2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup Preview

The 2016 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup promises to be one of the finest renewals in many years and for once, the blue riband looks to be the showcase event of the entire Cheltenham Festival with a whole host of potential claims for a new name to be written into the history books with the defection of Coneygree after a setback ruled him out of a repeat bid.

Before last Saturday’s Betbright Trial Chase, last year’s runner up Djakadam was ante-post favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup after an impressive return to action in the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown when slamming his stablemate Valseur Lido by 11 lengths. The son of Saint Des Saints was travelling well within himself on Saturday when meeting the first fence on the far side wrong and taking a crashing fall. Subsequently, the horse returned needing stitches for a superficial wound on his chest and now heads straight to the Gold Cup without another run. This has to be a concern with the horse having looked to be Willie Mullins’ best chance of achieving his maiden Gold Cup winner.

Djakadam’s replacement as favourite comes from the same connections in Vautour who looked the next potential superstar when demolishing the JLT Novices’ Chase field at last year’s Festival by 15 lengths, a performance considered to be one of the finest witnessed by a novice chaser in history.

Both starts this season have come right handed, his first effort at Ascot was workmanlike before stepping up to 3m for the first time in the King George where he looked the winner from a fair way out until Cue Card caught him in the dying strides. Whilst he stayed at Kempton and the likely improvement to come from returning to Cheltenham on better ground, the extra two and a half furlongs has to be a severe question mark as he needs to improve for the extra distance. Based on Kempton, he’s worth opposing.

Vautour’s King George conqueror Cue Card has been a revelation since the treatment of a trapped epiglottis and various other changes at Colin Tizzard’s yard. His Charlie Hall win at Wetherby when well treated at the weights looked a good comeback but he needed to improve plenty for that. That, he did. Betfair Chase day at Haydock was sublime when tanking along on the bridle and firmly putting old rival Silviniaco Conti in his place before producing another excellent effort to deny Vautour in the King George, ensuring the Jockey Club £1 million bonus is still up for grabs in March. It would be incredible were he to follow in Kauto Star’s footsteps and emotions will run high with the sad loss of part-owner Bob Bishop just after Christmas.

Don Cossack still has the title of the highest rated chaser in training but has shown his vulnerabilities on his last couple of starts by not travelling as well as he has in the past through his races, most notably in the King George when losing his position with a circuit to go. It’s to his credit that he was there with a fighting chance at the second last when falling under Bryan Cooper. His last win at Thurles over 2m4f was unspectacular when beating inferior opposition. If he is able to replicate his spring form from last season, he goes with a big chance but his Cheltenham record plus the fact he is untried at the distance raise enough question marks.

From one Don to another. Apart from a blip at Punchestown last season, Don Poli is unbeaten over fences which includes the RSA Chase when powering home up the hill to beat Southfield Theatre by 6 lengths. Also a winner of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle at the Festival, his Cheltenham record and the fact he’s a strong stayer ensures his popularity with punters. However, the concerns must be whether he is able to lay up with a strong pace likely to be set by Smad Place or Vautour and what happens if he hits a flat spot like he did in the Lexus over Christmas.

The main Gigginstown trio is completed by last year’s third Road To Riches who showed no ill-effects of the race when winning easily at Clonmel in November before missing the Lexus due to a slight cold. He ran in the Irish Gold Cup at the weekend and finished in second place but it is worth noting the record of horses coming from this contest to the Cheltenham Gold Cup in recent seasons is poor.

Just like Cue Card, Smad Place is another who has been revitalised for trapped epiglottis treatment and his displays in the Hennessy at Newbury and in the recent Betbright Trial Chase were joys to behold with him doing his best impression of Desert Orchid winging his way over those fences. Alan King has finally committed to the Gold Cup and whilst he is likely to give a bold sight for a long way, you just question whether he is really good enough in a strong renewal to actually win the race.

Cheltenham Gold Cup NRNB

GOLD CUP 2016 NRNB

Djakadam – 7/2
Don Poli – 4/1
Don Cossack – 11/2
Cue Card – 6/1

We may still be a way off this year's Cheltenham Festival but already Betfair have gone Non Runner No Bet on the Gold Cup which means that there is plenty of value to be had for those of you willing to take an early chance.

