It may sound a bit Weird, but go with Al in the Gold Cup

SOME of the greatest names in racing history have won the Cheltenham Gold Cup including the likes of Cottage Rake, Mill House and Arkle, not to mention Desert Orchid, and more recently the likes of Best Mate, Kauto Star and Denman.

However, scattered in amongst these equine greats are a host of lesser lights who had their moment on National Hunt racing’s biggest stage. In the last 20 years, Cool Ground, Mr Mulligan and Cool Dawn all upstaged their more fancied rivals on the big day.
Now, many are billing this afternoon’s renewal as a straight shootout between reigning champion Long Run and the legendary Kauto Star, but I believe there are genuine grounds to suggest we might witness another upset this afternoon.

So much has been written and said about Kauto Star in recent weeks that I’m not going to waffle on about what he has achieved to date. In short, he is the greatest steeplechaser of my lifetime and if he wins this afternoon, he may well usurp Arkle as the greatest ever. Yet, there is no getting away from the fact that he had a terrible schooling fall recently and it’s a massive worry that the spill may have left its mark. I’m also concerned that you have to go back to 1969 to find the last 12-year-old winner. He wasn’t good enough to win last year or the year before and I simply cannot see him winning today.

The dual Gold Cup-winning star is a best-priced 7/2 with Coral and (I should probably whisper this), I’d far rather lay him on Betfair than back him. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to be proved miles wide of the mark – I just reckon this may be a step too far for the extraordinary Kauto Star.

That should all point to a Long Run victory and I’m half-tempted by the 15/8 on offer with some firms. It’s just the horse doesn’t seem to have the same presence as he did 12 months ago and both his jumping and fluency seem to have deserted him. If Nicky Henderson has him back to his best, he’ll win. I’ve just got a feeling he hasn’t been showing the same sparkle and won’t be backing him. That said, Sporting Index are predicting that Long Run will finish between 1 ½ lengths and 3 lengths ahead of Kauto Star in a match bet and I’d prefer to buy.

The stable have a genuine contender in the shape of Burton Port, but he will definitely have to have improved the best part of a stone since Newbury to finish in front of Long Run. That leaves WEIRD AL, Midnight Chase, Synchronised and Quel Esprit as the viable alternatives and preference is for the first-named. Midnight Chase and Quel Esprit probably aren’t quite good enough, while Synchronised could be very interesting if reproducing the form of his Lexus win.

However, Weird Al has been a revelation since switching from Ian Williams’ yard to in-form Donald McCain after being pulled-up in last year’s race. He was an impressive winner of the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on his reappearance before going on to run a gallant third behind Kauto Star and Long Run in the Betfair Chase at Haydock. Admittedly, he was beaten 10 lengths then, but I liked the way he crept into the race that day and this has always been the aim.

McCain has his string in terrific form and both the track (won twice here as a novice) and the ground (Charlie Hall was won on good ground) will hold no fears. He importantly comes here a fresh horse and must be backed each-way at 12/1 and at 11/2 without the front two.

The opening race on the card is the 20-runner Triumph Hurdle and I’m pretty keen on the chances of Philip Hobbs’ SADLER’S RISK at 11/2 with Coral. He was a decent sort on the level and made a really impressive hurdling debut at Kempton in January. He then went back to the same venue last month and was slightly disappointing when beaten by Baby Mix in the Adonis Hurdle. His trainer is in much better form now and admitted afterwards that he hadn’t done enough work with him in the build-up.

POINTERS...

SADLER’S RISK 1.30pm Cheltenham
WEIRD AL e/w 3.20pm Cheltenham

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