Tom Dreaper, with his 5 victories, Prince Regent 1946, the immortal Arkle’s three consecutive wins, 1964, 65, 66, and Fort Leney in 1968 remains the most successful trainer in the history of the great race, but more than a few think that his outstanding record could be equalled this year by the Master of Ditcheat, Paul Nicholls. His Clan Des Obeaux was a most impressive winner of The King George V1 last time out and Paul will be hoping the French bred son of top NH stallion, Kapgarde, can add to the victories of See More Business, Kauto Star twice, and Denman.
A winner of 6 of his 17 starts over fences, the 8yo has yet to win over further than 3 miles, and his stamina did seem to run out in last year’s renewal. He travelled really well throughout the race and looked to be going at least as well as any jumping the second last in third place, but could find no more from the final fence and finished fifth. It was a similar story 20 days later when he again appeared to be outstayed by Kemboy in Aintree’s Betway Bowl Chase, (3m1f) . Stamina is certainly an issue on Friday, but now a year older, he looked as if there was plenty left in the locker at Kempton where he won the strongly run heat by an impressive, eased down 24L, and his Master trainer certainly knows what is required.
The Willie Mullins trained Kemboy has certainly got his act back together again since unshipping David Mullins at the first In last year’s renewal. He has won 2 of his 4 starts, both Grade1 events, including a 2L decision over stable companion Al Boum Photo at Punchestown in May. He has gone well in both starts this term, including a good 2nd to Delta Work in the Irish Gold Cup last time. However, he has never finished closer than 4th in three Festival appearances, and showed a definite tendency to jump to his right in The Irish Gold Cup, so Willie’s best chance of back to back victories would seem to lie with last year’s winner, Al Boum Photo. The Co Carlow Maestro certainly seems to have trained him with just The Gold Cup in mind as he has followed the same route as last year. His only run since Punchestown in May being the same Listed Tramore event (2m5f Jan1 Soft) as the previous year, in which he had no trouble seeing off his stable companion, Acapella Bourgeois. Few animals manage to win the Gold Cup twice but there are few equals of Willie in the training stakes, and there won’t be too many surprised at Prestbury Park on Friday If he pulls it off.
Gordon Elliott won with Don Cossack 4 years ago, and will be hoping to follow up with Delta Work in the same colours, (he would be a third winner for the Gigginstown operation who also won with War Of Attrition in 2006) and this very progressive 7yo has to be on most people’s short list. Despite having to be switched twice in last year’s RSA he was only beaten 1/2L and 1 3/4L by Topofthegame and Fridays opponent, Santini. He went on to easily win the Grade1 Champion Novice Chase at The Punchestown Festival 48 days later where he had the now 166 rated A Plus Tard
14 1/2L back in third. He made no impression at Down Royal on his reappearance in November but 8 weeks later won Leopardstown’s Grade1 Savill Chase, outstaying Monalee to win by a Head, and 7 weeks later, beat the 177 rated Kemboy by 1 1/2L to land His biggest pot to date, The Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup. Only rated 139 when scraping home by the minimum distance in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle at The Festival in 2018 as a 5yo, he is now rated 32 pounds higher over fences and I doubt if we have yet seen the limit of this young animals improvement.
The Henry De Bromhead (won with Sizing John 3 years ago) trained Monalee did make Delta Work pull out all the stops to win The Savill Chase in December and could represent some value at his current odds of 20/1. However there has to be a big question mark over his stamina as the furthest he has won over is 3 miles and that was in a Hurdle race at Clonmel over 3 years ago. However he has got a decision over the current market leader, Al Boum Photo, (Leopardstown Feb 2018 2m5f Soft) who he beat by 3/4L in the Grade1 event, and by Milan, out of a Glacial Storm mare, is certainly bred to get the trip.
After finishing 2nd in last year’s RSA the Nicky Henderson trained, Santini was retired for the season, and following a 242 days break, made a less than auspicious start to the new campaign, when getting up by a head to beat a 144 rated opponent at Sandown in November. However, following wind surgery, and a 76 days break he looked a different animal, winning the Gold Cup Trial, The Cotswold Chase, (3m1 1/2f Soft) here at Prestbury Park by a very comfortable 3 1/2L from last year’s Gold Cup 3rd, Bristol De Mai. Nicky, who has won Cheltenham’s Blue Riband twice before thinks there is plenty more to come from the lightly raced 8yo and I for one wouldn’t disagree.
Selection. : Santini
Danger. : Delta Work