By Sean Goff | Cheltenham 2013
The scene is set for one of the most open Gold Cups in history but the Paddy Power Blog team have
spent a few hours on the doss gone through the form with a fine tooth comb to help you narrow down the likely winner. There’s about seven weeks to the Blue Riband of jumps racing with a few key trails – namely the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown on February 9 and the Argento Chase still to be run. The past 10 runnings of the Cheltenham Gold Cup is a boffins’ wet dream and there are some stand-out bookie-bashing stats to help you identify the winner.
And if all the main players in the 2013 Gold Cup on March 15 cast turn up we’re in for an absolute belter.
1. Form is temporary – class is permanent
All 10 winners of jumps racing’s most-prized crown went into the race with an official rating of 166. That’s the ‘mark’ that the National Hunt handicappers have awarded the contenders based on their performances.
Not what they might do, not what you hope they’ll do or not what your sister’s boyfriend’s mate who use to work in the bookies thinks they’ll do. What they’ve done in front of your very eyes all season.
Just over seven weeks out Bobs Worth, Long Run, Captain Chris, Silviniaco Conti, Tidal Bay, Finian’s Rainbow, Riverside Theatre can be included in any long-list while Irish challengers Sir Des Champs (166) and Flemenstar (173) are in the frame too. First Lieutenant is officially rated 159 but there is an argument that he has achieved more than this bare form figure. If he runs again he can prove it but trainer Mouse Morris intends to send him straight to the Festival.
While Flemenstar, Captain Chris, Riverside Theatre and Finian’s Rainbow are all Grade One winners, they have yet to win a top-tier race over 3m. When push comes to more push up Cleeve Hill you need to be confident your selection will stay the 3m 2f trip.
2. It’s all very odds
If you don’t fancy wading through the ground, the distance, the quality of race mumbo-jumbo then this stat should make you take notice. All 10 winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup since 2002 have started in the first three in the betting. The result of the Irish Hennessy at Leopardstown where Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs are 6/4 joint favourites with Paddy Power could have a major impact on the market – particularly if Peter Casey’s runner does what he threatened to do in the Lexus Chase and bolts in.
The weight of patriotic euros would see him shorten even further than his current 10/1 quote and he was put up by the Racing Post’s Pricewise a couple of weeks ago as his Gold Cup selection. But if Willie Mullins’ Sir Des Champs gets his jumping together and outstays him on the run to the line Flemenstar’s connections may re-think Gold Cup plans. We’ll know at 3.30pm in four weeks time.
3. Act your age
As a six-year-old Long Run became the youngest winner of the Gold Cup – since Mill House (1963) – when seeing off Kauto Star in 2011. Cool Dawn was the last 10-year-old to win it in 1998.
Since then all winners bar Long Run have been aged between seven and nine. Crucially, that stat rules out Paul Nicholls’ evergreen Tidal Bay - who won a thrilling Lexus Chase over Christmas.
4. Horses for courses
The 3m 2f trip of the Cheltenham Gold Cup makes unique demands on the runners and riders. A previous run at the track – preferably a winning run – has been a big factor in recent years.
Synchronised turned that stat on its head a little last year (previous best at Cheltenham was sixth in a handicap hurdle in 2010). This year’s ante-post favourite Bobs Worth is unbeaten in four starts at Cheltenham including last season’s 3m Grade One RSA Chase.
All of the main English contenders of Bobs Worth (four wins), Long Run (2011 GC winner) , Captain Chris (2011 Arkle winner), Silviniaco Conti (3rd International Hurdle 2010) Tidal Bay (Arkle winner 2008!) , Finian’s Rainbow (2012 Champion Chase winner) and Riverside Theatre (Ryanair Chase winner 2012) have solid course form to recommend them.
Irish challengers Sir Des Champs (Jewson Chase winner 2012) is a dual winner there and First Lieutenant won the 2011 Neptune Investment Novice Hurdle before finishing runner-up to Bobs Worth in the RSA. Flemenstar has never placed a hoof on a racecourse outside Ireland as yet.
5. Big race pointers
The Lexus Chase at Leopardstown and the King George VI Chase at Kempton have been key trials to finding the Gold Cup winner over the past decade. The winner has run in – but not necessarily won – either race.
Imperial Commander who won 2010 Gold Cup was unplaced in 2009 King George. The 2002 Gold Cup winner Best Mate was second in the King George four months earlier and War of Attrition was second in the 2005 Lexus before winning the 2006 Gold Cup.
So if you fancy First Lieutenant, Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs - who finished in a bunch behind Tidal Bay in the Lexus – don’t be put off. Captain Chris who narrowly went down to Long Run in the King George VI Chase could also cause a surprise but seems better suited to right-handed tracks.
All are Grade One chase winners – although Flemenstar and First Lieutenant have yet to win a Grade One chase over 3m.
The improving Bobs Worth deserves his place at the top of the market and seems to just do enough to get his head in front. His form in winning the RSA Chase and Hennessy Gold Cup has a solid look to it and has been franked by First Lieutenant and Tidal Bay in the Lexus.
Crucially, Barry Geraghty’s mount has proved himself on softer ground and if anything, should improve on better spring going. While only two RSA Chase winners (Looks Like Trouble 1999, Denman 2007) from the last 15 have collected Gold the following season – Bobs Worth taking win in the Hennessy and unbeaten record at Cheltenham makes him the one they all have to beat.
Silviniaco Conti is improving and the Paul Nicholls / Ruby Walsh partnership have won four of the last 10 Gold Cup renewals with Kauto Star and Denman. There’s still a decision to be made about Tidal Bay but Silviniaco Conti has done everything asked of him in winning the Charlie Hall and Betfair Chase (beating Long Run) and may head straight to Cheltenham.
Mouse Morris provided the last Irish-trained Gold Cup winner in War of Attrition in 2006. First Lieutenant – in the same Gigginstown House colours – will follow the same path and could improve again on better ground. His course record and form this season is a big plus and could possibly be the forgotten horse of the race come Gold Cup day. Ranks a cracking each-way bet.
Something has to give between Sir Des Champs and Flemenstar in the Hennessy but a close-run race could see them both line up on March 15.
Nicky Henderson’s Bobs Worth can make it five wins from five at the Cotswolds but First Lieutenant shouldn’t be far away. Henderson can complete the placings with Long Run under Sam-Waley-Cohen.