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Cheltenham Festival: Gold Cup preview

Updated: Friday, 15 Mar 2013 15:47 | Comments

Tony McCoy will ride Sir Des Champs in the Gold Cup
Tony McCoy will ride Sir Des Champs in the Gold Cup

By Barry McEneaney

The official Gold Cup trip may be three miles and two and a half furlongs, but it’s almost certain that Captain Chris will have to run considerably further than his rivals to complete the race.

A pronounced tendency to jump to his right means he’ll be ceding valuable ground in a contest on a left-handed track, which should scupper his bid here and could potentially compromises the chances of one of his rivals.

His run last time out against Cue Card at Ascot over two miles and five and a half furlongs was well and truly franked when that one hacked up in yesterday’s Ryanair Chase. He seemed certain to throw down a stern challenge as they came to the second-last, but a shuddering blunder at that obstacle effectively ended his challenge and he came six lengths behind the winner in second.

On his penultimate start, he came agonisingly close to upsetting Long Run in the King George at Kempton. However, that result almost certainly flattered him as he raced towards the rear for much of the race, while Long Run stuck close to a brutal early pace.

There’s nothing to suggest Captain Chris wants any part of this searching trip and it’s likely that his current price overstates his win and place prospects be quite some way.

It’s going to be fascinating to see just how jockey Richard Johnson rides his race today.

When you’re on a horse you know to be vastly superior to his opponents, there’s room for error. Captain Chris obviously doesn’t fall into that category. Johnson will have to take calculated risks and shortcuts wherever he can find them to give his mount any chance.

One way he could try to curb Captain Chris’ errant technique would be to stick to the inside and attempt to use his rivals as an equine running rail. But if he attempts that, carnage could ensue. As well as ending his own chances, Captain Chris’ inclination to go right at his fences could spell disaster for one of the other runners. The other jockeys in the race need to consider giving the Philip Hobbs inmate a wide berth. Ultimately, I think he’ll finish out of the places and I can envisage a scenario where he may not finish the contest.

Bobs Worth, Sir Des Champs, Silviniaco Conti and Long Run - the four leading protagonists – have much to recommend them.

Bobs Worth would have been the selection, but his long absence since the Hennessy worries me. If he were a doubtful stayer, he wouldn’t even feature on my shortlist due to that nagging negative. However, he’s such a stout stayer and so hardy that you’d imagine he can overcome just about anything. The potential for rain this morning is another slight concern as he could well be a horse that runs and jumps better on a relatively sound surface. Simonsig scored for trainer Nicky Henderson in the Arkle Chase on Tuesday, having not run since Christmas, but still underperformed somewhat. Bobs Worth has been off the track for an even longer period (104 days) and certainly wouldn’t appear to have the same sort of advantage over his rivals as Simonsig enjoyed. At a best-price 11-4, there isn’t much room for manoeuvre. If he doesn’t win, I think he’ll have a legitimate excuse.

It’s hard to know if former winner Long Run is the force of old. Last season’s third in a poor Gold Cup wouldn’t inspire confidence, but he appears to be returning to form. Having finished second to Silviniaco Conti (who enjoyed a fitness edge) on his seasonal return, he reclaimed his King George crown in battling fashion at Kempton over Christmas. The application of cheekpieces is an interesting move. When the French import first moved to Britain he was a hard-pulling individual with plenty of speed. But with maturation, he’s metamorphosised into a slightly lazy sort, with almost too much stamina. The headgear should work well in this spot. The debate over the strengths and weaknesses of his amateur rider grows increasingly tiresome. The partnership has been together for quite some time and a strong argument can be made that Sam Waley-Cohen’s presence on the horse has already been factored into his price by the betting market. He has strong claims and should be there or thereabouts, but yet again it’s a case of absence not making the heart grow fonder. Yes, he had a hard race in the King George, but I’d have liked to have seen him race this calendar year.

Silviniaco Conti is realising the potential he showed on his last start at Aintree last season and is unbeaten this term. Having accounted for three of today’s rivals along the way, he’s hard to fault. His lack of chasing experience at Cheltenham is a slight concern, but there’s no obvious reason why he wouldn’t act on the course.

Davy Russell’s enforced absence from Sir Des Champs is hugely unfortunate, but Willie Mullins’ star seems entirely straightforward and should respond to Tony McCoy’s urgings. Like most horses, he seems to respond best to being finessed in to a fence, rather than being ridden aggressively towards one, so there will need to be a time and a place for that trademark McCoy drive. The horse is unbeaten in two starts at Presbury Park and that has to be regarded as a massive positive. He didn’t jump at all well in the Lexus Chase at Christmas and looked beat some way out, but the fact he rallied so effectively to go down by less than a length confirmed the huge talent he possesses.

If heavy rain was to materialise before the race, two worth considering for second or third are the dour staying duo of Cape Tribulation and Monbeg Dude. The latter contender has the lowest official rating in the field, which gives you an idea of the Sisyphean task he face just to reach the places. However, connections realise this, and Paul Carberry is likely to drop his mount out the back and let the race develop ahead of him. If any of the leading lights race too fast, fall, or get savaged by Captain Chris, an unlikely sort could reach the frame.

Sir Des Champs can only be a tentative selection, such are the potential threats posed by his market rivals.

However, opposing the underpriced Captain Chris is an approach taken with far more confidence. Ideally, laying him in the place market on Betfair looks the way to go here, but effectively backing a winner at a likely price of between 2-5 and 1-3 won’t appeal to some.

The alternative is to take him on in the match bet (horse A to finish ahead of, or progress further than horse B) market. The margins in this market are not as tight as they could be, but the negatives surrounding Captain Chris are such that they still represent a little value.

Selection: Sir Des Champs

Alternative: Silviniaco Conti

Advised staking policy (scale 0-20 points)

Match bet: Cape Tribulation v Captain Chris - Cape Tribulation 3pts 4-6 (Ladbrokes) (Won)

Match bet: The Giant Bolster v Captain Chris - The Giant Bolster 3pts 5-6 (Victor Chandler, William Hill) (Won)

Previous selections and recommendations:

Selection: Zarkandar (4th)

Alternative: Countrywide Flame (3rd)

Advised staking policy (scale 0-20 points):

Zarkandar: 4pts each-way 4-1 (4th)

Countrywide Flame 2pts each-way 16-1 (3rd)

Khyber Kim 0.5pt each-way 50-1 (6th)

Selection: Sprinter Sacre (WON)

Alternative: Sizing Europe (2nd)

Advised staking policy (scale 0-20 points):

Recommendation is no bet

Selection: Cue Card (WON)

Alternative: For Non Stop (3rd)

Advised staking policy scale (0-20 points)

Cue Card 3pts each-way 4-1 (WON)

For Non Stop 1pt win, 0.5pt place 14-1 (3rd)

Selection: Reve de Sivola (4th)

Alternative: Cross Kennon (7th)

Advised staking policy scale (0-20 points)

Reve de Sivola 1pt each-way 6-1 (4th)

Cross Kennon 0.5pt each-way 100-1 (7th)

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