With 32 entries on the list of potential runners, the final line-up will likely be half that number and will definitely not include the 2015 Gold Cup winner, Coneygree, who unfortunately suffered a set back due to a hock injury prior to Christmas.

One horse who has captured his fair share of headlines over the last few years and who once again is being tipped for Gold Cup success is Cue Card from trainer Colin Tizzard. Having missed the feature race in 2015, he is back with a vengeance and with three back-to-back wins already under his saddle this season, is as short as 6/1 to add the Gold Cup to his tally.

Notable wins in the Charlie Hall Chase, the Betfair Chase and the King George VI Chase have all boosted his chances and jockey Paddy Brennan believes Cue Card has a “massive chance” of landing connections the £1 million bonus in March by winning the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Brennan said: “I think he has a massive chance as Cheltenham brings out the best in him.

“I've been lucky enough to win the Gold Cup before and would pay money to win another one.”

Despite his recent impeccable performances, Cue Card is not the favourite for the Gold Cup. In fact, he is currently fourth on the list with Djakadam taking poll position with odds as short as 7/2.

He finished second last year behind Coneygree and at just six years of age, was the youngest runner in the race. Another year older, hopes are high for Djakadam, one of eight Gold Cup entries from Irish trainer Willie Mullins.

Yes, you read that correctly. Eight Gold Cup entries. That one trainer can have such a staggering number of brilliant horses is enviable though it is highly unlikely that he will actually run more than three or four of them.

The most prominant, other than Djackadam, are Don Poli on odds of 4/1 and Vautour on odds of 6/1.

Looking at statistics to whittle down the potential winner is a useful tool and for the Gold Cup, the following trends have emerged over the last few years:

  • All of the last fifteen winners of the race had previously won a Grade 1 contest.
  • Thirteen of the last fourteen winners were aged between seven and nine, Long Run (2011) was the first 6 year old to win since 1963.
  • Thirteen of the last fourteen winners started in the top three of the betting.
  • Twelve of the last fourteen winners were rated at 166 or higher.
  • Fourteen of the last sixteen winners had won earlier in the season.

It's no surprise that Djakadam ticks all of those boxes and Cur Card only misses out on the age factor.

All that said, there isn't much value in having a punt on a 7/2 favourite so who else should be considered more of a longer shot?

No More Heroes from trainer Gordon Elliott is an interesting horse. Currently at 10/1, he's had three wins this season, most recently at Leopardstown, but his lack of experience will probably tell if he does run. With four other Festival options on the table, I think he will run elsewhere where his chances of success will be higher.

Road To Riches at 12/1 is worth a closer look. He was third in the Gold Cup last year and at nine years of age has already amassed earnings of over £400K for connections. From 12 chase starts he has won 6 and placed in a further 5 which is an excellent record and worthy of an each way bet. He is also entered into the Ryanair Chase.

The odds increase dramatically outside of the top seven in the betting but that's predominantly because as you go through the list many are considered a bit too old to pose a serious threat e.g. Boston Bob and On His Own, while those that are young enough haven't displayed the class associated with Gold Cup winners of the past.

That's not to say that they can't contend, it's just that up against Don Poli, Don Cossack, Vautour, Cue Card and Djackadam, they would have to be on the form of their lives which of course we won't know until the day!

Can Mullins Rule Cheltenham?

It's been 20 years since Irish Champion Trainer, Willie Mullins, first tasted the sweet success of a Cheltenham Festival victory and few at the time could have guessed that he would subsequently go on to become the all-time leading Irish trainer at the Festival, with 33 successes to his name so far.

With a list of horses under his charge that would make even the most ardent fan of National Hunt Racing weep, as well as many a trainer I suspect, Willie Mullins goes into this year's festival with a string of such high quality horses that it's difficult to believe that one man could even train them all.

