BetVictor Gold Cup Handicap Chase 2m4f (Old Course) Cheltenham Saturday

oddsguru tom dreaper

Tom Dreaper claimed the first ever Mackeson

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.

oddsguru mackesonThe 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

John Gray

BetVictor Gold Cup Handicap Chase 2 1/2m Cheltenham (Old Course) Saturday

Cheltenham RacesInaugurated in 1960, this valuable Grade3 Handicap, with it’s maximum field of 20, is invariably run with the choke out from flag-fall, and is no place for the faint hearted. The great Martin Pipe with an amazing 8 wins before retiring, certainly understood the type of animal required to succeed in this tough handicap, and son David will be hoping that a little of the Old Mans Magic has rubbed off when he attempts to win the race for the second time on Saturday with the ex French, Kings Socks.

The 6yo has only raced 3 times since finishing 2nd (Btn 2 1/2L) to the outstanding Willie Mullins trained, Footpad, now rated 166, in a French Grade1 Hurdle back in
June 2016. Thanks to niggling problems, it was a frustrating 607 days interval between his arrival  at Pond House in September 2016, before the son of Kings Best could make his British racecourse debut. He finished 3rd to Modus in a Class 2 Kempton Graduation Chase last February and 34 days later ran well to finish 5th, 8 1/2L behind
The Storyteller off a mark of 140 in a Grade3 Handicap at The Cheltenham Festival. Sent off the 7/2fav for the Red Rum Chase at Aintree the following month he was pulled up before 3 out and hasn’t been seen since. None of the above inspires any great confidence, but the suspicion lingers that we have yet to see the best of the Pipe horse, and off his mark of 139, giving him a racing weight of 10-4 he looks dangerously well handicapped.

Nicky Henderson’s sole success came with Fondmort 15 years ago, but he goes out to bat this time with a very live contender, the 7yo son of Oscar, Rather Be. He hasn’t raced since going down by a Head, off a mark of 153, to Mister Whitaker in The Close Brothers Novices Handicap (Soft) at The Festival in March, and meets that opponent on 9lbs better terms at the weekend. He goes well at Prestbury Park, running  well in the 2016 Festival Bumper, and significantly, “The Close Brothers”was run over Saturday’s track, The Old Course. Lack of a recent run is of no concern as he has won 3 times following a break of 6 months or longer. He looks nicely handicapped on a mark of 149 giving him a racing weight of 11-0 and has a serious chance of providing The Master Of Seven Barrow’s with a second success.

Despite being 9lbs worse off with Rather Be, Mick Channon’s Mister Whitaker deserves plenty of respect as he is clearly an animal improving at a rate of knots.

mick channon windmill

Will we get to see Mick Channon’s famous windmill on Saturday?

He has won his last three races, including the above heat over course and distance, and is bound to have benefited hugely from his reappearance win over Happy Diva at Carlisle 14 days ago. Very buzzy at the start he finished strongly up the Carlisle hill to beat the 140 rated runner up and should be a much more settled horse on Saturday. A 7lbs rise for the win looks quite severe but this 6yo, half brother to the useful, Broadway Buffalo, probably has plenty more to offer, and with the stable firing on all cylinders will be hard to keep out of the placings.

The Neil Mulholland trained 7yo, Kalondra would have gone close to winning The Galway Plate but for falling at the 2nd last racing off a mark of 147, and looks well handicapped on only a pound higher. He is another who enjoys the Prestbury Park air, finishing 3rd to Traffic Fluide last April and winning a Novices Chase last December both over the New Course, and coming from a yard in form is worth considering.

Irish stables have only taken the prize twice in the last 40 years, and if this poor record is to be improved, the sole representative from across The Irish Sea, Black Scorpion, will need a few above him in the Handicap to come out, but if he does get into the race, he wouldn’t be the worst EW punt, at 33/1 in the contest. He won nicely at Listowel in September and probably found the 3mile trip in The Munster National last time beyond him.

The BetVictor hasn’t been the greatest heat for top weights, but having said that it’s hard to ignore the claims of this year’s racecard no1, Frodon. bryony frost betvictorOne of 4 entries from the twice winning yard of Paul Nicholls, the 6yo, French bred Frodon, has won 8 of his 19 starts over fences, and following wind surgery and a 193 day break, put up a career best effort 3 weeks ago when winning the Grade2 Old Roan Chase at Aintree, off a mark of 158, under a great ride from Bryony Frost (pictured). Frodon has won twice at Cheltenham, including a near unique victory as a 4yo in the 2016 “Caspian Caviar,” and indeed was travelling strongly in that year’s renewal of the BetVictor when blundering away his chance at the 4th last. The son of Nickname has been jumping fences since his 3yo days in France and May only now be reaching his full potential, (has been entered for The King George V1) and it will come as no surprise if he joins that select band of Top Weighted Winners, particularly if Ms Frost keeps the ride.

