Following it’s inception in 1982, 3 winners of the previous year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, Little Owl 1981, Forgive ‘n Forget 1985, and The Thinker 1987, have won Saturday’s feature, underlining what an important heat it was in the racing calendar, but since its loss of Graded status in 2004, it is now run as a Class2 Handicap, and the prospect of any future Gold Cup Hero again appearing on the Tommy Whittle roll of honour, seems
pretty remote. However, this is always a very competitive heat that demands a tough, talented sort to succeed, particularly as this year’s contenders will have a further
2 1/2f to travel, and one that can certainly boast those requirements in spades, is last year’s winner, Daklondike.
Trained by David Pipe, (also trained the 2014 winner, Broadway Buffalo) Daklondike, was a length down jumping the last, but kept on resolutely to outstay the Twiston-Davies trained Ballyarthur and win going away by a length. A comfortable winner over 3m2f on heavy ground at Newbury, the son of Gold Well is only 6lbs higher this year and should find the extra 2 1/2f of this year’s Tommy Whittle right up his street.
Only 7, Daklondike is a half brother to the multi talented Great Endeavour, also trained by David, and with the yard in such great form looks to have serious prospects of becoming the third animal to land the prize for a second time, and indeed bring the prize back to Nicholashayne for a 4th time, (David’s Dad, Martin won with Chatham in1994)
Nigel Twiston-Davies will be hoping that he can go one better than last year with his 6yo, The Hollow Ginge. Short on chasing experience, he has won one of his 3 starts over fences but put in his best effort in his penultimate race, an Aintree Class3 Novices Handicap Chase over 3m1f on soft at the end of October. Having coped well with the stiff Fences on the Mildmay course, he came to the last 3L in arrears but ran on to such effect that he made up the deficit and was only beaten a head, when the winner, the progressive Irish trained, 135 rated, Plan of Attack, who was receiving 5lbs found extra in the shadow of the post. The son of Oscar probably found the 2m5 1/2f trip on Gd/Sft at Haydock 4 weeks ago on the sharp side, and he could only finish a 14L 3rd, but back up in trip, on the likely heavy ground which he handles so well, (won a 2m7f Haydock Hurdle on Heavy) The Hollow Ginge might just Land the Naunton handler his first Tommy Whittle.
The small Oxfordshire yard of Owner/Trainer, Andrew Martin doesn’t have many winners, but if Stable Star, Militarian, turns out on Saturday, (also engaged Ascot) he has to be of interest. A winner of 4 of his 14 starts over fences, he surprised many better fancied opponents at Ascot 29 days ago when jumping from fence to fence he coasted home 4L clear of his rivals at the tasty odds of 50/1. He races on Saturday off a 6lbs higher mark, (144) which looks fair and is usually ridden by the 7lbs claiming amateur James Martin. He has won on soft but heavy would be a concern, as neither he nor his 158 rated half brother, Hell’s Kitchen have raced on it.
The Sue Smith trained Vintage Clouds doesn’t win very often, (2/20 over fences) but is a thoroughly genuine type, and the Trevor Hemmings owned 9yo has rarely run badly in his 9 Haydock appearances, (has won a Chase over Saturday’s course and distance, and won the 2016 running of the 2m7f Grade2 Prestige Hurdle on heavy). All ground comes alike to the 9yo, and he stays well beyond Saturday’s trip. He is only 2lbs higher than his last winning mark, and Sue won the race in 2004 so knows what is required. If Saturday’s heat turns into a slog in the mud, Vintage Clouds could be the best equipped to deal with such conditions.
The ex French trained 6yo, Lord Du Mesnil, failed to hit the back of the net in his 9 races in his native France, and hasn’t fared much better since joining the Gloucestershire yard of Richard Hobson, registering a single victory from 15 starts. However that win came in his last race, a 3m Class3 Handicap on heavy ground at Newcastle 3 weeks ago where despite being headed, and making a mistake at the 2nd last, he rallied, and showed plenty of courage to get back up. It will require further improvement to win off a 5 lbs higher mark on Saturday, and connections, looking at the exploits of his 2 years younger full brother, Happy Monarch, who has won both his starts over fences, the last time a Listed Chase at top track, Auteuil, will be hoping that there is still some undiscovered improvement to come from their hitherto not so successful, son of Saints Des Saints.
The Herefordshire yard of Venetia Williams is going great guns at the moment and her lightly raced 8yo contender, Yalltari could be well handicapped. He has only raced 9 times, winning 3 of his 5 starts over hurdles, and one of his 4 starts over fences, a 3m Chepstow Novices Chase off a mark of 137 last December. Sent off the 11/8fav for his next race, at Exeter in January, he came a cropper at the first, and then in his last race, the Grade2 Reynoldstown Novices Chase at Ascot in February, he looked a serious threat until a mistake at the last put an end to his challenge. However, he stayed on for 3rd, 4 3/4L behind the winner Mister Malarky on the Gd/Sft ground. The winner that day is now on a mark of 148, which I suppose makes Yalltari‘s mark of 145 look just about fair. Venetia has few competitors when it comes to having an animal at it’s peak after a break, and with his liking for testing conditions, Yalltari is one to be interested in.
Selection. : Vintage Clouds
EW. : The Hollow Ginge