PADDY POWER gold cup preview
Paddy Power Gold Cup Preview
The first big handicap chase of the season and it is a race I look forward to every season.
We have an excellent record in this race over the past 10 seasons, finding the winner 4 times for a 40% strike rate. Those winners were Al Ferof (2012), Johns Spirit (2013), Caid Du Berlais (2014) and Baron Alco (2018).
As many of you will know, Cheltenham is my stomping ground. I walk the course most days with my Dog and by now I should know every inch of the course. I know exactly the type of horse it takes to win around here and it is a place where I am simply at home, quite literally.
My record at Cheltenham over the years is what I would like to describe as up with the best, if not the best in the industry. 12 from 12 Cheltenham Festivals in profit and over 250 points profit, as well as 11 from 12 Cheltenham November Festivals in profit, with over 120 points profit.
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Now time to get to work on the Paddy Power Gold Cup. The excitement is building
What type of horse am I looking for in a race like this?
My general rule of thumb in this race is to find a horse who loves the Cheltenham Hill, will probably stay further and either likes to lead or be prominent, or likes to sit at the back of the field away from the trouble. I try to avoid those likely to be in the middle of the pack as over the years it has been a very messy race and I don’t like to be on a horse likely to find themselves amongst the mess.
Obviously it doesn’t always work out like that as at the same time you have to take in a lot more and it can’t be helped, but the race starts by finding the pace and those who have Cheltenham Form, taking it from there.
Early thoughts on this year’s race?
My early thoughts are that this is a very above average Paddy Power Gold Cup with 7 of the runners rated 150+. The highest rated is Aso, followed by Simply The Betts, Mister Fisher, Al Dancer, Slate House, Happy Diva and Siruh Du Lac.
My racing brain straight away is actually telling me that we are potentially looking at a proper graded race rather than the handicap that the race is described. I feel we should look to the better horses in the field rather than looking for a horse who is well handicapped, as I can’t see how some of these at the top of the handicap, will not be involved. I have said many times this season, when you see a top class horse in a handicap, they often run big races no matter what the weight is.
Are there any horses who are well handicapped?
There are a few horses rated 150+ who I think are well handicapped but none that I feel are well handicapped below 150. Of course a few who are below 150 ‘could be well handicapped’ but none give me the feeling that they ‘are’ well handicapped.
The favourite Saint Sonnet falls into the category of ‘could be’ well handicapped but he has not shown me anything to suggest he is way ahead of the handicapper just yet. Paul Nicholls may have improved the horse massively and given he is just a 5 year old, that may well be the case but on only two runs for Paul Nicholls, he has not set the world alight, certainly not to justify his short price, which is currently 4/1.
Other than Saint Sonnet I don’t feel anything else other than the first 7 in the field come into the ‘could be’ category, which again encourages me further to look at the first 7 in the field
Who has made the shortlist?
I have narrowed the race down to five horses so I will go through all five of them in detail and then draw my conclusion, with final selections at the end of the preview.
SIMPLY THE BETTS
Trainer – Harry Whittington
Form – 13420/1184/11211-
What a season Simply The Betts had last season and what a fantastic job trainer, Harry Whittington done with the horse. He had 5 starts over fences last season, winning 4 times, with two of those wins coming at Cheltenham. His only defeat came at Kempton where he looked to really struggle going right handed, but still stayed on to take 2nd, despite being 20 lengths back at one stage. It was that day I thought he had the potential to be a serious horse as he made mistake after mistake, kept jumping badly left, yet finished his race very well to come home 2nd, which was quite a remarkable performance, going straight in my notebook.
On his next start he went to Cheltenham on Trials Day and won the Timeform Novices Chase, beating a horse called Imperial Aura, who went on to win at the Cheltenham Festival and won impressively last week. Simply The Betts was rated 140, the same mark he was on at Kempton and I tipped him up this day with huge confidence, with a raised stake, as I was sure Cheltenham would be to his liking, given how well ended his race at Kempton and jumped left. He jumped fence to fence that day from the front and was actually headed 3 fences out for a good few strides but when asked to go and win the race, he found loads coming up the Cheltenham Hill, a very honest and game attitude, winning by nearly 2 lengths.