Selection : Mister Whitaker
E.W.          : Frodon

John Gray

More Of That For BetVictor Gold Cup Success

more-of-that-for-betvictor-gold-cup-success-1BetVictor Gold Cup looks good for More Of That by Oddsguru – Since the original sponsors, Mackeson, gave up their thirty five year association with the race in 1995, the contest has had numerous backers, and this year’s renewal will see it run under yet another banner, with the BetVictor organisation putting up the cash. Always run at a cracking pace, the race has seen plenty of top notch handicappers in the winners enclosure, but only one, Imperial Commander in 2008, has gone on to win the Gold Cup itself. It has been a race for the younger horse, with only three animals older than nine collecting in it’s entire fifty five year history, and indeed, only three horses older than seven have won since 2000. Only two horses have won back to back contests, Half Free, trained by the great Fred Winter in 1984-1985, and Bradbury Star, trained by Josh Gifford in 1993-1994. The former carried the same weight for his repeat victory, and Bradbury Star had only 3lbs more in the plate for his, so last year’s hero, Annacotty, faces a major task off a 9lbs higher mark, if he is to join this exclusive club.

The Alan King trained 8yo only ran three more times last season, winning once, again over the course in January, and was well beaten in his last race, finishing 43L behind Vautour at the Festival. However he clearly goes well at the course, is at his best when fresh, and following a successful hobday operation, his excellent trainer is hopeful that he has made the necessary progress to defy Saturday’s new mark of 156.

more-of-that-for-betvictor-gold-cup-successPaul Nicholls has won two of the last four renewals, and is mob handed, seeking a third. Cases can be made for all four of his runners, but undoubtedly the 4yo Frodon is of particular interest as it is unprecedented for a horse of his age to participate. This ex French gelding has contested four chases, the first of them as a three year old at Auteil where he finished fourth of nine. He did win over hurdles at Auteil before joining the Ditcheat team, where, despite a win at Haydock last February, he has struggled over the smaller obstacles. However he has really come into his own since tackling fences, winning all three contested chases, last time quite impressively, a Grade2 novice chase at Wincanton seven days ago, where spring heeled at the obstacles, he came home in front in a good time. There is some uncertainty as to how he will react to the entirely different ball game of racing against twenty seasoned handicappers travelling with the choke out over Cheltenham’s tricky circuit, (he was well beaten in large fields at both the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals over hurdles) but it’s worth remembering that these French breds are taught to jump from the cradle, and if Mr Nicholls thinks he’s ready for Saturday’s test we should take note.

Tom George, who is having such a good season runs Double Shuffle, and this 6yo made an eye catching reappearance thirty four days ago. Racing off a mark of 140, and ridden for the first time by new stable jockey A. Heskins, he was having his first run for nearly six months, and looked badly outpaced until three out, where, taking hold of the bit, he ran on strongly, and only just failed to catch the winner, Art Mauresque, by a fast diminishing head. He has run well on all three previous visits to Cheltenham but didn’t seem to be quite getting home. That run at Chepstow strongly suggests that a lack of stamina has not been the problem and it may be that new man Heskins has found the key to him. Well worth considering!

Jonjo O’Neill has won the race twice and has two live contenders on Saturday, More of That and Taquin Du Seuil. The former won the 2014 World Hurdle, and following an enforced holiday, launched his chasing career at this meeting last year, where he comfortably beat Saturday’s opponent, As de Mee, over course and distance. He won again over the course four weeks later, and might well have remained unbeaten over fences, (and on the course) but for breaking a blood vessel in the RSA chase where he finished third. O’Neill considers him the best he has trained, and entertains strong hopes of winning the Gold Cup itself in March with this hugely talented animal, so you would have to give the 8yo, who goes well after a break, and racing off a mark of 154 a great chance at the weekend.

His other runner, Taquin Du Seuil is no back number either as he is twice a course winner, including at Grade1 level, and is ideally suited by Saturday’s trip. He ran a perfectly satisfactory trial for this when finishing less than 3L back in 6th, behind Ballyoptic over hurdles at Chepstow thirty one days ago on his first start for six months, and it will come as no surprise to see him involved at the business end on Saturday.

Young, and upwardly mobile trainer, Johnny Farrelly, runs the previous inmate of the Nicholls academy, Stilletto, and this 7yo could get involved at a nice price. He won off a mark of 132 by 10L at Leicester in February, and was then sent off the 11/2jf  for the Plate at the Festival, only to come down at the third fence. He made a satisfactory debut for his new stable five weeks later, finishing last of three over an inadequate two miles at Warwick. He looks nicely treated off a mark of 141, giving him a nice racing weight of 10st7lbs, and with one of the best pilots around, Noel Fehilly, doing the steering, could be there at the finish.

Selection: More Of That

E.W.      : Double Shuffle