Cheltenham Gold Cup Preview

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The biggest race of the week, The Cheltenham Gold Cup. It is the race that all trainers want to win. If you are not an avid horse racing fan then you may be surprised to know that Willie Mullins has not won the race yet.

I think it takes the ultimate horse to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup as it is a very tough race. You have to jump, stay, battle and have an attitude only the best horses have. If you are not a mentally tough horse this race will find you out.

You only have to look at Coneygree, who never came back the same after winning the race in 2016. It looks to have broken Might Bite this season, although he did finish 2nd last season rather than win it, and even the great Denman had his problems after winning the race. Of course, this is not the case for all horses, as Kauto Star and Best Mate, just to name a few, came back and did the business. I guess the point I am trying to make is that the race is not for the faint-hearted, and horses who win this race give their absolute all because of the winning attitude they have. They are special horses who have the will to win and a will to get their head in front.

Last year the race was won by Native River, and he beat Might Bite by simply getting up the hill better than Might Bite. It was an amazing race to watch as both took each other from the word go. They were horses who were simply having the time of their lives, taking each other at every fence but when the going got tough, it was Native River who broke Might Bite.

We have to start with last year’s winner, Native River, and assess his chances this year:

Odds are correct at the time of writing 1 pm, Thursday 7th March

 

NATIVE RIVER – best price 6/1

He is the perfect Gold Cup horse who stays forever and has all the heart in the world. He will make it a true test of stamina and try and break his rivals as he did last year. The one thing you have to ask is what has last year’s run taken out of him? It was a very hard race last year and his style of running over the years may have left a mark. In his career he has run in two Gold Cups, finishing 3rd in 2017 and 1st last year. So far this season, Native River has had two starts, finishing 2nd to Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase at Haydock and then 3rd in the King George Chase to Clan Des Obeaux at Kempton. In the King George, he was flat out all the way the around, yet still, run on for 3rd. The course did not suit him either and the trip of three miles on a flat track was a bit sharp. Saying that, over a further two furlongs he would still be closing on the leaders so you have to take the positives out of the race. He has not run since but was due to run in the Denman Chase at Newbury before the race was cancelled, because of the Equine Flu. The race was transferred to Ascot but they bypassed that race because it was right-handed. You could look at the negatives that he has not run since December but last year he only came into the race after one run last year and won the Gold Cup. Could it be that he is better fresh, as last year he won the Denman Chase after being off the track for 11 months? Any rain that falls will be a bonus and I am sure Colin Tizzard will be doing the rain dance. He will be doing everything to make this as much a stamina test as possible and Native River must have a huge chance of repeating last years win.

 

PRESENTING PERCY – best price 7/2

Last year’s RSA winner who has not jumped a fence in public this season. He has had one run this season when winning over hurdles and he did it convincingly, but as far as jumping fences, the closest he got was gallop over the fences at Galway. I have so much respect for this horse after being on him at the last two festivals when he won the Pertemps Hurdle in 2017 and the RSA Chase last season. Both wins at Cheltenham were very impressive so we know he likes it around there, and the test of 3m 2f in the Gold Cup is sure to suit. Regardless of how much of a test Native River makes it, you would have to think it will suit Presenting Percy, as he was a winner of the Porterstown Handicap Chase over 3m 5f last season, carrying top weight. The question I keep asking myself is whether a horse can win the Gold Cup without jumping a fence, one day I say no and the next I am coming around to the idea. This is all down to who his trainer is, Pat Kelly. Pat Kelly is a trainer who does not like to give an interview and keeps himself to himself. He just gets on with things and is a master of getting a horse ready for the big day. He has had a winner at the last three festivals and that is from just a handful of horses. I am still a bit undecided on Presenting Percy, but given Pat Kelly does not have many horses, I am sure outside of the course, Presenting Percy would have had perfect preparation. He has been avoiding good ground all season as the reason for not running over fences and on that evidence, the more rain the better. He has been wrapped in cotton wool and if he wins Pat Kelly is simply a genius.

 

CLAN DES OBEAUX – best price 4/1

The surprise horse for many this season, but it is all down to Paul Nicholls who has been so patient with him over the years. I actually remember him saying really early in his career that Clan Des Obeaux is a future gold cup horse. He made his debut over fences as a four-year-old so even then you could see the signs of making a Gold Cup horse were firmly in place. From October 2016 it has been a long two and a half years, but credit where it is due to Paul Nicholls, who saw something all those years ago and it has been a three-year plan to where he is today. He had six starts over fences as a novice and won two races. Last season he had his problems but did get in four starts, three of which were before Xmas. He then went to Aintree last April and was 3rd to Might Bite in the Mildmay Chase. He travelled well throughout and it has only come out recently that Nicholls said he knew he had a good horse, as he was not even fit that day but got within 8 lengths of Might Bite. His first start this season was in the Betfair Chase where you could see from the ride Harry Cobden gave him at the back of the field, it was a learning curve and they clearly had bigger plans. He still ran a nice race but just got tired late on. He then went to the King George and was top class in beating Thistlecrack by one and a half lengths. He jumped amazing that day and travelled like a horse who had finally put it all together. He then went to Ascot and beat Terrefort by 11 lengths, and it was after this performance I knew he was the finished article. He was just everything you would want in a racehorse at Ascot. He jumped, he travelled and put the race to bed in strides. Terrefort is a decent horse and he murdered him. A few question marks around his form at Cheltenham, where he has finished 2nd 3 times but I don’t think it was the course that got him beat, just that he is a completely different horse these days. Paul Nicholls is very bullish about this horse and he knows a Gold Cup horse, having won it four times.

 

KEMBOY – best price 9/1

Kemboy is another horse who has improved massively this season. He is also a seven-year-old like Clan Des Obeaux and is trained by Willie Mullins. It will be interesting to see if Ruby Walsh picks him or not as that could be a tip in itself. He has won his last four starts which includes the Lexus Chase on his last start. He beat Monalee that day and it was a big improvement on what he had done in the past. If he continues to improve he would be in with a chance but I just think this may come a year too early for him and his jumping will need to improve.

 

MIGHT BITE – best price 14/1

Might Bite finished 2nd in this race last year, and if the same horse arrives here this year he will be in with a great chance. The trouble is he has not looked the same horse and that race last year has looked to have broken him. He finished last in the Betfair Chase back in November and then put in another shocker in the King George Chase, a track where he has always been at his best. Might Bite has had a wind operation since and the reports from Nicky Henderson are that he is back to near his best, and his work has been good at home. Personally, I think his best days are behind him and with the rain forecast, that won’t help his chances. You could argue that at 14/1 he is overpriced but that would only be hoping he is back and not from what we have seen so far this season.

 

BELLSHILL best price 14/1

The winner of the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown last month and a very good jumper. On his penultimate start, he was 4th to Kemboy in the Lexus Chase. He did look better than ever last time out, but it is hard to read how good that form is as, for one, only four runners took part and two, the runner up Road To Respect did not jump great that day and forfeited lengths at quite a few fences. Bellshill also has a bad record at Cheltenham and missed last years festival with the reason being ‘Cheltenham is not his track’. I also feel the ground will be against him, as he is by Kings Theatre who’s horses normally want better ground.

 

THISTLECRACK best price 16/1

A people’s horse and I don’t think many would begrudge this horse winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He is a former King George winner, a former World Hurdle winner and was 2nd in this season’s King George behind Clan Des Obeaux. In his prime, he was a serious horse and still has to be respected. My worry with Thistlecrack is the odd mistake he makes over fences, I just don’t think Cheltenham suits him over fences. I also think a fast run Gold Cup will test his stamina. I would love to see him win but at the age of 11, I just can’t see it happening.

 

ROAD TO RESPECT best price 16/1

Road To Respect finished 4th in this last year, on ground which was against him. If it came up decent ground he would be in with a lively chance but with the forecast, that is not going to happen. His season got off to a flyer with an impressive win at Gowran Park. He then finished 3rd in the Lexus Chase despite having a troublesome run, and was beaten a short head to Bellshill in the Irish Gold Cup last time out. He does like Cheltenham, having won at the festival in 2017 ,but for me is very much ground dependent. Could not rule him out of a place but is prone to the odd error which could cost him.

 

AL BOUM PHOTO best price 16/1

I would not be surprised in the slightest if Ruby Walsh chose to ride this horse. He needs soft ground to be seen at his best and looks likely to get it. I know the vibes from the Mullins yard are positive about this horse and is another who could sneak a place. He was a faller in the RSA last year behind Presenting Percy, but looked held when falling and would have finished 3rd at best. He has only had one run this season when winning at Tramore on New Years Day. He did give Total Recall 10lb that day and a six-length beating so it was a fair effort. He is only a seven-year-old so has plenty of improvement to come but I just can’t see how he turns the form around with Presenting Percy from last years RSA.

 

Of the rest…

Three horses I would like to mention at big odds here and I will start with:

ELEGANT ESCAPE (25/1) who is a thorough stayer. With the pace likely to be strong from the off and the ground soft, you could find this one staying on for a place. Is prone to the odd mistake but I wouldn’t totally dismiss him with the tactics likely to suit him down to the ground.

BRISTOL DE MAI is another horse who is way overpriced at 33/1. He won the Betfair Chase in good fashion at the start of the season and although Haydock is his track, he does go well fresh. He has not run since the King George which means he will be fresh and the ground will be in his favour. Could easily place at big odds.

ANIBALE FLY was 3rd in this race last year staying on strongly to the line and with the same type of race and conditions, he is a big price at 25/1. He ran three weeks ago at Gowran Park and was 2nd to Monalee. That looks a nice prep run.

 

CONCLUSION

I will be honest with you, the race is still one week away and lots can change in that time. My early thoughts are that this race is going to be run exactly the same as it was last year. I think Native River will go out from the front and Nicky Henderson will also want Might Bite to be close by.

If Native River wants to win it for the 2nd time in two years, he has to use his stamina that he has in abundance. That is the only way he will be able to win and it is the only way you can ride him. The ground will play to his strengths and I don’t think you can have a bad word to say about him apart from the lack of a recent run. He is still a decent price at 6/1 in my opinion given he won the race last season but my only worry is, what mark all these hard races have left on him. It is not like he is a horse who travels well throughout and all his career, he has had the kitchen sink thrown at him in all starts. Regardless of my thoughts on whether those races have left a mark, he is a hardened horse with loads of guts and determination and if he jumps the last in the lead, I am not sure anything will get past him.

This year you do have some new kids on the block, so there is every chance Native River could set the race up for a strong traveller. In last year’s Gold Cup, Might Bite was travelling all over Native River but did not find much at the business end. Lots of people will have different opinions but I believe Might Bite did not see out the 3m 2f on the ground. I also feel this year’s Gold Cup is hotter than last years race. Nothing against the 3rd from last year Anibale Fly, but you would be disappointed if some of the new boys could not beat that horse by eight lengths this year like Native River did last year. The more I think about it and the more I analyse the race, the more my conclusion is he had the run of the race last year. I don’t think they will allow him to have it all his own way this year as certain jockeys will be told, you need to get Native River out of rhythm, whether this works, we will find out on the day.

I am happy to leave out Might Bite on the basis that he is not the same horse and coming into the race on the back of a wind op can hardly be ideal, and not something you can be confident has worked. Kemboy is another I am happy to leave out along with Bellshill and Al Boum Photo. Once again I don’t think it will be Willie Mullins year.

Road To Respect wants better ground and Thistlecrack as much as I would love him to win, I just can’t have him staying on this ground. Anibale Fly is simply not good enough so that leaves me with four horses, PRESENTING PERCY, CLAN DES OBEAUX, ELEGANT ESCAPE and BRISTOL DE MAI.

As much as I think Bristol De Mai is overpriced he never seems to run a race anywhere but Haydock.

 

Final Thoughts…

This is not original in the slightest but I am not here to be original, I am here to make a profit for everyone and use all my expertise and knowledge. I can only go over how I see the race being run in my head and this is how I see it.

The way the race is going to be run is fast and furious with Native River leading the charge. He has no other way of running so that is pretty much a given. Native River won’t just have the likes of Anibale Fly and Road Respect trying to get to him this year, instead, he will have much better horses in PRESENTING PERCY and CLAN DES OBEAUX who are very sweet travellers.

Both horses will be able to get plenty of cover and both horses are very good jumpers.

Some may say PRESENTING PERCY has not jumped a fence in public this season so has to be negative. I agree with that but I think that would be a problem if Presenting Percy had shown signs of jumping problems in the past. He has not shown a single sign of jumping problems in his career and has been foot perfect. So, my answer to that is yes it is not ideal, but he is also an excellent jumper and would have done plenty of schooling. The way he won the RSA last year was sensational. He travelled at the back of the field and got plenty of cover and when asked to get closer and take up the running, he went away from the field like a superstar. I will never forget how easily he won last year and straight away, like many others, I said that is next year’s Gold Cup winner. Davy Russell is a master in the saddle and, like last year, he will sit at the back off the field on the first circuit and get closer and closer as the race goes on. He is a thorough stayer so no matter how fast Native River goes, I can’t see how he gets Presenting Percy off the bridle. He has won over 3m 5f carrying top weight so no problems with 3m 2f, and if anything it will be better than the three miles in last year’s RSA. Presenting Percy has also won at the last two festivals so he absolutely loves it around Cheltenham. Just to recap the only reason I would have a problem with Presenting Percy is that he hasn’t jumped a fence in public, nothing else but I also don’t have any qualms with his jumping. Pat Kelly is a master at getting a horse ready for the big day and they will have him tuned to the minute. The perfect Gold Cup horse, and it will take a good one to beat him.

Now on to CLAN DES OBEAUX who has been brought along for three years over fences for this day. Paul Nicholls knows how to get a horse to win a Gold Cup and on top of that, his horses are flying. CDO has been simply breathtaking all season. He won the King George in good style and it is worth pointing out that he won in a faster time than all of Kauto Star’s wins, on ground described as good to soft and also faster than Cue Card’s win on the same ground. I am not comparing Kauto Star and CDO but I am pointing out that the clock tells me it was a very good performance. He then went to Ascot and won easily in very good fashion. He looks like the finished article now, and that is a testament to Paul Nicholls and his patience with the horse over the years. He jumps for fun and travels so smoothly through his races. He will get plenty of cover and is sure to be involved at the last fence. The one thing playing on my mind with this horse is if he is neck and neck with, PP or NR he could get outbattled, but at the same time could easily have slipped the field going to the last fence which we will soon find out.

The other horse who I think will run a huge race is ELEGANT ESCAPE. He is not the finished article and I think this race is going to be run perfectly for him. The ground will be in his favour and when others have had enough he will be running on and will get up the hill better than anyone.

 

My first three for the race are…

1st – PRESENTING PERCY
2nd – CLAN DES OBEAUX
3rd – ELEGANT ESCAPE

I hope you have enjoyed the read and hope you can see the work goes into our selections. We don’t always get it right, but at the same time we never leave a stone unturned and have come away from a festival with a profit for the last 10 years.

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