His final start of last season came at the Cheltenham Festival when winning the Brown Advisory Plate. It was pretty much a replica of how he won on Trials Day. Always prominent, headed after last but rallied under strong pressure when he hit the bottom of the hill. This win was off a handicap mark of 149 and it was another big improvement on his previous start.
He now lines up for his first start of the season, as a 2nd season chaser and has gone up the handicap to a mark of 157.
Won twice around Cheltenham (new course)
Battles hard and gets up the Cheltenham Hill
Loves big handicap races
Gone up the handicap to 157
First start of season
Not run on old course
Trainer – Nicky Henderson
Form – 10/2118/72114
The Nicky Henderson trained horse has always been highly regarded by connections and Mister Fisher had a good first season over fences, with two wins from 4 starts.
His season started at Warwick where he was put in his place by Torpillo but followed up with a win on his next start, at Cheltenham, last December, over today’s trip. He then put in his best performance of the season when winning a Grade 2 at Doncaster, beating another of today’s runners in Al Dancer, over 2 miles.
His final start came in the Marsh Novice Chase where he came home an excellent 4th to Samcro and was well fancied. Following the race it was mentioned by Nicky Henderson that they may well have run him in the wrong race and perhaps he should have gone for the Arkle.
This horse certainly has the class and is now a Grade 2 winner over hurdles and fences so is well up to winning a race like this. He comes here on a mark of 155 and if he runs to the form he did in the Marsh, 155 could be a little lenient.
Won around Cheltenham (new course)
Finishes his races off well
Didn’t look a natural over fences last season
Not won first start of season before
Not run well in big field races
Trainer – Nigel Twiston Davies
Form – 2314/11110/12425-1
Nigel Twiston Davies and the team have always spoken very highly about Al Dancer. This is a horse who was sent off favourite for the Supreme Novice Hurdle in 2019, following an easy win of the Betfair Hurdle. He was disappointing that day but the ground was dreadful.
His campaign over fences last season got underway at Cheltenham last October, with an easy win. He then returned to the course for the Arkle Trial where he came home 2nd to Put The Kettle On. That form didn’t look strong at the time but back in March, Put The Kettle On went and won the Arkle, giving the form a massive boost. He then went to Doncaster and came home a decent 2nd to Mister Fisher. His season ended in the Arkle Chase where he could only manage 5th and a step up in trip looked needed.
He has had one start this season when running at Newton Abbot a month ago over 2m 5f, beating a good horse in Master Tommytucker giving him 6lb in weight. That form was boosted yesterday as he went and won at Huntingdon.
Even from the early days, they have always said this horse needed a trip so it was no surprise to see him win when stepped up to a trip. Now up to a handicap mark of 154, if he jumps well enough, he is certainly up to winning off that mark.
Nigel Twiston Davies has won this race 3 times in the last 12 years.
Won around Cheltenham twice (old and new course)
Always felt he wants a trip
Trainer loves this race
Has had a warm up race
Can make a mistake from time to time
Stamina will be tested if he don’t settle
Trainer – Kerry Lee
Form – 58/2F2/325114222/3221121/2B231
A horse who rarely runs a bad race and is very consistent. She won this race last year and was a faller when travelling well in 2018.
She is up to a handicap mark of 151 which is as high as you would want her but she comes here with a run under her belt and has come down the handicap from 153 to 151.
She was 2nd to Simply The Betts in the Brown Advisory Plate at the Cheltenham Festival and she rarely runs a bad race at the course.
When winning this race last year she was rated 143 so is up the handicap 8lb. She is now a 9 year old and you have to question if she is up to improving again with age against her these days.
She has had one run this season and Kerry Lee is shrewd, that run was nothing but a lung opener to get ready for this race.
