By Barry McEneaney
3.20 Cheltenham Gold Cup
Bobs Worth bids for a second consecutive Gold Cup, having never lost at the Cheltenham Festival. The nine-year-old may not race with the elan of many of the previous winners of the race, but guts and determination have allowed him to reach the top of the chasing tree.
Nicky Henderson’s charge disappointed on his seasonal debut in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, but that flat, speed-favouring track was never going to play to his strengths.
He bounced back at Leopardstown on his last start when seeing off First Lieutenant in the Lexus Chase. That form can be crabbed, but racing at his favourite racecourse on better ground should see him to even better effect.
His position at the head of the market looks justified.
Silviniaco Conti was another horse to improve massively from his seasonal debut in the Betfair Chase, reversing form with Haydock hero Cue Card in comprehensive fashion.
He travelled well in this race last year before departing at the third last, leading many to speculate that he would have prevailed. However, the eventual winner finds more of the bridle than perhaps any other top-class horse in training, so it’s hard to project what the ultimate would have been. Besides, jumping is the name of the game, so his fall has to be taken as a negative. The strength of his form this season means he warrants his lofty perch in the betting.
Last Instalment was sidelined for almost two years due to injury. He romped to an emphatic victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup on his second start this season, having earlier lost little caste in defeat in his return from that long absence at Thurles.
Leopardstown clearly suits him well, as does a soft surface, and is one of the few runners in the field with the scope to topple the top two as he remains unexposed. The main issue with him is a physical one, and owner Michael O’Leary has described him as having “two glass legs.” Concerns over his frail pins means he’s not a definite starter even at this late stage. A strong argument can be made for him from a form perspective, but having to race on an undulating track with a relatively sound surface (albeit a softening one) means the decision to back him becomes a marginal one.
First Lieutenant, who runs in the same colours as Last Instalment, eschewed the Ryanair Chase in favour of running in this far more competitive race. He’s come up a little short this season and also has stamina to prove over this trip. However, he’s always run well at Prestbury Park and would have claims in a slowly-run race.
Triolo D’Alene proved a revelation in his Hennessy win at Newbury at the end of November. He’s been absent since due to the prevalence of soft ground and should relish the surface here. Bob’s Worth’s stablemate has contracted notably in the betting and reports suggest he’s been working well at home. Similar dispatches emerged from Seven Barrows regarding the wellbeing of Captain Conan ahead of the Champion Chase, but he ran a deplorable race and was pulled up. The main negative he has to overcome is a poor record at Cheltenham. His two previous runs were over inadequate trips, but the efforts suggested the topography of Prestbury Park may not be for him.
The Giant Bolster’s best ever runs have come in the last two Gold Cups. Having filled the runner up-berth behind Synchronised in 2012, he finished fourth last season. He could snatch a place again this year.
On His Own ran stormers at Gowran Park and Fairyhouse on his last two starts which prompted connections to supplement him for this race. Softer ground and right-handed racecourses may provide his optimal conditions.
Lord Windermere has been very disappointing during this campaign, but last year’s RSA Chase winner has proven he acts well on the track. His stamina is assured and he could leave his earlier form behind if this renewal is run at a fast pace.
Verdict: The presence of both Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti in the field means any pretender to the Gold Cup crown has not one but two strong contenders to overcome. The old adage about “never being afraid of one horse” could be applicable in the feature on the final day of the Festival. Those betting each-way have always at least one eye on landing the win part of such bets, but the profiles of many of the horses that could fill the each-way role hardly make for compelling cases.
Last Instalment, First Lieutenant, The Giant Bolster and Lord Windermere make most appeal at their current odds, but there are caveats.
Last Instalment is the obvious alternative to the two market principles. His Leopardstown win and the promise of more to come make him appealing. However, drying ground is unlikely to aid his cause. The likelihood is that he’ll run one of two contrasting races - an awesome one or an abject one. He almost certainly represents better value as a win bet than an each-way wager.
Lord Windermere’s odds of 33-1 reflect the magnitude of his task. He’s likely to run a clunker, but could bounce back to form due to course, trip and pace conditions. A win bet, with the option to trade out in-running on Betfair in the unlikely event he should run well, looks preferable to an each-way punt.
The Giant Bolster and First Lieutenant are more solid each-way options, but more limited ones, in that it’s tough to see either winning. The former lacks class, while the latter would need a pedestrian early pace to score.
The match bet market may be the best way to play First Lieutenant and The Giant Bolster in this race, with Triolo D’Alene and On His Own looking underpriced.
Selection: Bobs Worth
Alternative: Silviniaco Conti
Advised bets and staking policy
First Lieutenant to beat Triolo D’Alene, 1pt (First Lieutenant now a non-runner) *
The Giant Bolster to beat Triolo D’Alene, 1pt
The Giant Bolster to beat On His Own, 1pt