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Cheltenham Gold Cup preview

And finally, it's the heavyweight battle of the year, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Has it lost anything in the absence of Thistlecrack? Maybe the absolute star quality but what we have now is a proper contest.

Taking on the challenge is sharp cookie and regular contributor, Dave Stephens, @davestevos. You can read more of his work on his blog.

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Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup
Grade 1, £575,000, about 3m2.5f
Cheltenham Friday 1530 local, 0230 AEDT


After three tremendous days of action with no shortage of thrills, spills and bellyaches, the big day has finally arrived. The one that every owner, trainer and jockey wants to win is the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and this year’s race looks a particularly open renewal.

Ever since Thistlecrack fell by the wayside it has been Native River and Cue Card battling it out for favouritism, but the likes of Sizing John, Djakadam and Outlander won’t go down without a fight. Only one horse priced up at bigger than 8/1 has scored since 2007 (Lord Windermere at 20/1) so it has usually paid to stick with the market leaders. Read my thoughts on the race below.

The Main Contenders
Cue Card
Age: 11yo Official Rating: 170 Odds: 7/2 (prices as available on Thursday morning)

If there was to be a fairytale winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Cue Card would fit the bill perfectly. Colin Tizzard’s evergreen 11yo has thrilled racegoers down through the years, but this is the one prize that has eluded him. He was travelling well under Paddy Brennan in last year’s renewal when falling, but it was too early to say whether he would have beaten Don Cossack. He looked as good as ever when beating a middling field last time at Ascot, but the stats are against him on Friday.

No horse older than 10yo has won this race since What A Myth scored in 1969, and Cue Card has yet to win beyond three miles on anything other than a flat track. That being said, he will love the ground and he is bound to be travelling well half a mile from home. However, it is when they hit the hill that the real questions are asked, and I remain to be convinced that Cue Card has the answers. I would love to see him win and it would be great for racing, but in reality I can’t see him finishing in the first three.

Native River
Age: 7yo
Official Rating: 168
Odds: 7/2


The second of the Tizzard horses, and this 7yo son of Indian River has been talked up as a potential Gold Cup winner all season. He earned his only Grade 1 win last April at Aintree in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase, and he gave a sign of things to come with a brilliant win in the Hennessey back in November. Native River then went on to produce another fine effort when winning the Welsh National off top weight at Chepstow. He has serious stamina, but stamina alone won’t win you a Gold Cup, as you need a turn of foot too.

He beat Bristol De Mai and Le Mercurey last time, and he was only just over 3L ahead of Le Mercurey. I am not sure about the level of that form and there can be holes picked in a few of his efforts. In the Hennessey, a fast finishing Carole’s Destrier just failed to reel him in, and it was the same story with Raz De Maree in Wales. He jumps well and will gallop all day, but whether he has the required touch of class and turn of foot to win on the likely good ground remains to be seen. The jury is still out for me, and he has it to prove against the calibre of opposition he faces on Friday.

Djakadam
Age: 8yo
Official Rating: 165
Odds: 4/1

Forever the bridesmaid and never the bride, Djakadam is back for his third crack at the Gold Cup and plenty fancy him to make it third time lucky. It is hard to believe this fella is still only an 8yo, and he has found only one too good in the last two renewals. Don Cossack beat him last year, and it was Coneygree back in 2015. Rich Ricci and Willie Mullins endured a torrid first couple of days at the festival, but a win in this race would make up for all of that. Mullins has yet to win a Gold Cup, one of the few remaining prizes that has eluded him during a stellar career.

He claims to have had a perfect preparation with Djakadam for the first time heading into this race, but he was beaten by Outlander (and Don Poli) on his last outing at Leopardstown (24f yld). Incidentally, Outlander was one of the horses moved from Mullins’ yard to Gordon Elliott by Gigginstown, so if he were to beat Djakadam it would be particularly hard for Mullins to stomach. However, Djakadam ticks a lot of the right boxes, and he got to within 3 lengths of the mighty Don Cossack last year. He has the ability to figure at the finish, but he may well just come up short again.

