Irish raiders lead the Cheltenham Gold Cup betting market but the drying ground should help the chances of the home team’s Cue Card (4/1) in the highlight of the Festival (3.30pm Friday, Channel 4).
The likely conditions have probably contributed to the decision of Gigginstown’s jockey Bryan Cooper to partner Don Cossack, now the 3/1 favourite, rather than Willie Mullins’ mud-loving Don Poli (4/1).
Don Cossack’s shrewd young trainer Gordon Elliott is adamant that this nine-year-old will benefit from faster ground than he usually finds in Ireland. He had been considering cheekpieces for this race but thinks he will not need them on good ground.
Soft ground did not stop Don Cossack winning well last time out in the Kinloch Brae Chase in January but he was rated so far above his three opponents that he should have won pulling a cart. He took his first two outings this season easily too but they look like donkey races compared to this field.
Don Cossack encountered serious opposition in the King George over Christmas but fell two out when staying on with a convincing challenge. His best bit of form is probably his victory in the Punchestown Gold Cup (run over three miles one furlong) last April. He beat Djakadam seven lengths and had a below par Cue Card a further eight lengths behind him. The extra furlong here may well be in his favour but his form at Prestbury Park is a concern. He was the favourite in the Ryanair last year but was beaten eight lengths and hit the deck in the RSA in 2014.
In contrast the seven-year-old Don Poli has won both his runs here even though they were on good ground. He took the RSA last year and was the 12/1 winner of a handicap hurdle in 2014. He is rated 9lb below his stablemate but course form really counts. Don Poli has been successful on his two starts this season. He beat Many Clouds four lengths at Aintree in early December despite a slipping saddle. Three weeks later he had to work hard to beat First Lieutenant half a length at Leopardstown.
Don Poli is entered in the Grand National suggesting that Mullins has confidence in his stamina. He certainly does not waste any energy in his races. Cooper often has to get to work on him long before the finish. Davy Russell has no problem getting active and will partner him.
Mullins’ stable jockey Ruby Walsh rides last year’s Gold Cup runner-up Djakadam (7/2) for the deep-pocketed Riccis. They are desperate to win this race and recently insisted that Vautour, the King George runner-up with questionable stamina, would line up too or stay in his stable. Their last minute change of plan provoked such outrage on social media that the ‘fat cat in a hat’ issued an apology and paid out all the punters who had backed Vautour with his bookmaking firm as if he had won.
Djakadam was only beaten a length and a half by Coneygree on the soft ground as a six-year-old and would be better suited by similar conditions this time. He won well on heavy on his seasonal debut at Punchestown, beating his useful stablemate Valseur Lido 12 lengths in December. He was last seen falling here in the Cotswold Chase in January under Walsh. Djakadam needed more than 20 stitches to repair the injury he sustained to his chest. Fortunately the wound was high enough that Mullins could keep him moving (albeit slowly) whilst the cut healed. Djakadam also hit the deck in the JLT at the 2014 Festival under Paul Townend. His 33% completion rate here does not inspire much confidence.
The assistance of Walsh is a big positive but fastish ground does not seem to suit him. The extra speed will probably put his jumping under pressure too.
A horse who is usually happy jumping at a pretty furious pace is Cue Card (4/1). He finished closer to the resurgent Champion Chase hero Sprinter Sacre when he was in his ‘chaser from the gods’ phase than any other horse. Cue Card used to make the odd mistake but he has never hit the deck. He was well beaten twice by Don Cossack last season but he could not breathe at the time so that form is probably best ignored.
Cue Card (aka Crackle) is unbeaten since his life-changing breathing operation to free his trapped epiglottis last year. The entire yard has enjoyed unprecedented success since it was relocated to a new, purpose-built stable block on the crest of a hill that is well above the sheds that house dairy farmer/trainer Colin Tizzard’s (pictured) herd of cows.
Tizzard has admitted that the perennially damp old stables probably compromised the health of all his horses and that investing in new premises was the best thing that he has ever done.
Putting Paddy Brennan on Cue Card was not a bad idea either. They have formed a solid partnership and have taken the Charlie Hall Chase, the Lancashire and the King George this season. The first two victories were reassuringly effortless but the King George on Boxing Day was a worrying, whip-ban inducing slog. We will only know after this race if Cue Card is unmarked by that effort or if he will stay the extra two furlongs. His solid course form and the drying ground aid his chances. Cue Card’s connections will pick up a £1m bonus if he wins the Gold Cup.
The only other horse with realistic hopes of making the frame is Alan King’s nine-year-old grey, Smad Place (10/1). He was beaten nearly 30 lengths by Coneygree last year but is now rated 15lb higher. This season he has Hennessy and Cotswold Chase wins under his belt but was beaten 16 lengths in the King George. I suspect that he needs testing ground to slow the opposition down in top class company. He looks unlikely to get it but can probably be relied upon to jump a clear round and might well fill a minor placing.
Our Preview’s Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase Betting Tip
It is a strange state of affairs when British hopes rest with a dairy farmer to take on Ireland’s top trainers. Elliott and Mullins are formidable forces but their charges have significant chinks in their armour.
Don Cossack’s course form makes him difficult to follow with confidence whilst Don Poli and Djakadam could both struggle with conditions. Un De Sceaux’s defeat demonstrated their significance.
- The distance is a slight concern for Cue Card but he is a proven Cheltenham performer and the good ground should help him get it. Our preview’s Cheltenham Gold Cup betting tip is to back CUE CARD to win at current best odds of 4/1 with Bet365, Ladbrokes, Betfred and Coral.