But despite the success, Mullins is as grounded as ever and takes nothing for granted knowing all too well the potential pitfalls of racing and that on the day it really can be anybody's race.

Speaking to GG.com, Mullins said: “You just hope you don't get a cough or cold in the yard and it's a nervous time, but it's a good nervousness.

“We're looking forward to it as much as we're dreading it. We're looking forward to one or two of the nice horses hopefully winning their races.”

So who has he got lined up for the Festival, which begins next Tuesday, March 10th 2015? Starting with the first race of the festival, the Supreme Novices Hurdle, Mullins has entered an unbelievable 12 runners. To put that into perspective, Paul Nicholls has entered just one!

Of the 12, though many will be withdrawn closer to the time and many have been given multiple entries, it's Douvan who currently has the shortest odds and is the race favourite with Paddy Power on 7/4. In fact, Mullins holds three of the five shortest prices favourites with Nichols Canyon and Shaneshill on 7/1 and 10/1 respectively.

Un De Seaux is the odds on favourite for the Arkle at 7/4, also on opening day, with Hurricane Fly and Faugheen set to do battle in the Champion Hurdle.

And while he may have more race favourites than any of the other trainers, Mullins is all too familiar with the statistics.

“We know they can't all win. I was only thinking in bed what the percentage is of winning favourites on the first day,” said Mullins.

“I keep reading in the paper we have five favourites on the first day. Do five favourites win out of seven races? One or two might get through, we might have a treble if we're really lucky.

“The Supreme favourite normally gets turned over, that's Douvan, who is probably one of our hottest ones.

“It's what we're in the game for, though – to go to Cheltenham with as many as we can muster with a chance.

“As much as I dread it, it's lovely. That's the position we want to be in.”

On day two, Don Poli leads the betting markets for the RSA Chase at odds of 3/1 with Champagne Fever vying for favourite in the Queen Mother Champion Chase on 6/1.

But all eyes will be on the Cheltenham Gold Cup where Road To Riches is currently neck and neck with Silviniaco Conti on the betting markets and Holywell, third favourite and also trained by Mullins, may also be capable of causing an upset on the day.

As so many are so short priced, an accumulator would probably serve very well here.

Value For Sam In The Gold Cup

If you think that Silviniaco Conti, though race favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup 2015, is a little to short on the odds for your liking then how about casting your thoughts to Sam Winner.

An equally worthy Gold Cup contender, and also trained by Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls, Same Winner is currently as big as 25/1 with Paddy Power Bookmakers and according to potential partner on the day, Sam Twiston-Davies, shouldn't be overlooked at such a big price.

Twiston-Davies, who is also set to partner second-favourite The New One in the Champion Hurdle, Dodging Bullets in the Queen Mother Champion Chase and Saphir Du Rheu, who is vying for World Hurdle favouritism, believes that while Sam Winner is far form the Cup favourite, he still has a very good chance.

“I love Sam Winner to pieces and I'm very happy with my mount,” Twiston-Davies said in a Q&A with Racing Post readers on Monday evening.

“I think he's too big a price given his form with some of the horses in the race.

“I think his Lexus form is very good and I think getting him on better ground will bring out improvement.”

With three starts this season including two wins at Cheltenham and Aintree and a third place finish in the Lexus Chase, Sam Winner

The Gold Cup market is headed by Silviniaco Conti who is currently at 3/1, followed by holywell at 8/1 and Road To Riches at 9/1 but other notable entries include Carlingford Lough at 11/1 who looks set to be the mount of AP McCoy in his last ever Cheltenham Gold Cup and Lord Windermere, last year's winner who is on 10/1.

Bobs Worth Ante-Post Favourite For 2014 Gold Cup

Generally ante-post odds are much more favourable the further in advance you decide to wager on them so it is slightly disappointing that Bobs Worth, the ante-post favourite for the 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup is already a pretty dismal 3/1 with Paddy Power bookmakers.

Although I wouldn't necessarily expect to see particularly long odds on him considering he won the Gold Cup already in 2013, 3/1 is pretty mean especially considering that the event still six months away and anything can happen between now and then! And Paddy Power is not alone with Ladbrokes Bookmakers also offering the paltry 3/1.

