First run in 1963 as The Massey Ferguson Gold Cup, Saturday’s contest has been won by some of the greats of the Winter Game including the mighty Flyingbolt, (some good judges rated him better than his illustrious stable mate, the immortal Arkle) who carried an eye watering 12-6 to a 15L victory in 1965, and the Fred Winter trained Pendil who won carrying the mega weight of 12-7 in 1973. Happily, horses no longer have to carry such welter weights, but 3 winners in the last decade have done so with 11-7 or more in the Plate, and last year’s Hero, Frodon, carried 11-12. Course form is particularly relevant, as the last animal to win on his Prestbury Park debut, was Kings Fountain 28 years ago, as is age, as we have to go back to Fragrant Dawn’s victory in 1993 to find a winner older than eight. The stand out statistic in the contest though, has to be the record of runners trained by Paul Nicholls, who have won 5 of the last 10 renewals, and the Master of Ditcheat again seems to hold a strong hand with his two contenders this year, Secret Investor, and Brelan D’As.
The former, a 7yo son of Kayf Tara, has won 2 of his 6 starts over fences, including a Grade2 at Ayr last April, and looks progressive. He made a satisfactory reappearance in another Grade2, 6 weeks ago, when finishing a 14L second at Down Royal following a 203 days break, and can be expected to have come on for the run. On a mark of 150 giving him 11-7 to carry on Saturday, he looks fairly treated, and my only concern would be that this will be his first run at Prestbury Park.
Stable companion, the 8yo, Brelan D’As on the other hand will be appearing at the track for the 7th time, and while he has yet to score at the course, ran his best race ever when finishing a brave 2nd in last months Bet Victor Gold Cup. It was only by a diminishing neck that he failed to reel in the winner, Happy Diva in an epic battle up the Cheltenham hill. A French bred son of Crillon, he looked well suited by racing back at 2m4f in The Bet Victor (Old Course) where he ran on so resolutely, (his 4 previous runs had been over 2miles) and might well find the more galloping nature of the new course on Saturday even more to his liking. Despite a 5lbs rise his mark of 143 looks fair, giving him a racing weight of 11-0.
Venetia Williams won with Niceonefrankie 5 years ago, and will be hoping that last year’s runner up, the 7yo, Cepage, can go one better this time. The son of Saddler Maker was retired for the season following that excellent effort, and following a 329 days break, made a very satisfactory reappearance 5 weeks ago, when giving Saturday’s opponent and current favourite, Riders Onthe Storm, plenty to think about. In a Class2 Aintree Handicap, he was only beaten 1 3/4L by the Twiston-Davies runner and meets him on 5lbs better terms on Saturday. With the run under his belt, and obviously well suited by Saturday’s track it should be close between them.
It is only since joining The Twiston-Davies Academy in November that Riders Onthe Storm has shown what a talented individual he is with that impressive Aintree victory. His record of 1/5 over fences when trained by Tom Taaffe was hardly impressive, and he had either fallen or was pulled up in his 2 previous races. However they have obviously found the key to him at Naunton, and that was a near faultless round over the stiff Mildmay fences. My only concern would be the Handicappers reaction of raising him a very severe looking 13 lbs.
The Dan Skelton trained 6yo, Not That Fuisse, a decent hurdler, has only raced 3 times over fences, finishing 2nd twice. He was runner up in a 2m Novices here at Cheltenham in October, but his best effort was over 2m4f when finishing a close 2nd on his chasing debut at Uttoxeter the same month. Giving 5lbs to the 137 rated, Eric The Red, he was only beaten a length, and the Handicapper seems to have been quite lenient leaving him on 131 for this his handicap debut. He needs a few above him to come out but if getting into the race could be interesting.
Winning three chases off the reel, including a Grade2 in late 2017, the future looked bright for the Gary Moore trained Benatar, and he did indeed perform well in his first race of 2018, the Grade1 JLT Novices Chase at The Cheltenham Festival, finishing 3rd despite being found to be lame in his off hind. However the wheels have come off in his 4 subsequent races, the last time at Ascot in January. Nevertheless Benatar can go well after a break, and Gary Is a past master at reviving a horse’s fortunes so it’s definitely too early to write off this son of the outstanding National Hunt stallion, Beneficial.
Following a 231 day break and wind surgery, the Warren Greatrex trained 8yo Keeper Hill ran his best race for a long time when winning a valuable Haydock Handicap off a mark of 146 three weeks ago, a career best. He beat the runner up, the 155 rated Midnight Shadow in a sustained duel by 1/2L giving him 11lbs and may only now be fulfilling the promise he showed when winning a Doncaster Grade2 two years ago.
Selection : Cepage
EW. : Brelan D’As. Benatar