Sizing John
Age: 7yo
Official Rating: 167
Odds: 10/1

Sizing John has had to play second fiddle to Douvan at the festival for the last two years. He was runner up behind him in the Arkle last year, and he was third behind him in the Supreme in 2015. The fact that Sizing John was able to run so well in those 16f contests show that he is a horse that has natural speed, and he proved he has plenty of stamina too with his victory in the Irish Gold Cup back in February at Leopardstown.

He held off the late challenge of Empire Of Dirt for a famous win, and given that the ground was soft for that 24.5f contest he should be fine over 26f on better ground. Jessica Harrington immediately nominated either the Ryanair or the Gold Cup as his festival target after that race, and I think she made the right decision to go for the big one. It is rare enough that you have a horse good enough to even run in the Gold Cup, let alone have a proper chance, so it makes sense to seize the opportunity when it arises. If his stamina does hold out, he has the turn of foot to go very close.

Outlander
Age: 7yo
Official Rating: 168
Odds: 10/1

This 9yo son of Stowaway has been there or thereabouts in plenty of Grade 1 contests in recent seasons, and he catapulted himself into the Gold Cup picture with a commanding win at Leopardstown in December. He travelled strongly on the yielding ground, and both Djakadam and Don Poli couldn’t cope with his finishing burst. He ended up beating those two rivals by over two lengths, and that piece of form would give him every chance on Friday. His new trainer Gordon Elliott won it last year with Don Cossack, and he would love to do it again with this lad.

The big worry with Outlander is that he has failed to fire on both previous visits to the Cheltenham festival. He was sent off at just 4/1 in the Neptune, but he never figured and trailed home in sixth, six lengths behind the winner Windsor Park. Last year he fell in the JLT when still there with a chance, so his experiences of the festival have not been good. He cannot be discounted for his in form stable, but I think that Gigginstown would have had a better chance of winning if they ran Empire Of Dirt. A big run would come as no surprise, but his previous course form is the big worry.

The Best Of The Rest

Although the stats suggest that the market leaders usually dominate, there are a couple of interesting ones at bigger prices that could run well. Champagne West has won here twice over shorter distances, and he produced a career best last time when hosing up in the Thyestes on bottomless ground at Gowran. However, he has been pulled up on his last two visits to Cheltenham, including in the Ryanair last year, and unless the heavens open I can’t see him winning.

The JP McManus pair look to be up against it too, but if I had to back one of them it would probably be More Of That. I fancied him to run well at Leopardstown last time, and he was bang there with every chance when falling at the last. I am not sure how well he was actually going at the time though, and it is debateable as to how much he would have found at the finish. Minella Rocco has also had jumping issues on his last couple of starts, while Bristol De Mai was firmly put in his place by Native River last time.

Verdict

Cue Card would be one of the most popular winners of this race of all time, but I just can’t see him staying up the hill. As an 11yo the stats are against him, and he may have to give best to his younger rivals. Native River will likely try and gallop them into submission like he has on previous starts this season, but that won’t be as easy on the likely good ground. Outlander has failed to produce his best on his last two visits to the festival, so that leaves us with Djakadam and Sizing John.

Djakadam has the strongest Cheltenham form of the whole field, and any worries about the condition of the Mullins’ horses were dispelled by a fabulous four-timer on Thursday. He has found only one too good in the last two years, but he may have to settle for second place yet again as I think Sizing John could be the one to be on here. He has solid festival form, and he got within seven lengths of a peak condition Douvan here over 2 miles so he won’t be found wanting for toe. He showed he stayed last time, he will enjoy the ground and at odds of around 10/1 I think he has the necessary credentials to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Stevos’ Prediction:
1. Sizing John
2. Djakadam
3. Native River

Comments

  1. Aah nice pick. Shoulda came here first.. Went for the outsider Bristol Demai. Think it's still running.

    ReplyDelete

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