Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase Tips – 3m2 1/2f 70y March 18th.
This year’s race looks to be one of the most open, competitive, and exciting renewals, since Major Wyndham’s 5yo Red Splash stormed up the hill to beat Conjuror by a head in the inaugural running of the great contest way back in 1924. Team Mullins is mob handed at the time of writing and at least four of them have to be considered, Djakadam, Don Poli, Valseur Lido, and Vautour. Add to these top class animals the wonderful Cue Card, in line for a £1,000,000 bonus if successful, Alan King’s grand warrior Smad Place, and top rated of them all, Gordon Elliot’s 9-y-o Don Cossack (pictured above), and we must surely have one of the most intriguing contests of the modern era in prospect.
What a great performance for a 6yo, Djakadam put up in last years contest when finishing second to Coneygree! Always up with the pace, and maintaining a relentless gallop throughout, he had every chance but hit the last and lost vital momentum. He got back on an even keel and stayed on again to secure second place. After such a hard race for a young horse, many felt that stumps should be drawn for the season, but he was back in action six weeks later, and ran well finishing second, seven lengths behind Don Cossack in a Grade1 at Punchestown. He put stable companion Valseur Lido firmly in his place when reappearing at Punchestown in December (2 1/2m) and was then sent off the hot 5/6 fav to take the BetBright chase at Cheltenham in January. He travelled well but blotted his copybook at the 10th taking a nasty fall leaving a suturing job necessary on his chest. It has hardly been the ideal preparation but last year’s performance for a 6yo was outstanding, and it would come as no great surprise to see Rich Ricci leading this one in to the winners enclosure.
Also sporting the Ricci colours is the exciting 7yo Vautour. Going down by a head to Cue Card in the King George, he looked the winner coming to the last, but couldn’t resist the late challenge of the Tizzard horse. However his tendency to jump left was no help and he is definitely a better performer going anti-clockwise. The memory of his victory in the 2014 Supreme Novices hurdle, where he led the field a merry dance, remains fresh in the memory. He won by a long looking 6L and beat the great Istabrraq’s course record into the bargain. He also never put a foot wrong when cruising up by fifteen lengths in last years JLT over 2 1/2m at the Festival, running on strongly up the hill. While there must be some doubts about his stamina credentials, this four times Grade1 winner is the class act in the field, and given decent ground is going to take a lot of stopping.
Like stablemate Vautour, Don Poli boasts a 100% course record having won the RSA last year and the “Martin Pipe” the year before. His failure behind Valseur Lido at Punchestown six weeks after Cheltenham last April was too bad to be true and is easily excused. He has won both outings this season in workmanlike fashion, most recently the Lexus, where he had to work hard to get the better of First Lieutenant. He is an animal that races very lazily and it is hard to know how good he is. However you don’t win three Grade1 contests without plenty of talent, and his win in the “Martin pipe” demonstrated how much pace he has. He has had an ideal preparation and goes to post a fresh horse who is guaranteed to stay. If it turns into a real stamina test he must have great prospects of giving Willie his long awaited first win in the race.
There would be no more popular winner should Cue Card add this to his Betfair and King George victories and bag that £1,000,000. bonus. He is another about whom there have been stamina issues in the past but following a “breathing” operation is enjoying some thing of a renaissance. He certainly hasn’t been stopping at the business end of his three starts this term, and as we saw, outstayed Vautour at Kempton. It is hard to believe that it is six years since he flew up the hill to win the Champion Bumper and three years since his victory in the “Neptune” but if he really does stay he could be the first ten year old since Cool Ground in 1998 to collect.
Many observers feel that Gordon Elliott’s 9-year-old Don Cossack might have won the King George but for coming down at the second last, where having run indifferently for most of the race, and not the recipient of the greatest of rides, he was just beginning to stay on, and had gone into second place when falling. He got back on track last time with a facile win at Thurles and if back to the form that saw him beat Djakadam by 7L and Cue Card by 26L in Grade1 chases at Punchestown and Aintree last April, this five times winner at the top Grade, looks to have an awful lot going for him.
A wind operation and a change to front running tactics has transformed Alan King’s 9yo Smad Place. He was hugely impressive when making all to win the Hennessy by 12L. Held up in the King George he was a disappointing 4th,but reverting to front running he again impressed when taking the BetBright chase over the course in January. He Probably needs to find 10lbs from somewhere to win, but coming from this yard that is not impossible.
Last years third, Road To Riches, seems to be the forgotten horse of the race. The apple of his trainer’s eye, he ran a great race last year and given good ground he could spring a surprise.
Selection: Don Cossack
E.W. : Vautour