She should travel well through the race but can often bump into one too good.
Won the race last season
Handicap mark is high
Age is catching up with her
Often bumps into one too good with 15 career 2nds
Trainer – Colin Tizzard
Form – 5/1/1145F8/4528/1F11P6-
Slate House was very unlucky in this race last year. Travelling so well when falling 2 fences out, seemingly having the race at his mercy. He is back this year to try and put it right but is 5lb higher in the handicap.
On his day he is a very good horse and does seem to go well fresh. Last year he was an impressive winner on his first start of the season.
He has had 10 runs over fences and is actually a Grade 1 winner when winning the Kauto Star Novices Chase at Kempton last December, over 3 miles.
He is back in trip here and will be doing a rain dance. If the rain comes on Saturday morning which is forecast it will certainly play to his strengths.
He is a bit hit and miss when he is good he is very good but sometimes you don’t know which horse is going to turn up.
Looked set to win this race last year but was a faller
Has winning form around Cheltenham
Goes well fresh
Handicap mark is high
Will have to cut through the whole field and likely to be held up
What a tough race and I could actually make a massive case for all 5 horses but after thinking about things logically and with rationale, I have made my decision to go with two horses against the field. Those two horses are AL DANCER and SIMPLY THE BETTS.
Before moving on with why I have gone with those two horses let me tell you the reasons why I didn’t go with the others.
Starting with Mr Fisher, I just felt he will come on for the run and the fact he has not won fresh before was a bit concerning. He is obviously a very good horse, who if he runs to the form of his run at the Cheltenham Festival, it would put him bang there but that is a ‘if’. No doubt Nicky Henderson would have liked to have got a run into him beforehand but had to look after his handicap mark. He is also not the most natural over fences although is economical. He comes here rated 155 which is about right for what he has achieved and Nico De Boinville takes the ride. A horse who will sit mid-field and could find some trouble in what is sometimes a messy race. He does not have the best record in these big field races and much of his form is in races, with 5 or 6 horses running. Ultimately if Nicky Henderson has him spot on, he can feature but my racing brain is telling me he will place, come down the handicap 1 or 2lb and then be right for the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, back at Cheltenham in December. For the above reasons I am happy to swerve at the price of 9/2.
Happy Diva won this race last year and was travelling supremely well in the race back in 2018, but for falling late in the race. Would she have won the race if Slate House didn’t fall, two fences out? I guess we will never know but I think Slate House had the measure of her so although she won the race, she did get a bit of a helping hand. She also wandered on the run in and this year the race looks even hotter. She is a very consistent horse trained by Kerry Lee and has had one start this season. That run was nothing but a lung opener to get her spot on for today. I have no doubt she will come here fully tuned but I just don’t think it will be enough against some very classy horses. She has gone up the handicap 8lb since last year so has it all to do at the weights. Having said all that Cheltenham is a course which she clearly likes as she was 2nd to SImply The Betts at the Cheltenham Festival, in the Brown Advisory Plate. She is 3lb better off at the weight with Simply The Betts but I believe he had much more up his sleeve than the winning margin and will confirm that in this race again. I can see her finishing 3rd, 4th or 5th but I just can’t see her winning the race. With all this in mind, I am happy to swerve the 10/1.
Slate House just missed the cut as it was a top up between Slate House and Al Dancer and I just think Al Dancer has that bit more in his locker. I think Slate House has a cracking chance, so anyone who is looking to back him, please don’t let me talk you out of it, he missed my cut by a whisker. He was travelling supremely well last year in this race and looked to have the race at his mercy, but for a fall 2 fences out. It was not even like he made a mistake as he jumped the fence very well, just knuckled on landing. He was rated 147 in this race last year and the performance he was about to put in was on par with his current mark of 152. Yes he is 5lb higher up the handicap this year but I think he is certainly capable of winning off the mark. He actually won the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novice Chase on Boxing Day, albeit a weak race, he still did the job.
