 40 lengths by Coneygree here in November and was beaten 56 lengths by Don Poli at Aintree in December having acquired a tongue tie. If Nicholls had not had a slow start to the season we would suspect the wheels had fallen off this promising chaser. Southfield Theatre was the runner-up in the RSA last year, beaten just six lengths by Don Poli.
We last saw this eight-year-old son of King’s Theatre hitting the deck at the Cheltenham Festival. He was brought down when making progress (without a tongue tie) through the field in the Ultima Handicap Chase. So why is he the favourite? As Vicente proved in the Scottish National, Nicholls’ horses have hit form. Three of his stablemates scored at Ayr last Saturday as well. On Sunday all four Ditcheat runners at Wincanton won. For once Nicholls’ horses are relatively well handicapped.
Nicholls also saddles Just A Par (20/1), who won this race on good ground last year off a mark of 140 under Sean Bowen claiming 3lb. This nine-year-old is now rated 148 but benefits from Harry Cobden’s 5lb claim. In late March he finished second in a three mile handicap chase at Exeter on good. If conditions were similar and he had not run in the National I would fancy him. He was eased after the last and finished nearly 150 lengths behind Rule The World.
Willie Mullins is keen to take the British trainers’ title and sends out Measureofmydreams (12/1) for Gigginstown. This eight-year old was the joint favourite in the Scottish National but came to grief at the third. Previously he finished third in the four miler for amateurs at the Festival under Katie Walsh with Vicente eight lengths behind him. Measureofmydreams took the lead three out but was outpaced rather than outstayed by Minella Rocco and the subsequent Grade 1 winner Native River.
Measureofmydreams has scored twice this season on heavy ground in Ireland. If he is undamaged by his fall at Ayr he ought to run well and his chances of bagging serious money have been given a significant boost by the heavy rain on Friday night. He is the choice of Gigginstown’s main jockey, Bryan Cooper, and could be a serious contender.
Mullins also saddles Sir Des Champs (25/1) for Gigginstown. He was out the back in the National when he took a heavy fall at the Chair under Cooper. Mullins mentioned before the race that this 10-year-old had been working particularly well at home recently. In his previous two runs in Grade 1 company in Ireland he had been well beaten and we still do not know if this he retains his ability after leg problems kept him off the racecourse for two years.
Back in 2013 Sir Des Champs won the Punchestown Gold Cup and was runner-up to Bobs Worth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Both those races were on soft ground. He is now rated 19lb lower and has the assistance of the National winning jockey, David Mullins (pictured). If the Aintree fall has not left marks it would not be a surprise to see him outperform his stablemate.
In contrast Henri Parry Morgan’s (9/1) mark has soared from 122 to 149 since his trainer Peter Bowen decided to try a tongue tie. It was first used at Chepstow at the end of February. Henri Parry Morgan cruised to a 10 length victory in a three mile handicap chase on soft.
A 13lb hike did not stop him in a similar contest at Uttoxeter in mid March. He won by 15 lengths having been eased by Sean Bowen. Most recently he acquitted himself well in the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree, he was beaten three lengths by Native River. This eight-year-old has an admirable attitude and looks likely to benefit from an increased trip but the attentions of the handicapper make this a big ask.
The Young Master (8/1) is yet to score this season but he finished a creditable third in the Ultima last time out. That was over three miles one furlong and he stayed on well when it mattered under Sam Waley-Cohen. Back in January 2014 he won over two furlongs further on heavy ground at Sedgefield in a handicap hurdle.
This seven-year-old has more solid credentials for getting the distance than most and he should be able to perform off his current mark. His shrewd trainer, Neil Mulholland, was considering the Welsh National for him at one point and thinks he may be a better horse over longer trips. The Young Master has been known to make the odd jumping error – he unseated his new jockey Sam Waley-Cohen at the first in the Hennessy. If he copes with the unique jumping challenge posed by Sandown he should run well.
Mulholland also saddles Carole’s Destrier (12/1), the winner of the London National over course and distance in December. This eight-year-old son of Kayf Tara has had a wind operation since and was not seen until he lined up with his stablemate in the Ultima chase. He never looked to be travelling and was struggling at the rear of the field when he blundered badly and was pulled up five from home. If Mulholland has Carole’s Destrier back in good order, he has strong claims.
His nine-year old stablemate, The Druids Nephew (16/1) did not jump well in the National and was pulled up after the 20th fence. In his previous run he finished second, 10 lengths behind The Last Samuri at Doncaster in March after a three month absence from the racecourse. He seems best when fresh and it is difficult to fancy him after such a quick turnaround on ground that is likely to be testing.
Colin Tizzard’s Theatre Guide (16/1) was also last seen in the Ultima chase, falling heavily under Paddy Brennan. The pair scored in their previous outing in the Betbright Chase at Kempton at the end of February beating Harry Fry’s Opening Batsman 10 lengths off a mark of 139. They were runners-up to Smad Place in the Hennessy. Theatre Guide’s mark has gone up 11lb since his impressive Betbright win. Sandown and this distance will be a first for him but the stable is in good form.
Hadrian’s Approach (16/1) won this race two years ago for Nicky Henderson. This accident prone, fragile nine-year-old has only raced four times since. He was last seen making a hash of the first fence in the National, unseating Nico de Boinville for the second time. He unshipped de Boinville in the 2013 Hennessy too.
Hadrian’s Approach finished midfield, 15 lengths behind Theatre Guide in the Betbright on his seasonal debut, looking rather one-paced but not without ability. He was unlikely to make it home on the testing ground at Aintree and would have had better chances without the rain here.
One horse who should thrive if the rain has got into the ground is Kerry Lee’s Bishops Road (16/1). He was last seen unseating Jamie Moore at the first in the Topham and is consequently coming into this race fresher than most. Previously trained by Henry De Bromhead, he won here in fine style in January for Lee in a two and a half mile handicap chase on heavy off a mark of 130.
After being raised a stone he followed up with a stunning performance at Haydock in a National trial at Haydock in February in mud off a mark of 144, beating David Pipe’s Broadway Buffalo nine lengths. His mark has been raised 10lb since but this eight-year-old is open to further improvement and should enjoy conditions.
Our Preview’s Bet365 Gold Cup Chase Betting Tip
This race is a particularly tough call for punters. Paul Nicholls’ stable form makes Southfield Theatre a worthy but vulnerable favourite on his show so far. Plenty of others have serious claims on recent form but their prices reflect that.
Superior value looks to lie with the Mullins second string, Sir Des Champs, who is well-handicapped and is proven on soft. He has the assistance of an ultra-confident jockey who knows how to ride a staying chase too.