But if you do fancy the Nicky Henderson trained Bobs Worth and you are looking for slightly better value, then BetVictor is offering him at 5/2, just down from the previous 5/1 but the added bonus is that they have already applied a ‘Non Runner – Free Bet' offer to the race.

Essentially that means should you back Bobs Worth, or any of their other ante-post contenders, and for whatever reason, he doesn't run, then they'll give you your wager back as a free bet so you don't lose out on any of your hard earned cash!

Incidentally, Sir Des Champs from the Willie Mullins yard is second favourite at 7/1 with the Paul Nicholls hopeful Silviniaco Conti third favourite at a general 8/1 ante-post.

And though the 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup odds are pretty low, they will only shorten as the race draws ever closer so we may even look back and think that 3/1 was a bargain!


Photo Credit | Meteorshoweryn

Hill Handed Surprise Gold Cup Entry

Although he is officially rated around 35lbs behind the market principals, David Bridgewater’s recent Ascot winner, Wyck Hill, has been given a surprise entry into the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 16 and been introduced into the tips Cheltenham pages at 40/1, writes Elliot Slater.

Bridgwater already has a genuine contender for honours in the showcase three-and-a-quarter-mile contest in the shape of last year’s gallant runner-up, The Giant Bolster, and believes that Wyck Hill is a similarly progressive horse even though he still has plenty of improvement to find in order to be seriously considered.

Rated only 106 at the start of last term, the nine-year-old made good progress during that campaign, wining on his first two outings at Chepstow and Market Rasen before falling at the third at Newbury. He returned to the Berkshire track a few weeks later to run a solid second to the decent Penny Max but was then absent from racecourse duty for 11 months after meeting a setback in training.

Reappearing at Wetherby in November, the gelded son of Pierre made all the running over the stiff three miles at the ‘A1’ track to beat Fill The Power by half-a-length, and after being raised 13lbs to a new career high mark of 135 followed up at Ascot just before Christmas beating the progressive Katenko by four lengths.

Katenko’s subsequent nine-length victory in the valuable 32Red.com HBLB Handicap Chase at Sandown in early-January prompted his trainer, Venetia Williams, to enter him for the Gold Cup, and Bridgwater feels he would be unwise to exclude Wyck Hill now from that event so has also entered his charge who has been raised to a new mark of 140.

According to Betfair, his next immediate target could be in either the Racing Post Chase or the Sky Bet Chase, while a crack at the John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree in April has not been ruled out either.

2012 Gold Cup Challengers

One of the most eagerly anticipated races in the land, the 2012 Gold Cup is nearly upon us and absolutely everybody is wondering who to back. unless you're a Kauto die hard then you may not be too quick to opt for either favourite, looking instead for better value from some of the other horses in the race.

Here, I go through each horse and it's odds and prospects so that you can maybe back one that grabs your fancy after a little bit more information.

Long Run 2/1 – Last year's winner and this year's race favourite, Long Run will be ridden by Sam Waley-Cohen in a bid to retain his Gold Cup crown. Beaten by a revitalised Kauto Star in King George this Christmas but wasn't beaten far and as arguably the less risky jumper of the two (has never fallen), big chance of winning this again.

Kauto Star 4/1 – Attempting to regain the Gold Cup for the second time and win it for the third, trainer Paul Nicholls has had his work cut out for him getting Kauto to 100% after a recent fall during schooling. Doubts still remain but he is a remarkable horse and adored by the public who will back him to the hilt.

Burton Port 7/1 – Nicky Henderson trained, he was off for some time with an injury sustained in 2012 but came back better than ever behind Long Run at Newbury last month, though he was 10lbs to the good so would need to find that today. This is a much fancied horse with short odds of 6/1, but the time off is a worry although Barry Geraghty will be riding him and he is on fire this week!

