Imperial Commander looks the only danger to Kauto and Denman

ONLY 27 horses stood their ground on Wednesday for the Cheltenham Gold Cup which was no real surprise when you consider that two of those names were Kauto Star and Denman. The eagerly awaited re-match (the score currently stands at 1-1) on 19 March is already being billed as one of the best races of all time, let alone this year’s Festival.

Kauto Star is bidding to emulate Golden Miller, Cottage Rake, Arkle and Best Mate by landing his third Gold Cup and is a best priced 11/8 with Boylesports to cement his place in history. However, there has been plenty of support for Denman in recent weeks and even though he is trading close to 9/4 on Betdaq, he is as short as 6/4 with Stan James.

Opinions are obviously split and punters and pundits alike tend to sit firmly in one camp or the other. I have to say that my own personal opinion is a split one and my view is 100 per cent ground dependent. I will be backing Kauto Star on ground that is good to soft or better and will only switch to Denman if it were to come up soft.

A number of bookmakers are now offering a book on the race ‘without the Big Two’ and Nigel Twiston-Davies’ IMPERIAL COMMANDER looks cracking value at 7/2 with William Hill. Last year’s Ryanair Chase winner is a completely different horse going left-handed and an even better proposition if the left-handed track in question happens to be Cheltenham. He showed how well he goes when fresh two starts back when beaten less than a nostril by Kauto Star at Haydock, and will line-up in March with conditions in his favour. I cannot really imagine he’ll be good enough to win a Gold Cup, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he split the front two.

The other Cheltenham ante-post bet I’m looking to strike this week is FORPADYDEPLASTERER in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at around the 10/1 mark. Regular readers of this column will remember that we landed a nice touch on this Irish raider in last year’s Arkle and I fancy him to go pretty close in this year’s two-mile Championship. Firstly, he’ll relish the better ground and the return to running left-handed. The strong pace will really suit and the fact that he is probably a two and a half miler actually is a bonus. If they go too quick, as they normally always do, he’ll be there to pick up the pieces.

Secondly, I think he’ll start nearly half his current price on the day and that’s if Master Minded does line up. If Paul Nicholls’ Champion doesn’t make it, which wouldn’t be the biggest shock, he could start around the 4/1 mark.

Anyway, plenty of his rivals look far from certain to even line-up, let alone shake-up our selection. Cooldine has looked a shadow of the horse who won last year’s RSA Chase, while What A Friend is a stablemate of the ‘Big Two’ and may stay at home.

The Skybet Chase at Doncaster is just under two weeks away and at this stage I like the look of Victor Dartnall’s Exmoor Ranger at 10/1 with the sponsors. He was running a big race in last year’s Jewsons when coming down three out and I like how he’s two from two at Newbury – a very similar track to Town Moor.

EXMOOR RANGER 10/1 Skybet Chase
IMPERIAL COMMANDER 7/2 Gold Cup w/o Big 2
FORPADYDEPLASTERER 10/1 Queen Mother Champion Chase