I rated the performance of Coneygree at 166 (Racing Post Ratings have it at 169) and I looked back to my rating of Silviniaco Conti in 2013 when he won the race as a 7yo on soft ground (as it was on Saturday). I gave Conti a rating of 171 that day (RPR rated it 175) and - for true comparison - Conti carried 11st 10lb, whereas Coneygree carried just 11st 5lb. Would another 5lb have slowed Coneygree? Personally, I doubt it and he'd clearly have won anyway last Saturday, maybe even with another 10lb on his back. What you also have to consider is that when Coneygree won the race on Saturday, it was run in a significantly faster time - 11.69 secs to be exact, and on similar ground - than Silviniaco Conti in 2013. Interesting. So, am I right to rate Coneygree on just 166 when - by comparing the race-time - he could have finished 40-lengths in front of Conti?
Before I expand on that thought, let's consider the relative merits of the leading Gold Cup contenders.
Silviniaco Conti - possibly the best, and most consistent, 3-mile chaser we've seen in the past couple of years. Holds an OR174 rating which is possibly a bit rich for me as I have him at 170. He is basically one-paced and that cost him the Gold Cup last season as he led over the last fence, but only by a length. I reckon he needs to be about 5-lengths clear jumping the final fence to win, otherwise he will be vulnerable to a challenger. What he does possess is immense stamina and, with a good pace certain to be guaranteed, he'll be on the premises turning for home.
Road To Riches - the Irish challenger has come from nowhere to emerge as their best hope, according to the betting markets. Sure, he won the Lexus Chase on soft/heavy ground from a high quality field, but the proximity of Sam Winner (trained by Paul Nicholls who also trains Silviniaco Conti) suggests the performance isn't as good as at first glance. His best performance in my opinion was when beating another Paul Nicholls trained horse, Rocky Creek, by 11-lengths at Dromore in November, and I rated that 166. His stylish victory in the Galway Plate over 2m6f in July proves he handles "good" ground, and we know soft/heavy wont inconvenience him. The doubt for me (based on his win in the Galway Plate) is whether he will have the stamina to win a Gold Cup.
Many Clouds - I've already looked at his chances and, for me, if we are to see his best form the word "soft" has to be in the going description. Stamina is not an issue, nor the track. I have him at 165 and there is possibly some more improvement to come.
Carlingford Lough - in winning the Grade 1 Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown on 8th Feb (yesterday), this horse has thrust himself into the Cheltenham Gold Cup picture. You do have to wonder how good that form is tho' as he was well beaten in the Lexus Chase (won by Road To Riches) and he also failed to act at Cheltenham when contesting the novice RSA Chase at the last Festival. For me, I'm not sure if he has the ability to win the Gold Cup, and I have him at 160.
Foxrock - beaten into 2nd behind Carlingford Lough at Leopardstown on 8th Feb, this was an improved performance from the 7yo, and it is likely that there is more improvement to come. The worry is the ground, as he's only a single win from 6 starts on going better than soft, and that was in a novice chase. I rate him 159(P).
Holywell (whom I rate 160+ on a good day) has questions to answer, but has undoubted talent on his day. Much as his supporters would like, Bobs Worth (rated 155+) is also looking a spent force these days. As for last years winner Lord Windermere (who I rated at 161 when winning last year), he should have the race run to suit him again, and there is nothing to suggest he wont be finishing best of all. so long as he's not too far off the pace (he was struggling so much last year, I thought he'd be pulled-up - and then he won the race) he could well end up in the 1st-3, but I can't see him winning.
As for Coneygree, his win on Saturday puts him amongst the best rated in the race. and he's 2nd only to Silviniaco Conti. The worry I'd have about him is that he'd going to be fighting for the lead for much of the race with Road To Riches, and they could well cancel each other out and leave the race open for another strong traveller, such as the race-fav Silviniaco Conti.
It was a blow to have Dynaste pulled-out from the race through injury last week, as I thought he had a great chance of being placed at 25/1. In looking for a replacement, I'm much more tempted to take the 12/1 NRNB about Coneygree than the 8/1 NRNB for Road To Riches, as Coneygree looks to have more stamina. Also, his half-bro' Carruthers won the Hennessey Gold Cup (handicap) at Newbury on "good" ground, so I'm also not as worried over the ground as I am when considering the chances of Many Clouds who looks to need soft.
I'm not tempted by the odds of 3/1 on Silviniaco Conti as I think he'll be longer odds on the day but, if Coneygree goes to post he'll certainly be shorter odds than 12/1, so I'm taking them, as if the ground is "good" he could well be vying for favouritism on the day.
A time to bet like a man?
Advised antepost wager
Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase at Cheltenham on 13th March 2015
CONEYGREE : £5.00 eachway @ 12/1 AND £10.00 to win @ 12/1
(with either Bet365 and Betfred who both go NRNB and quarter-odds a place 1,2,3)
Also, Ladbrokes and William Hill go 16/1 without the NRNB guarantee.
No winners on Saturday as main selection Houblon Des Obeaux was beaten by Coneygree, but my wager was the value call as I never expected Coneygree to emerge as a Gold Cup candidate from the race.
I've also learned that Al Ferof is a non-runner at the Cheltenham Festival as he's had surgery to correct a respiratory ailment. So both of my early anteposts have come to nothing - thank goodness for NRNB.