The race was first run as the Whitbread Gold Cup in 1957 at the instigation of the Brewers chairman, Colonel Bill Whitbread, who as an amateur had ridden in two Grand Nationals. The first commercial sponsorship in British sport, the race continued under the Whitbread banner until 2002. The race’s roll of honour boasts six Cheltenham Gold Cup winners, Pas Seul (1961), Arkle (1965), What a Myth (1966), Mill House (1967), The Dikler (1974), and Desert Orchid (1988). Alas the Wonderful grey was the last Cheltenham hero to collect at Sandown, but perhaps the 2013 Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth may have something to say about that on Saturday. It is highly unlikely that the legendary Fulke Walwyns record of seven victories in the contest will ever be equalled, but Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson, and Philip Hobbs, with two wins each, have certainly got a record to be proud of.
Henderson, who won last years renewal with the 7yo, Hadrians Approach, is represented on Saturday by his 2013 Gold Cup Winner, Bobs Worth, and has been given a real chance by the handicapper. Rated as high as 180 in the past, He races off a mark of 159 at the weekend. He has been very disappointing since his win in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown in December 2013, but it is worth noting that the last time He ran on good ground, (2014 Gold Cup) He did run a decent race, beaten only 4L. It is interesting that his highly talented trainer is persevering with him, so perhaps Saturday’s less demanding test may bring about a revival.
Market leader, (9/1) at the time of writing, is the Emma Lavelle trained 7yo Milan gelding, Le Reve, and he does seem to have a lot going for him. Particularly well suited by going right handed, (5 wins 4 places from 12 runs) He has an enviable record at Sandown, where He has won twice, and been placed twice from six course appearances. He ran a fine race at Ascot in December, finishing 4L behind the very progressive The Young Master, and then beat that good yardstick Theatrical Star easily over the course six weeks later, off a mark of 139. Second to the talented Rocky Creek, (with whom he is 8lbs better off on Saturday) he was put away with the weekend contest in mind. He has never won on good ground, (only 2 runs) but his sires offspring like it, so it shouldn’t be an issue. A slight reservation would be the stables lack of form but with jockey of the moment Leighton Aspell in the plate He is definitely one for the short list.
With his exceptional record in the race, Philip Hobbs’s Duke of Lucca is worth a second look. This is certainly his time of year, with his last four wins having come in either March or April, and he will be well suited by Saturday’s forecast good ground. He stayed on with great reseloution two weeks ago over the Mildmay course at the aintree festival to deny Your Busy, and the Nicholls trained Wonderful Charm, by a nk and a nk. He meets Wonderful Charm on the same terms on Saturday, so if fully recovered from his Liverpool exertions, with only a featherweight of 10st. To carry (He is 1lb overweight) is worth considering.
Warren Greatrex’s prolific scoring hunter chaser, Paint The Clouds will think he’s loose with just 10st on his back, having been used to humping around 12st and more in the amateur division. He ran well in the Fox Hunters at the Cheltenham festival finishing third to the runaway winner On The Fringe. He couldn’t match Nora Carberry’s mount for speed from the last, but as the winner repeated the dose at Liverpool, it was certainly no disgrace. He is another animal who reserves his best for the Spring and Early Summer, (9 wins from March to June) likes good ground, and stays forever, so with his nice racing weight is another for the short list.
Henry de Bromhead’s 7yo Grand Jesture belied his odds of 25/1 when running the hugely progressive The Druids Nephew to 3 3/4L at the Cheltenham festival, off a mark of 143, on only his 7th start over fences. He ran like an improving stayer at Prestbury park, so off a mark only 4lbs higher and ridden by the very promising 3lb claimer JJ Burke He is well worth considering.
Selection: Le Reve.
E.W. : Paint The Clouds.