Synchronised 9/1 – the Jonjo O'Neill trained, Lexus Chase and Coral Welsh Grand National winner, Synchronised is AP McCoy's big hope for the day. A solid horse with buckets of stamina, he could well put it to the others and is more than used to the weight of 11-10 winning of it at Leopardstown back in December. He may not be a flyer, but he's a grafter and this is a long, tough race so his style is well suited.

Weird Al 10/1 – Donald McCain Jnr is having a fantastic festival and Weird Al is his Gold Cup runner of choice. He is an incredible power house of a horse and rated very highly by the McCain yard. The trainer recently said of him “Solid each way chance, he's in great nick and if he gets to Cheltenham in his current form he'll be more than happy.” Very good chance of a place and at 10/1 the odds are worth the punt.

Midnight Chase 12/1 – From Neil Mulholland comes Midnight Chase, a decent, solid horse who absolutely loves Cheltenham. And while the other trainers have their hands full with multiple entries this week, Mulholland has been putting all of his efforts into Midnight Chase, a one-on-one prep that cold see Midnight Chase upset the party this afternoon. He's a gutsy front-runner and finished fifth in the Gold Cup last year. Connections will be hoping for better this year and with the top two a bit older, this 10 year old may just have it.

What A Friend 16/1 – A good week for Sir Alex Ferguson (unless you count going out of Europe again), with Harry The Viking finished second in the National Hunt Chase, but What A Friend may not fair so well as despite a good run last time out at Newbury he is 10lb worse off today and there's nothing to indicate that he back to his best form.

Diamond Harry 28/1 – Fragile sort whose career highlight came when beating Burton Port in 2010 Hennessy on sole start last season; respectable return behind Kauto Star at Haydock in November before disappointing for second time in as many chase starts at Cheltenham in January; had a wind operation since but needs to return with a career-best by some way if he is to figure and is way too speculative.

Time For Rupert 40/1 – At 40/1, the odds say it all. Hasn't quite gone on as might have been expected after winning well in first two novice chases at Cheltenham last season, but is capable of better than he showed behind Midnight Chase at Cheltenham in January; even his best form leaves him good way short of pick of these, though.

China Rock 50/1 – Without a doubt, does not have the stamina for a race of this calibre, it would take a miracle for China Rock to win or place today. Ran well in last year's Gold Cup before fading and eventually being pulled up with an injury.

Carruthers 66/1 – Won the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in November but even that isn't enough for today's race. He's well short of the required standard and pulled up in his last outing at the Coral Welsh National in December. This will be his third Gold Cup and was well beaten ninth and 30l fourth in last two runnings of this.

The Giant Bolster 66/1 – This race will be too much for The Giant Bolster, both the distance and weight he'll have to carry will hamper him and despite liking Cheltenham and winning here last time out, he was only carrying 10-03 which is a marked difference from the 11-10 he'll be carrying today.

The Midnight Club 66/1 – A strong stayer who is also entered into the 2012 Grand National, trainer Willie Mullins may well be using this as a very expensive prep race as he'll be carrying 16lbs less on April 14th at Aintree if he goes. This could be a test of stamina over the 3m 2f today and with his top speed being a long way off the leaders, I think it'll be a triumph to get him around and ready for the National.

Knockara Beau 66/1 – Out of his depth at this level and still prone to the odd mistake too.

So there you have it – the quick review of the horses running at 3.20pm today. By all accounts, there's about six, possibly seven who can seriously be considered contenders.

Can Kauto Do It Again

If ever there was a horse that grabbed the publics imagination and enthusiasm for horse racing then Kauto Star has to be it. It used to be Kauto V Denman, now it's Kauto V Long Run but does the now 12-year-ld still have what it takes to brush his competition aside and go for his third Cheltenham Gold Cup this afternoon?

The line between joy and despair in horse racing is all too common and seldom will that line seem finer than this afternoon, when Kauto Star emerges to run in his sixth Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup, striving to win back the crown for a second time.

At a recent Cheltenham Preview evening, on the day that Kautos's doubt over injury was announced, a woman next to me was absolutely devastated. Her love for Kauto was unprecedented and she regularly made the long trip to Ditcheat just to see him. Such is the love for this great horse that across the land punters are sticking their hard earned cash on him to once again triumph before he inevitably gets retired.

