Caspian Caviar (December) Gold Cup

Caspian Caviar December Gold Cup 20f 166yds Cheltenham Saturday.

The December Gold Cup was first run in 1963, under the sponsorship of Massey Ferguson, and two of steeplechasing’s greats, Flying Bolt and Pendil, won it in its early years carrying the mind boggling weights of 12st 6lbs, and 12st 7lbs respectively. Happily such eye watering imposts are now a thing of the past and the top weight on Saturday will be asked to shoulder a mere 11st12lbs. Its worth noting that weight hasn’t been a bar to success in recent years with the winner of five of the last eight renewals carrying north of 11st. Indeed the Paul Nicholls-trained Poquelin won consecutive runnings in 2009 and 2010 with 11st8lbs and 11st9lbs on his back. The Ditcheat handler also trained the 4yo Unioniste to win in 2012, so his three candidates this year, Sound Investment, Salubrious, and Art Mauresque, are certainly worth considering.

Sound Investment, who carries top weight, and is the choice of stable jockey, Twiston-Davies, ran a great race in the “Paddy Power” where carrying the maximum burden, he finished third, 1 1/4L behind the winner, and Saturday’s opponent, the Alan King trained, Annacotty. The Nicholls 7yo had impressed in his previous race, a Gd2 Cl1 handicap off a mark of 155 at Aintree, and having demonstrated his ability to safely negotiate the vagaries of Prestbury Park last time, he must, on 4lbs better terms have serious prospects of reversing the form with the King horse at the weekend.

The 8yo Salubrious was having only his second run over the larger obstacles when taking a Cl2 3ml Carlisle chase four weeks ago. It was his first outing for 13 months, so further progress can be expected, but considering seven of the last ten winners had run at least six times over fences, he is likely to prove too inexperienced for Saturday’s test.

Of more interest is the Nicholl’s third string, Art Mauresque. This 5yo, ex French gelding has won four of his seven starts over the larger obstacles, including two victories over Kempton’s tricky fences, and quite impressively, here at Cheltenham in October. He was a tad disappointing in the “Paddy Power” when finishing 6th but may have had a little too much use made of him. Given a more conservative ride it is not hard to envisage him being involved at the weekend, and it will come as no surprise if he finishes the season on a considerably higher mark than his current 147.

Only three horses, Pegwell Bay, Senor El Betrutti, and Exotic Dancer have managed to win both the Paddy Power, and this in the same season, so racing off a 5lbs higher mark than last month, it looks a tall order for Annacotty to join this select band. However his excellent trainer, who is carrying all before him this season, is quite bullish, and reports the horse to be in fine fettle, so he can’t easily be dismissed.

Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson combined to win this with Monkerhostin in 2004 and have prospects of a repeat this year with the talented 7yo Champagne West. He is a winner of two of his four starts over fences, both here at Cheltenham, and he also ran well in the Dipper Chase, again at the course last January, finishing second to Ptit Zig. He sustained a minor injury in his next race when joint favourite for a Gd1 novices chase at Sandown and was retired for the season. He looks nicely handicapped off a mark of 150 giving him a racing weight of 11st and the only reservation would be his lack of a recent outing. However he did win after an eight month break last year and coming from this yard is unlikely to fail for lack of fitness.

Evan Williams’s 8yo Buywise has been a frustrating animal around Cheltenham. He did manage to win a handicap here in April 2014, but usually, due to poor jumping, gets himself well behind and seemingly out of contention, only to come up the hill like the proverbial train and manages to grab a place. It was a similar story last time in the Paddy Power when finishing second to Annacotty off a mark of 148. One day hopefully he will get everything right, but raised another 4lbs for coming second he has it all to do.

Rebecca Curtis’s 6yo Irish Cavalier won a handicap at the festival over course and distance off a mark of 137, and comfortably defied a mark of 151 at Newton Abbot in October. He was a well backed 8/1 chance for the Paddy Power off a 5lbs higher mark and came to the third last looking the most likely winner. He took it up at the penultimate fence but was headed after the last and with nothing more to give finished fifth. It may well be that he got there too soon, and if held onto for longer, may do better on Saturday. However the stable remains in poor form, and with “fodder” problems reported, he is one to treat with caution.

Selection: Champagne West.

E.W: Sound Investment.

Caspian Caviar December Gold Cup 20f 166yds Cheltenham Saturday.


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