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“The Pinnacle of the Cheltenham Festival, THE GOLD CUP”
Last week we had the unfortunate news that Sizing John would not run in the Gold Cup and would not defend his crown. It is obviously a big blow for all connected to the horse and I wish him a speedy recovery.
This years Gold Cup is an ultra competitive race and with the ground likely to be at best ‘soft’ possibly even ‘heavy’, this is going to be one of the most gruelling races we have seen in many years.
How will the race be run?
With Might Bite in the field and Native River you know for sure they won’t be hanging around. I can’t see Native River giving Might Bite an easy time up front as in the conditions Native River can only maximise his chances by making it a true test.
Will Might Bite stay the distance on this ground? Will Native River do too much and blow up at the end of the race? Will the race be set up for a horse who comes from off the pace?
So many questions you have to ask yourself and all sorts of angles need to be taken into consideration.
Below I have gone over all the horses who made my short-list and gone into detail why I can or can’t have them. I hope you enjoy the read and any comments are welcome.
No better place to start than with the favourite:
Obviously has a huge chance and as Ruby Walsh said earlier in the week he has the potential to be one of the greats but at 3/1 I am happy to take him on. Personally I think this ground will be against him and I really don’t think he will stay the trip in this ground. If it was good ground then fair enough but I think a lot of people are really underestimating how hard it will be, to win a gold cup from the front, in the worst ground at the festival in over 20 years. He is setting out to do all the donkey work and try and hold all the other horses off. If he maintains the gallop from the front and gets up the hill, I will take my hat off to the horse and he would’ve finally won me over. Until then I am happy to take him. I still have doubts about how Cheltenham suits and what will happen going up the hill. How will he handle being paraded? This race is much different to the RSA Chase. I also don’t think his form in the King George is that strong. Beating Double Shuffle (who hit every fence) by 1 length is hardly top class form. I do respect the horse and he is very talented but combine his quirks with the ground and the lead up to the race this could easily go horribly wrong for the horse. On that basis my money will definitely be going elsewhere.
The money is flying in for this horse and come the day I think he will go off favourite. Everything is in his favour and he is going to absolutely love the ground. His trainer Colin Tizzard believes he has had the perfect preparation for the race after winning the Aon Chase at Newbury last month. He won in very good fashion that day but for me he beat Cloudy Dream who was never going to stay 3 miles in that ground. He also beat another of todays runners in Saphir De Rheu but he was not 100% after coming back from an injury. Yes the performance was easy on the eye but he was entitled to win the way he did against a non stayer and an unfit horse. I just wonder if they had Native River too fit for his first run and maybe they should’ve left a bit more in the horse. It won’t be the first horse Collin Tizzard has misjudged with how far along they are. Native River is also going to try and go from the front and could get in a battle with Might Bite for the lead. Will this do either horse any favours? Again I respect the horse and on paper he has everything in his favour but a little voice in my head is telling me he is not quite good enough and will finish in the frame.
Can Jessica Harrington be only the 2nd trainer to win back to back gold cups with two different horses, in consecutive seasons. Paul Nicholls was the first with Kauto Star followed by Denman and Jessica Harrington has a decent chance with Our Duke. I respect her as a trainer so much, she really knows her horses inside out and is a genius at getting them spot on for the day. He does have everything in his favour and although he has never been to Cheltenham the course should suit with the undulations. The concern I have with this horse are his first two starts of the season when beaten in the JNWine Champion Chase (sent off 5/6) and then in the Irish Gold Cup (sent off 9/4). He did make a bad mistake in the Irish Gold Cup but I think he was fading at the time anyway. He also made a mistakes in the JNWine. He won his last race which was the Grade 2 Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park where he again made several mistakes. With a perfect round of jumping he would be in with a shout but I am afraid any mistakes around here and it is game over against horses like this.
It will interesting if Ruby Walsh rides Killutagh Vic and the vibes are he will. I think the horse is Willie Mullins best chance of winning the gold cup for the first time, out of all his horses running in this race. He is a 9 year old who is actually very lightly raced. He was off the track for over 700 days between the start of 2016 and end of 2017. Killutagh Vic made his return over hurdles at Punchestown on New Years Eve and it was a nice introduction over the smaller obstacles. He won easily enough and it was a nice way to return. His latest start was in the Irish Gold Cup where jumped really well all the way around but he fell at the last fence. He was virtually still on the bridle coming to the last fence and had he jumped it he would’ve won by many lengths, I have no doubts. Had he won as easily as he looked to be going, would he be a 9/1 chance? I also don’t get why Our Duke is ahead of him in the market when he would’ve walked all over that horse in the Irish Gold Cup had he stayed on his feet. This will only be his 4th start over fences which is obviously a slight concern and many say his jumping is not up to scratch. I have watched all his replays and he is actually a very sound jumper just made a mistake at the last fence on two of his 3 starts. A lack of concentration but he will learn from his fall last time out. All in all I have no problems with his jumping. Now on to the ground which again will be no problem. I think he needs soft ground to be seen at his best. He has also won at the Cheltenham Festival before when winning the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle in 2015. That was also on the New Course which the Gold Cup is run on. The hill will be no problem as he is proven up it. Last question is will he stay the trip? I think he will have no problem whatsoever. To still be on the bridle after 3 miles in the Irish Gold Cup tells me he would get 4 miles.
Of The Rest……..
I am happy to leave out Road To Respect as I believe he wants better ground.
Definitely Red has a big chance and is quite a nice price at 14/1. He stays, he jumps and he loves the ground. He also won at Cheltenham last time out. He should get a nice position just off the leaders and is a bit of the forgotten horse in my opinion.
I can’t have Total Recall as I don’t think he is classy enough. He is improving and the vibe is good from the yard but I just can’t have a horse who was rated 130 last year, winning a gold cup the year after.
Minella Rocco should have the race set up perfectly for him. They will go fast in front and he will be staying on at the end. I am just unsure about the ground and think he needs good ground to be seen at his best. At 20/1 he could be worth taking a chance though as at the last 2 festivals he has won the 4 miler and finished 2nd in this race last year. Both times finishing in front of Native River.
Djakadam will run a big race but I can’t see why this year will be different after finishing 2nd in the race twice and 4th last year.
So that is my shortlist now I will move on to my conclusion.
The race is going to be run won and lost on stamina in my opinion. If you have question marks about you staying the trip then those horses are best left alone. This is going to be a gruelling race and you will need to stay 4 miles never mind 3m 2f. Might Bite is going to go out from the front and will be closely followed by Native River. Native River may even try and get Might Bite out of his comfort zone and really try and test his stamina. I have no problems with Native River staying in this ground but I do worry if he will set it up for another horse who is running on and has saved something through the race.
For the above reasons and the fact both horses are 3/1 and 4/1 (time of writing) I think it is worth looking elsewhere.
KILLUTAGH VIC would be my first choice. I am pretty sure Ruby Walsh is going to ride him and for me is the perfect horse who can pick other horses off throughout the race. Ruby will have him midfield throughout the race and just let Might Bite and Native River take them along in front. I imagine he will get lots of cover before making his move between the 3rd last and 2nd last, before they hit the bend. Because he has had cover throughout, he will still be on the bridle and just before the 2nd last fence Ruby will ask him for a big one in which he will take up the lead. He will then be booted into the last and up the hill he goes. Might Bite and Native River will fade up the hill and will fight out the places with Definitely Red.
JPW Racing Tipster prediction for the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup: