ONLY once before in the last 10 years has a bigger field gone to post for the Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.20pm), the feature event of festival week.
Bobs Worth (2013) and Lord Windermere (2014), the last two winners of the 3m2f½ Grade One prize, both take their chance but will have to be at their very best to trouble dual King George winner SILVINIACO CONTI.
Cheltenham is a unique racecourse with its undulations, stiff fences and dramatic uphill finish and many horses simply don’t act on the track.
Plenty of experts will tell you that Silviniaco Conti is one of those as he has been to Prestbury Park three times before and failed to sparkle on each occasion.
However, there is simply no finer trainer of a racehorse than Paul Nicholls and I’m prepared to take the 4/1 with Betway about a horse who is, without doubt, the best staying chaser in England and Ireland.
He was still cruising when coming down three out in Bobs Worth’s Gold Cup and just fell in a hole when jumping the last in front and fading to finish fourth 12 months ago.
The admirably honest Nicholls has explained that ‘Conti’ was suffering with ulcers last term (which they have now cured) and the application of cheekpieces has helped him late on in his races.
I don’t think that Cheltenham necessarily plays to his strengths and the trip tests his stamina to the hilt, but he’s the best horse in the race and I think he’ll win.
As for those who will tell you this morning that horses who are beaten in Gold Cups never ever come back and win them, just remind them that The Fellow only cracked his ‘Gold’ nut at the fourth attempt.
If there is to be a fairytale winner, it will be Carlingford Lough for AP McCoy riding at his last Cheltenham Festival. The nine-year-old won the Irish Hennessy Gold Cup last time under a typical AP ‘never-say-die’ ride and is bound to come in for support.
However, he didn’t jump that well in last year’s RSA Chase and will need to improve in that department if he is to play a hand.
Djakadam, from the all-conquering Willie Mullins stable, looked mightily impressive in the Thyestes Chase last time and is Ruby Walsh’s pick.
The six-year-old has been really well supported in recent days and connections have been waxing lyrical about his class. My reservations surround his price and his relative lack of experience.
Defending champion Lord Windermere looks most likely of the last two winners to run his race and I certainly wouldn’t put each-way punters off taking another chance on him at 12/1 with Paddy Power.
He’s on a Festival hat-trick, having also won the 2013 RSA Chase, and will relish every yard of the trip. Bobs Worth looks a shadow of his former self and it would take a huge leap of faith to financially support him.
There is plenty of rain forecast and if it does materialise Oliver Sherwood’s Many Clouds and the novice Coneygree both enter the equation.
The former desperately needs some cut in the ground, while the latter may find it difficult to dominate from the front.
SILVINIACO CONTI 3.20pm Cheltenham