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Thursday, 3 January 2019

Thoughts on the Cheltenham Gold Cup

A brand new year and – with the results of the Grade 1 races over Christmas and the New Year -  a changing of the guard! 
Boxing Day was eagerly awaited by all true horseracing fans, and the King George VI Chase at Kempton looked a mouth-watering spectacle on paper with last year's (2017) winner Might Bite, plus the winner in 2016 Thistlecrack, and the latest winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Native River. Add the two-time winner of the Betfair Chase, Bristol De Mai and we were certainly looking at the best quality renewal of recent years. As we now know, the 6yo CLAN DES OBEAUX won in a very convincing manner, with the best-placed of the older brigade being Thistlecrack in 2nd.  I rated the performance at 167 which is amongst the best staying performance we've seen in the past 2 seasons (by my own ratings, not based on the opinions of others).  My ratings top-10 (since 25th December 2016)
1.      Native River                             169 when 1st in the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup
2.      Native River                             169 when 1st in the Welsh National (27Dec2016)
3.      Sizing John                               168 when 1st in the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup
4.      Clan Des Obeaux                      167 when 1st in King George VI Chase (26Dec2018)
5.      Might Bite                                167 when 1st in Aintree Betway Bowl (12Apr2018)
6.      Thistlecrack                              167 when 1st in King George VI Chase (26Dec2016)
7.   Definitly Red                            167 when 1st in Cotswold Chase (27Jan2018) 
8.      Bristol De Mai                          166 when 1st in Betfair Chase (24Nov2018)
9.      Native River                             165 when 1st in Denman Chase (10Feb2018)
      = Many Clouds                            165 when 1st in Cotswold Chase (28Jan2017)
   = Sizing John                               165 when 1st in the Punchestown Gold Cup (26Apr2017) 
   = Kemboy                                    165 when 1st in the Leopardstown Savills Chase (28Dec2018)

On 28th December in Ireland, Kemboy won the Grade 1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown beating a fairly ordinary bunch of rivals headed by Road To Respect (OR169). Personally, I struggle to see how Road To Respect has a rating of OR169 given how comprehensively he was beaten last March in the Cheltenham Gold Cup (won by Native River) and he was well beaten again, the following month, in the Punchestown Gold Cup.  The Punchestown Gold Cup was won by Bellshill, who previously had come 5th of only 8 finishers in a very scrappy running of the Irish Grand National; based on those results I'd rate Road To Respect closer to 160 than 170 especially as he failed to hold onto 2nd in the closing stages here on 28th December. 
Taking 2nd place (behind Kemboy) was Monalee and this horse is a model of consistency; as such, I reckon the handicapper has him just about spot on at OR159. Via Monalee, I rated the winning performance of Kemboy at 165: however, as he has won both of his completed races over a trip of at least 3-miles (he fell at the 1st-fence in the 2018 Irish National), he does have a lot of potential at staying trips.  
What of the others in the Cheltenham Gold Cup picture?
Presenting Percy certainly won the RSA (Novices) Chase last March in the manner of a potential future Gold Cup winner, but we've not seen him on a racecourse since. The form of the RSA Chase stacks-up well, as Monalee (in 2nd) has maintained his consistency, but Monalee is a tad one-paced and may come to the fore when tried over marathon trips.  Elegant Escape (3rd in the RSA) has since won the Welsh National off OR151.  
Al Boum Photo who fell in the RSA Chase when looking like finishing 2nd, subsequently won over 2m4f at Fairyhouse, and then looked like winning the Champion Novice Chase over an extended 3-mile at Punchestown in April (Monalee had fallen 3-out) when running-out at the last fence! Had Al Boum Photo won that race his performance would have rated about 160+, which is about 4lb behind Presenting Percy.  Al Boum Photo has also run is seasonal debut in the past fortnight, winning over 2m5f at Tramore in Ireland beating stable companions Total Recall in 2nd and Invitation Only into 3rd.  While the performance looked impressive, as an indication of his Cheltenham Gold Cup potential is was inconclusive to me: for Total Recall (who won the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury on 02Dec2017) this was a wholly inadequate trip, and Invitation Only was clearly in need of the race. For me, Al Boum Photo holds a better chance in the 2m5f Ryanair Chase rather than the 3m2f Gold Cup, but (even so) he just does not look good enough to win either race.
Given the way the form has worked out so far this season, if Presenting Percy returns in the form he was in last March when winning the RSA Novices Chase over 3-mile then he should be amongst the market leaders; but right now, for me, that is a big "if".  Possible chase targets between now and March are think on the ground, and it would not surprise me if connections sent him hurdling around Gowran Park, which is what he did last season prior to racing at the Cheltenham Festival, and such tactics would not inspire me with confidence.
Readers of the blog know that I'm on CLAN DES OBEAUX already, as I took the 12/1 that was on offer after he won the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day. There is plenty of 8/1 still available and those odds look more than fair to me. Kemboy is a general 7/1 chance, but I feel he's still a bit short on the strength of form to merit those odds and I'd have him more of a 12/1 chance.
Last March, I was on NATIVE RIVER at 5/1 when he won the Gold Cup, and his performance at Haydock in November behind Bristol De Mai looked very encouraging.  I am prepared to overlook his run at Kempton as he did not look happy on the right-handed track but still managed to come home in 3rd place.  I would expect Native River to beat his stablemate Thistlecrack in the Gold Cup this March, but whether he can make up the difference and beat CLAN DES OBEAUX is another question.  What I would say is that if Native River wins the Denman Chase in February at Newbury (a race he won prior to winning the Gold Cup last March) then he will surely start the fav on Gold Cup day.
The only other horse I'm considering is DEFINITLY RED; who beat Bristol De Mai into 3rd in January last year. He flopped when returning for the Gold Cup last March but that was probably due to the strong pace set by Native River and Might Bite. Definitly Red is not a quick horse, and it seems no coincidence that his 3 NH Flat wins came on soft/heavy ground; but he is a strong stayer and coming into the Gold Cup fresh might see him nick 3rd-place at very long odds as he's 33/1 with Hills and Boyles.
Right now, my idea of the 1st-3 in the Cheltenham Gold Cup are:
Clan Des Obeaux,
Native River

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