An inquisitive, cocky and friendly horse, Kauto Star will arrive at Prestbury Park today as the most popular horse in the land with his fans sporting their green, yellow and purple scarfs and banners and nobody wants this fantastic journey to end badly, either through a loss or heaven forbid an injury.

Which begs the question, having recently taken a serious knock during schooling, should he even be running? Now I know that a modern day Gold Cup with no Kauto Star is like The Queens Speech without the Queen, but should our entertainment and unwavering support of this horse override the fact that it might not be in his best interest? It is the elephant in the room that has haunted Kauto Star’s dedicated connections in a doubt-ridden preparation.

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has spent eight years caring for and training Kauto Star and he is only too aware of the pitfalls of this final bid for glory and wondered if it might be a mercy if Kauto Star was withdrawn. “There would be a lot less pressure,” he mused. But then, in true Hollywood blockbuster style this extraordinary horse surprised him with his powers of recovery.

“I know we always have to move on,” he reflected this week. “When See More Business finished, I thought we would be in trouble and it will be the same with Kauto. But it will feel very strange when he’s not there any more.”

Just to run in six Gold Cups is a triumph of constitution but regaining the crown may be improbable. Kauto Star is two years older than any Gold Cup winner since 1969.

But as a very wise Ted Walsh said earlier this week “The great thing about stats is that horses can't read.”

Kauto To Star In Gold Cup

It's been confirmed. Kauto Star has been given the go ahead for Friday's much anticipated 2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup. Doubts surrounding his participation had eased considerably when he pleased Nicholls in a Wincanton gallop last Friday and any remaining doubts disappeared today.

Nicholls said in his Betfair column: “Clive and I have given Kauto Star the green light for the Cheltenham Gold Cup after a very good schooling session on the grass this morning.

“Ruby came over to school him and Kauto was awesome, just as I'd thought he would be.

“He jumped six fences – the plain fence and the open ditch three times each – and he was foot perfect and looked magnificent.

“I have just put the phone down to Clive and, barring any mishaps in the next few days, Kauto lines up for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Friday.

“We are looking forward to it.”

The news has already had bookmakers scrambling to shorten his odds with Paddy Power now pricing him at 7/2 from the 4/1 that he's been for the last week. Long Run still remains the favourite at 2/1 with the nearest rival and 2012 Grand National entry, Burton Port, on 6/1.

Kauto 100%

It's more exciting than ‘Who shot JR?' and has probably had about the same in column inches, but it now looks as if the big hoopla surrounding Kauto Star's fitness level has been put to rest with Paul Nicholls advising that he is officially 100%! Hurrah!

Nicholls said that superstar chaser Kauto Star was “100 per cent sound” following his racecourse gallop at Wincanton on Friday evening. And this morning, speaking on the Morning Line, Nicholls said: “I was very happy with the gallop, it was just what we wanted. He came back last night and was straight into his grub and there's not a bother on him this morning. I'm really, really pleased and he's 100 per cent sound this morning.”

Although it's fantastic news it's not the end of this rather drawn out story. Kauto Star now has to be schooled as a good gallop is not quite enough to convince anybody that he can regain the much coveted Gold Cup next Friday and despite all of the positive ravings coming from Ditcheat, a final decision on his Gold Cup participation is not expected until closer to the race, in fact, under Cheltenham rules, he can withdraw as late as Thursday morning.

“Technically we don't have to make a final decision until the day and we want to school him on Monday morning first but the signs are all good. He appears to be back to 100 per cent normal now,” said the trainer.

Nicholls added: “A week is a long time with horses and the improvement from one Friday to the following is unbelievable. We've still got a week to go and we're very happy, he's in great from. We've all been aiming to get him right and in good shape and we're very nearly there.”

And although connections may be thrilled, the bookies are less convinced with Paddy Power still offering as long as 4/1 on him, the same price as when it was announced he's been injured. If you're an optimist then this is an absolute bargain so get your money on quick!