Tuesday 16 March 2010

Cheltenham Festival - Gold Cup

It’s 3:20pm. Friday. 19th March.

A silent anticipation veils the commentator’s cry: ‘They’re off!’ as thousands of eager race goers cheer their approval at the start of the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The highlight of a National Hunt Festival attracting the attention of the racing world, there has been much rhetoric about this being a ‘Clash of the Titans’ with Paul Nicholls being the envy of many a trainer, represented by four runners including the colossal talents – Kauto Star and Denman. With a host of challengers to test their mettle, a 12-strong field compete for this Grade 1 Chase over 3m 2f110y on expected good to soft ground, making this is a race to savour offering plenty of horse racing betting opportunities. But who will prevail over the twenty-two fences? And is it simply a matter of how far will Kauto Star win?

The contenders:

Calgary Bay, an imposing horse and sole representative of Henrietta Knight (trainer of triple Gold Cup winner Best Mate) and ranked amongst the outsider, priced 66/1. This bay gelding by Taipan has something to prove even after winning ‘smoothly’ over 3 miles at Doncaster last time. A course winner with total prize earnings of only £70,000 indicates much more is needed here.

The talented Mark Bradstock, who handles a relatively small string of horses, trains Carruthers. The Old Manor House Stables will be hoping for a big effort from this talented seven-year-old. The Lord Oaksey Partnership has something to find against Cooldine on last year’s running in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham and faces this extended trip for the first time. This youngster has a stiff task at this grade but deserves his chance and will have supporters at 50/1.

For all of his successful years’ training, Noel Mead is still waiting for his first Gold Cup win. Casey Jones is generally a consistent gelding, however, at 66/1 this doesn’t look the most obvious horse to give Mead his first taste of victory in this illustrious race. (NR)

After being completely outclassed by Kauto Star and Denman et al in last year’s Gold Cup, Cerium is by all accounts there to make up the numbers.

Cooldine is clearly a horse with ability and an interesting contender for the Gold Cup. After staying on strongly to take the RSA Chase over 3m 1/2f at the Festival last year, defying Curruthers and Casey Jones in game style, this race is a logical step but a significant test for this course winner. Cooldine has achieved a lifetime career of ten wins from twenty races and earnings of just under £300,000. Willie Mullins has been quoted as saying: ‘The plan is the Gold Cup and I won’t make any predictions, as hopefully my horse will do the talking’. A good each way prospect although most likely fighting for third place.

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Imperial Commander has been racing in the highest Grade on his last six starts: being comprehensively beaten by Kauto Star on two occasions and losing on the nod at Haydock in the Betfair Chase. Owners, Our Friends In The North, must have been rueing their luck when a disastrous mistake at the 2nd fence ruined any chance of getting competitive at Kempton. Although many may consider the chances of this nine-year-old hinge on his determined second to Kauto Star, that was an indifferent race. Questions may be raised whether Imperial Commander was flattered that day. However, in a race where the majority of runners are substantial odds he must be respected if not needing to prove his worth.

Shock Grand National winner Mon Mome is a versatile campaigner being both course and distance winner at Cheltenham but likely to be run of his hooves against this classy field. While those interested in Mr Pointment will be hoping for a minor miracle.

My Will, the outsider of the Nicholls’ quartet, and having only one win from his last twenty-one efforts, doesn’t look the most likely of candidates to return to winning ways. Having been comprehensively beaten in the last two Gold Cups, it is difficult to see him being prominent when it matters.

The lightly raced Tricky Trickster, another representative of Nicholls, is an interesting contender, showing gritty determination to win the Aon Chase, the biggest success of his career at Grade 2 class. To be a fancied runner for the Gold Cup on only his tenth start is an impressive achievement. This distance should not pose a problem and being one of only a select number of progressive types in this field Geraghty will be trying to spoil the favourite’s party. On ratings, Tricky Trickster has more than a glimmer of a chance. The fact that Walsh and McCoy had their pick of the mounts suggests the two major hopes are expected to steal the glory.

The unseating of Tony McCoy in the Aon Chase over 3 miles at Newbury changed the complexion of the Gold Cup online betting with Denman being what many may consider a respectable each way price at odds of 4/1. If this impressive horse captures the form of previous outings against his nemesis Kauto Star then we are in for a cracking renewal. However, at odds of 1-6 on, few considered the Aon Chase anything other than a prep race for the Festival. This defeat raised much debate with punters and press alike questioning whether Harry Findlay’s ‘Tank’ may have come off his tracks. Clearly, this chestnut son of Presenting, if back to his best, would be a gallant challenger to Nicholls’ leading light. The fact that Findlay has been so bullish about the chances of Kauto Star suggests Denman will need to be at his best to over shadow his stable mate. With such a faltering performance at Newbury there must be additional doubts this year although he is an ardently tough campaigner.

With prize winnings over two million pounds, twice victor of the Gold Cup and gallant loser to Denman in 2008, Kauto Star will be the focus of the racing world in his endeavour to attain similar glory to Best Mate, adding to an incredible career. It is understandable why Kauto Star shines so brightly in the eyes of trainer, connections and racing media alike – but ultimately in the adoration of the general public. So often racing is all about the hopes and dreams of the underdog but that wanting is so easily replaced by a true champion. There is little doubt that Kauto Star will be the horse to beat and the thoughts of Harry Findlay regarding his hopes for Denman seem to imply that the favourite has very strong claims. It is never easy to win a top class race: one poor jump can make all the difference between success and failure but that is the nature of the beast. It would be most fitting that Kauto Star gains such an elusive victory. Make sure you are one of the millions of racing fans watching the highlight of the Cheltenham Festival – the Totesport Gold Cup.