I know it is not an original selection, but I just cannot see Paul Nicholls’ KAUTO STAR being beaten this afternoon. His preparation for the defence of his crown has been pretty much faultless and his master trainer has protected him to ensure he is as fresh as a daisy. His latest performance at Kempton on Boxing Day has to go down as one of the most breathtaking displays of steeplechasing I have ever witnessed and he stills looks value at around 8/11 on Betdaq.
Paul Nicholls has said time and time again that Denman would come on massively for his run at Newbury and it would, of course, be dangerous to write off the former Gold Cup winner. It may be that his extraordinary Hennessy win took a lot out of him and his best chance of beating his next door neighbour is surely if the heaven’s open. However, that now seems unlikely and he can be backed at 4/1 with William Hill having been half that price before his Newbury fall.
A bigger threat may come from Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Imperial Commander who has won four of his five races over the larger obstacles at Cheltenham. The trip would have to be a slight concern, but he is a classy type, goes on all types of ground and will be a popular each-way choice at 8/1 with Paddy Power. He ran a gallant race when beaten a whisker by Kauto Star at Haydock in November and shouldn’t be that far away.
When Cooldine won last year’s RSA Chase, he went into many people’s notebooks as a potential future Gold Cup winner. He then disappointed at Punchestown behind Rare Bob and has taken a little time to get going so far this season. However, he was only just touched off in the Irish Hennessy last time behind Joncol and he has been brought to the boil at the right time by his master trainer. However, I’m not sure he has the necessary change of gears to win a Gold Cup, though, and is short enough for me at around the 9/1 mark.
TRICKY TRICKSTER won the Aon Chase at Denman’s expense last time, but is still the ‘dark horse’ in the race. Like Denman, he is another who would prefer the heavens to open and the Grand National looks more like his race. However, he showed his liking for this track with a commanding performance in last year’s National Hunt Novices’ Chase when trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies and he will be staying on past beaten horses. He looks great each-way value at 7/1 without the Big Two with Coral.
KAUTO STAR Cheltenham 3.20pm
TRICKY TRICKSTER e/w w/o Big Two Cheltenham 3.20pm