First run as The Mackeson Gold Cup 59 years ago, the inaugural running was won by Fortria, trained in Ireland by the legendary Tom (Arkle) Dreaper. Fortria did win again 2 years later, but since then Irish successes have been few and far between, and the sole victor from the Emerald Isle in the past 37 years has been the Eddie O’Grady trained
Tranquil Sea ten years ago. However, the Multi-talented trainer from Co Kilkenny,
Joseph O’Brien, is not one to be discouraged by statistics, and is hoping that his upwardly mobile young chaser, Us And Them, can reverse this sorry trend, and land him a first victory in the contest.
On first glance, the 6yo’s record over fences of one win from nine starts, hardly inspires confidence, but closer inspection reveals that he has finished 2nd, (including in this year’s Arkle over the Old Course) four times at Grade1 level, which paints a rather different picture. Until stepping up to 20f for his seasonal debut at Gowran Park 6 weeks ago, he had been campaigned for all his previous 15 starts at around 2 miles, but even a cursory inspection of his pedigree, (by the stayer Stowaway out of the stoutly bred Flemensfirth mare, Manorville) strongly suggested that he would stay further, and so it proved at the Co Carlow track 6 weeks ago. Having his first run for 156 days in the Grade2 heat, he was always towards the head of affairs, and but for mistakes at the last two fences would have finished a lot closer than the 6 1/2L and a Head that he was beaten by. The runner up Peregrine Falcon is rated 159 which makes Us And Them look very fairly treated on Saturday’s mark of 152.
The Colin Tizzard trained 7yo, Slate House, struck for the first time from 5 attempts over fences when landing a 6 runner Novices Chase over Saturday’s course and distance 3 weeks ago. (His record at Prestbury Park in all races is 3/6). Having his first run for 228 days, and a wind operation in June, he travelled really strongly on the heavy ground, and never off the bit, won as he liked. Saturday represents a very different test, but the Tizzard horse is already a better chaser than he was a hurdler, and being by the multiple champion jumps sire, Presenting it won’t come as a great surprise if he ends the season on a considerably higher mark than Saturday’s 147.
The Nick Williams trained Siruh Du Lac’s record over fences is 6/8 and he is unbeaten in his last 4. His last two wins were here at Cheltenham, both Class1 handicaps,
at 2m4 1/2f and both over the new course, in January, and at The Festival in March. He won by narrow margins, on both occasions from the now 166 rated Janika (gave 18 lbs last time) He is making his seasonal debut on Saturday off a mark a whopping 19lbs higher than last time, and racing over the tighter Old Course, looks to have plenty to do.
The Dan Skelton trained 7yo, Spirit Of The Games, finished 3rd, 3L behind Siruh Du Lac in that Cheltenham race giving the winner 9lbs, (including Lizzie Kelly’s 3 lbs claim) and off level terms on Saturday must fancy his chances of reversing the form. He is another making his seasonal debut, but has won his first race of the season in each of the last 3 years. He has run well in all of his 5 Cheltenham appearances, including in large field handicaps, ( 5/24 County Hurdle 2018), and handles most ground.
Considering the poor record of top weights in the race (only 2 have succeeded in the last 25 years) Harry Whittingham’s classy 6yo, Saint Calvados, looks to have a tough task on his hands. The French bred made an excellent start to his chasing career winning 4 of his first 5, including a Warwick Grade2, and a Naas Grade 3 but stepped up to Grade1 level has been very disappointing, finishing well beaten 3 times. However, following wind surgery in September, he put in an excellent effort 3 weeks ago, over the Old course on his reappearance, winning a valuable 2mile Chase on heavy ground, conceding lumps of weight. He has never raced beyond 2m1/2f in his 9 starts since coming to England, but his pedigree, (by the excellent jumps sire, Saint Des Saints, out of the Pistolet Bleu mare Lamorrese) certainly offers hope that he will stay, and he did run on gamely with his big weight up the Cheltenham Hill last time.
The great Martin Pipe won the race 8 times, and son David once, so they certainly know what is required down Nicholashayne way, and it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise to see last year’s 5th, the 8yo, Eamon An Cnoic play a prominent part on Saturday. Starting at odds of 50/1 last year, he stayed on to finish 11L behind the winner, Baron Alco and ran another excellent Cheltenham race when finishing 4th, beaten 3 1/2L in the race won by Siruh Du Lac at The Festival, (11 lbs better off on Saturday). He hasn’t been out since Punchestown in May, but can go well fresh, and at current odds of 25/1 is worth a second look.
Nigel Twiston-Davies with 4 wins on the scoreboard is another who knows what is required and his 7yo Count Meribel looks very nicely handicapped on a mark of 146, giving him a nice racing weight of 10-13. A winner of 2 of his 5 starts over fences, including over course and distance in the Novice Chase at this meeting last year, he made a very satisfactory reappearance when finishing 2nd at Carlisle 13 days ago and should be spot on for Saturday.
Selection. : Spirit Of The Games
EW. : Slate House. Us And Them