The main reason I have left him out is because I think he wants further and if he cant have 3 miles, then he at least wants it to be soft or heavy over 2m 4f, which was the same ground last year. The forecast is ok leading up to Saturday, with a bit of rain on Saturday but nothing drastic, nothing that should turn the ground any worse than good to soft in my opinion. He also is a bit inconsistent. He started last season well but then put in two terrible performances at this course on Trials Day and the Cheltenham Festival. He could actually be a horse to follow early on in the season judging by last year’s form but I am not one to guess at that and have to go with my hunch.
Bottomline is I am very cautious of Slate House and depending on the rain which falls between now and Saturday, I may get involved in the day but for now, I am happy to take him on with SIMPLY THE BETTS and AL DANCER.
We will start with SIMPLY THE BETTS who I am a huge fan of. I just love his attitude and it is an attitude which suits Cheltenham so much. You see all these horses who travel sweetly but find nothing off this bridle whereas SIMPLY THE BETTS finds everything off the bridle. He is just so genuine and when you ask him to race he sticks his head down and gets on with it. I knew he was a serious horse after finishing 2nd at Kempton on Boxing Day. He absolutely hated going right handed, dropped off them by 20-30 lengths but when push came to shove and Gavin Sheehan asked him to dig deep, despite hating it, he stuck his neck out and basically said ‘ok if you must’. I earmarked him that day as the perfect horse for Cheltenham and more so that Cheltenham Hill and how right was I?
His next two starts were at Cheltenham on Trials Day where he beat a very good horse in Imperial Aura and then at the Cheltenham Festival when winning the Brown Advisory Plate, off a handicap mark of 149. In both races he was headed but back to that attitude I mentioned, he stuck his head down and said ‘you ain’t going past me’. He is a very hardy horse the type of horse you want on your side.
He is now a 2nd season chaser and only a 7 year old. He has gone up the handicap 8lb to a rating of 157 which would put some people off but to win a Handicap at the Cheltenham Festival off a huge mark of 149, takes some doing. I think he would have improved massively over the summer, growing and maturing and we could see a Ryanair Chase dark horse in my opinion. He is a very good jumper, likes to lead, very game and just every attribute you need in a horse to win at Cheltenham. I am excited to see how this horse has progressed this season as I think it will be a lot. It is his first start of the season but he goes very well fresh. When coming back from a 60+ day break or more, his form reads 3111 and also won first time up last season.
AL DANCER is a horse who I have been waiting to go over further for some time. He is bred to stay and everything about him screams a stayer, apart from him learning to settle, which is the reason they stayed over the shorter trip. Now a 7 year old he has become a much more relaxed horse and I think this season, over 2m 4f – 2m 5f, we will see the very best of him. He was a winner back in October over 2m 5f, when beating a very good horse in Master Tommytucker and I am sure AL DANCER will come on loads for that run.
He is trained by Nigel Twiston Davies who has won this race 3 times in the last 12 years so is a trainer who knows what it takes to get one ready for this specific race and I imagine it has been the plan for some time.
AL DANCER is now rated 154 which is fair but I think he is certainly capable of being a better horse than that mark and like I said above, the step up in trip will help him do that. He is a good jumper on the whole, who does throw in a bad mistake from time to time but that was over 2 miles and they go much faster over that trip. Over this longer trip he won’t be running to the fences quite as fast, which for any horse is going to help.
He is a horse who likes to track the leaders so should not be too far off the pace. I imagine Sam Twiston Davies will tuck him on the inside rail in around 4th or 5th place and then make his move coming to the 2nd last fence. He has winning form around the course. He is another horse who I think can develop into a Ryanair Chase lively candidate.
SIMPLY THE BETTS 9/2 generally – 1 POINT WIN
AL DANCER 8/1 generally – 0.5 POINTS E/W (5 places Paddy Power and Betfair, 4 places elsewhere)
For Reverse Tricast Purposes add in SLATE HOUSE