By Sean Goff | Sports writer
The £160,000 Paddy Power Gold Cup on Saturday (2.35) is one of the first proper punting races of the season as the jumps code settles in for the winter months.
Twenty two runners were declared for the 2m 4f contest on Monday with the high-class Grands Crus from the David Pipe stable the 9/4 favourite in Paddy Power’s online ante-post betting.
Pipe is looking to follow-up last year’s win with Great Endeavour (8/1) who romped home under 10st 3lbs in the highlight of the three-day Open meeting that runs from Friday to Sunday.
The big-race favourite will have to shoulder 11-6 on Saturday though, the same as last year’s find of the season Hunt Ball. This one went up 88lbs in the ratings to sign off on an official mark of 157 when third in a Grade 3 at Aintree after winning seven times since opening his account off a lowly 69 rating at Folkestone.
Good course form has been a big factor in determining the Paddy Power Gold Cup winner and Kieran Burke’s runner won the Pulteney Land Investments Novices’ Handicap Chase at the Festival lat March. A
And Burke’s stable star was reported in rude health ahead of his big test next Saturday.
Alan King’s Walkon is third at 8/1 and was fifth in the RSA Chase at the Festival last March before being pulled up in the Scottish Grand National in April.
The 2009 Triunph Hurdle second hasn’t scaled the same heights over fences but gets in at the weekend off 10-6 while Nicky Henderson’s French import Nadiya De La Vega may have snuck in under the radar on the same weight.
The JP McManus-owned gelding ran out a ready winner over course and distance three weeks ago and looks very much on the upgrade. From a stable that was narrowly denied the champion trainer’s title by Paul Nicholls’ yard last season – a win here would get the ball rolling nicely for 2012/13.
Remarkably, Nicholls has never won this race – that has tended to go to one of the top four in the betting – in 23 attempts but has saddled the runner-up three times.
The champion trainer relies on Poquelin, Al Ferof and Aerial to break his hoodoo in Saturday’s contest and Al Ferof - who has kept the very best of company since going novice chasing over fences and won the Supreme Novice hurdle in 2011 beating Spirit Son and Sprinter Sacre - may be the one to do it.
The seven-year-old would open up plenty of options for himself as the season progresses if he proves up to giving weight away to plenty of fancied rivals.
A slight injury scare held up his pre-season training but the grey has blossomed in the last two weeks according to Nicholls and at 8/1 is a cracking each-way bet at 1/4 the odds the first four in Paddy Power’s online betting to go give punters a run for their money.
Philip Hobbs saddles Wishfull Thinking started 7/2 fav for last year’s renewal but managed only sixth and is joined by stablemate and 20/1 poke The Disengager.
This one has been the go all summer – winning four times since May – but will need to put in a career-best performance to score here. But four of Hobbs’ last nine runners have been placed – three at double-digit prices.