The Cheltenham Gold Cup is not only the pinnacle of the Cheltenham Festival but arguably of the entire jumps season (3.20pm Friday). We have last year’s winner in the line-up and plenty of new challengers hoping to bag the lion’s share of the £550,000 prize fund.
Nicky Henderson has saddled two of the past three Gold Cup winners and is double-handed this time. He was hoping for drying ground for both his horses and has got it. The current title-holder, the nine-year-old Bobs Worth is the clear favourite at 13/8 for good reason. He beat Willie Mullins’ Sir Des Champs by seven lengths last year in unsuitably soft ground. He had to be pushed along to keep up in the mud, got hampered three out and still forged clear when it mattered.
He appeared to need the run on his debut this season, finishing 40 lengths behind Colin Tizzard’s Cue Card in the Grade 1 Betfair Chase at Haydock in November. His jockey, Barry Geraghty, sensibly eased him when he was obviously not going to place. He was on much better form on his reappearance at Leopardstown a month later in the Grade 1 Lexus Chase. He stayed on well to beat Mouse Morris’ First Lieutenant by a length and a half. We predictably have not seen him since. Henderson describes him as ‘quite a fragile person’. However fragile, he is the highest rated horse in the race and is unbeaten in his five runs here. He has to have serious claims.
His stablemate, the seven-year-old Triolo D’Alene (10/1) is rated 22lb lower than him but is obviously progressive. Henderson described him last weekend him as a ‘genuine contender’ if the going is close to good on the day. That looks very likely and unfortunately his price has already contracted dramatically.
He was last seen winning the Hennessy at Newbury (on good ground) at the end of November, beating Paul Nicholls’ Rocky Creek by nearly three lengths, having been sent off at 20/1. In his only other outing this season he was third by nine lengths to Venetia Williams’ Houblon Des Obeaux in the Grade 3 Gold Cup Handicap Chase at Ascot four weeks earlier. That was over three miles and he looked to need further.
His course form is unimpressive. He finished mid division, 29 lengths behind Hunt Ball in a two and a half mile, listed novices’ handicap chase at the festival two years ago. He was the youngest horse in the race and was entitled to weaken in the closing stages. It was the venue of his seasonal debut in November 2012 when he pulled up on unsuitably soft ground and didn’t come to hand until the following March. He is a natural jumper who has never fallen. He won the Topham at Aintree last year under Barry Geraghty. AP McCoy has been booked to take the ride.
Henderson’s arch rival, Paul Nicholls, saddles the 3/1 second favourite, Silviniaco Conti in the hope of gaining his fifth Gold Cup win. Rated 177, just 3lb lower than Bobs Worth, he is a class act. He was last seen winning the Grade 1 King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, beating Cue Card by three and a half lengths. That was on soft ground.
He has won lesser contests over three miles on good ground but his only other Grade 1 win was on soft at Haydock in the Betfair Chase in November last year. He beat Henderson’s Long Run by two and a half lengths.
On the positive side we can trust Nicholls to have him cherry ripe and he looked to be going well in this race last year when he fell three out. The stamina test posed by this race could play to his strengths but good ground is not in his favour. Noel Fehily partnered him in both his runs this season and takes the ride again here.
Jockey Tom Scudamore (pictured above) says he will be ‘gutted’ if he finishes outside the first three on David Bridgwater’s stable star, The Giant Bolster (16/1).The partnership was runner-up two years ago, a couple of lengths behind Jonjo O’Neill’s ill-fated Synchronised. Last year they were fourth, nearly 16 lengths behind Bobs Worth.
Now nine-years-old, this gelding put in three lacklustre performances earlier this season. He started by finishing more than 40 lengths behind Cue Card in the Betfair Chase. After unseating Scudamore in a listed chase in December he ran in a handicap hurdle here on New Year’s Day but finished nearly 50 lengths behind the winner. Desperation was setting in and a hood and visor were tried for the first time in the Grade 2 Argento Chase. They appeared to do the trick. He beat Paul Nicholls’ Rocky Creek by seven lengths. Bridgwater said after the race that if he had not run well a racehorse re-homing centre was next on the agenda. He has never looked good enough to take a decent Grade 1 but seems to be at his best here. He may well live up to Scudamore’s expectations and run into a place.
Venetia Williams, like Henderson, has two runners this year. Unfortunately both of hers, like the majority of her string, tend to thrive in mud. Katenko (50/1) and Houblon Des Obeaux (66/1) can probably be safely ignored unless someone goes overboard with the watering.
Philip Fenton, who is lucky to be able to send out a runner after being caught with banned substances on his premises, would also have preferred a soft surface for his fragile nine-year-old, Last Instalment (7/1). Owned by Michael O’Leary, he was last seen beating Nicholls’ mercurial Tidal Bay by eight and a half lengths in the Grade 1 Irish Hennessy at Leopardstown in February. It was only his second run since missing a season through injury.
Before his tendon problems he put together a string of four consecutive wins including two Grade 1 novice chases at Leopardstown. In one of them, over three miles in December 2011, he beat First Lieutenant (also owned by O’Leary) by six lengths on good ground, suggesting he can perform on it. He has never crossed the Irish Sea before. If he copes with the travelling and the undulations of Prestbury Park, he stands a realistic chance. Connections have warned that he may be withdrawn on the day if the ground continues to dry out. O’Leary’s retained jockey, Bryan Cooper, is booked to partner him.
First Lieutenant (11/1), another nine-year-old, is more robust and will run whatever the ground. We haven’t seen him since he finished nine lengths third to his stablemate in the Irish Hennessy. In his previous run he was runner-up to Bobs Worth in the Lexus. He has run well but proved expensive to follow this season. He hasn’t got his head in front since he won the Grade 1 Betfred Bowl Chase at Aintree in April last year. He had Philip Hobbs’ Menorah nearly a length behind him and Silviniaco Conti a further length back. That was on good ground.
If he can rekindle that standard of form he has a very good chance. He is a proven performer at Prestbury Park, winning here three years ago and finishing second to Cue Card in the Ryanair at the festival last year. In 2012 he was runner-up to Bobs Worth in the RSA Chase.
The top Irish trainer, Willie Mullins, has never had a Gold Cup winner and On His Own (20/1) seems pretty unlikely to provide him with one even though he comes into the race on the back of two wins. The latest was in the Grade 2 Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse in February. He beat Gordon Elliott’s Mount Benbulben by 12 lengths. Both wins were on soft ground.
Now ten-years-old, the last winner of his age was Robert Alner’s Cool Dawn in 1998. On His Own ran at the festival three years ago in the four-miler and pulled up. Despite the presence of Ruby Walsh, others have stronger claims.
Cheltenham Gold Cup Betting Tips
Bobs Worth looks to be the one they all have to beat but is unappealing at 13/8. Paul Nicholls’ Silviniaco Conti may run well but represents no value at his current price with relatively fast ground in prospect. We have to pick a horse that has performed well here and succeeded in Grade 1 company on a sound surface. Mouse Morris’ FIRST LIEUTENANT fits the bill and is our Cheltenham Gold Cup betting tip each-way, best priced at 11/1 with BetVictor.
Fiona Derek is our Reality TV and horse racing expert. The only time you won’t find her riding or mucking out a racehorse is when she is watching Reality TV or racing on the box.