BILL ESDAILE PREVIEWS THE CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP, FOXHUNTERS AND GRAND ANNUAL
IT HAS been a strange National Hunt season due to the horrific weather, but for many punters the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.20pm) is the highlight of the entire year.
The 2013 contest looks pretty special, with a number of promising second season chasers taking on the old boys like Long Run. Nicky Henderson won this for the first time two years ago with the then six-year-old and he has a great chance of adding to his tally.
Long Run is respected as he has never finished out of the first three, is a previous winner and took the King George in December. However, Kauto Star was the first horse to regain his crown in this race and there are still a few worries concerning jockey Sam Waley-Cohen.
The stable’s best chance looks to be BOBS WORTH and I think he is one of the bets of the week at 11/4 with Coral. The son of Bob Back is four from four at Cheltenham and six from six going left-handed. He was an excellent winner of last season’s RSA Chase and then landed a strong Hennessy Gold Cup on his reappearance.
I can’t actually find any negatives with Bobs Worth. Some people have argued that he will struggle to win having not raced since 1 December, but he’s always been a better horse fresh and the form of the Hennessy has been consistently franked.
I expect Barry Geraghty to have him positioned around fourth or fifth, hunt round and then pick off the weakeners up the hill.
The main danger is unquestionably Willie Mullins’ Sir Des Champs, who is another with a fantastic record at Prestbury Park. The seven-year-old won the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle a couple of years ago and then followed up in the Jewson 12 months ago.
Mullins has had an amazing week with five wins and another in jump racing’s blue riband event would cap it off perfectly. The County Carlow trainer has never won the Gold Cup and it’s clear he feels this is the horse who can do it.
The drying ground will help Sir Des Champs’ jumping, which has been a bit erratic this winter, and he looks as though he will appreciate the step up in trip. He can be backed at 7/2 with Blue Square Bet, who are refunding bets if you finish second by less than three lengths, but I’m happy to stick with Bobs Worth as the selection. I will also buy him against Sir Des Champs in a match bet with Sporting Index.
Silviniaco Conti is the mount of the red hot Ruby Walsh and he has looked a much improved horse this season. He won the Charlie Hall on his reappearance and then beat Long Run in gutsy fashion in the Betfair Chase, before taking last month’s Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury.
He is a seriously progressive animal but I’m worried that he’s never raced over fences at Cheltenham. You can’t say he won’t handle the track, as he finished a decent third to Menorah and Cue Card in the Stan James International Hurdle a few years ago. However, he doesn’t have the same experience as the top two in the market and is passed over for that reason.
The Giant Bolster and Captain Chris are the most interesting of the outsiders, but I would be surprised if one of the second season chasers doesn’t take the prize this year.
Earthmover was the last dual winner of the CGA Foxhunter Chase in 2004 and I think SALSIFY can join him in the record books this afternoon (4.00pm). Jockey Colman Sweeney was absolute mustard on him a year ago, producing him up the home straight after a very calm ride.
Salsify suffered a couple of defeats earlier this season, but he looked right back to his best at Leopardstown last time, just getting up on the line to beat Tammys Hill. That would have put him spot on for this and as long as it doesn’t rain too hard today, he is a strong fancy to land back-to-back prizes.
Chapoturgeon, second last year, will be a threat again, but he just doesn’t seem to see out his races that well. Tricky Trickster had some top class form a few years ago and he would be a danger, although I will stick to Salsify.
The Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase (5.15pm), aka the Getting Out Of Jail Stakes, is one of the most competitive handicaps of the week and Henderson always tries to win the race named after his father.
Paul Carberry got the leg up on Bellvano last year and he produced one of the finest rides ever seen at Cheltenham to collar Tanks For That on the run-in. The stylish jockey has been booked to ride another JP McManus-owned runner, KID CASSIDY, and you should take the hint.
Kid Cassidy was always a bit of a screwball and he was one of the unlucky horses to be involved in the electrocution incident at Newbury last year. That must surely have had an effect, but he is a well-handicapped horse and needs to be ridden with kid gloves. You can back him at 9/1 with Paddy Power, but you should also consider an in-running play, as he will be held up and his price may inflate dramatically.
AP McCoy is on Alderwood, who won the County Hurdle last season, and he is the main danger to my selection. Thomas Mullins has done a good job of keeping his weight down and I’d be shocked if he doesn’t finish in the first four.
Tom George’s Rody is another interesting contender, as the form of his recent wins has been boosted on many occasions. His best form is on soft ground, so he will welcome every drop of rain that falls. He is interesting each-way value at 10/1 with Paddy Power.
BOBS WORTH 3.20pm Cheltenham
SALSIFY 4.00pm Cheltenham
KID CASSIDY e/w 5.15pm Cheltenham