Presenting Percy is the one to beat, surely? Too commanding was his RSA victory twelve month ago – a second successive Festival success after landing the Pertemps in equally impressive fashion another year earlier.
A less than ideal preparation for the Gold Cup stands on the other side. Only one run over hurdles, not having contested a chase this season; it has to be a big negative, regardless of how bullish Davy Russell and trainer Pat Kelly are.
I don’t necessarily mind having only one race this season. Coming fresh to Cheltenham, potentially fresher than rivals, in what should be another war of attrition, may not be that big a deal. But not having jumped a single fence in public for a year certainly is.
Visually Presenting Percy looks the real deal. Even though over hurdles, the Galmoy success at Gowran Park, the RSA, the Pertemps… they were wonderful performances on the eye.
It’s a different matter on the clock. In five starts over fences his best time speed rating is a lowly 106. Given he ran to 146 over hurdles and he potentially better over the larger obstacles he is potentially capable to better that. He hasn’t shown it yet, though.
With all these negatives, despite having the best man for the job in the saddle with Davy Russell, I can not see the value in the 7/2 odds. He may drift out on the day and if so, at 6/1 and upwards I’d be interested.
Defending champion Native River has defied a few trends already, so why shouldn’t he be the one who does the near impossible, going back-to-back?
On the many preview nights you could hear plenty of positive vibes, because with the ground likely coming up favourably for him, there are many much wiser men than I am who believe the nine-year-old is capable of mastering the enormous task on hand, that is defending his crown in the Gold Cup.
Form wise it’s hard to judge what he has really done this season. Again only a light campaign, he ran with plenty of credit on fast ground in the Betfair Chase, which was also his seasonal return. He rallied on rather quick ground once more in the King George.
It was a concerning look I felt, nonetheless: Native River, the reigning Gold Cup champion outpaced way too early in one the few big targets he’d have this season. Sure, Cheltenham is a different task. Nonetheless, nearly 14 lengths beaten, racing clearly with less zest than in the past, was and still is a big concern for me.
The new kid on the block – at least in terms of being regarded as a true Gold Cup contender – is Clan Des Obeaux. Even though, not quite that fresh; in fact this is his 3rd season over fences.
He’s only won five of his 13 starts since going chasing, and only lately did he come into the frame as a potential winner of the blue ribbon of jump racing.
An impressive success in the King George, followed up with a visually incredibly impressive Denman Chase victory – it’s obvious this is a horse in the prime of his career.
Personally I still struggle to take him serious for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. In truth, all he’s done is beating horses that haven’t been in peak form in the King George, and you hardly can take the latest Ascot race as a proper measuring stick.
Clan Des Obeaux was a runner-up in two of four runs at Cheltenham, so he’s probably okay over course and distance. But the fact remains his jumping can be sketchy at times, he can be a tricky ride in general and quite obviously he’s much better at right handed- and speedier tracks in my view.
I’m not saying he can’t win. Of course Clan Des Obeaux can – he’s the form horse. But there is at least as much on the con-side as on the pro-side, therefore he’s a skinny price.
Might Bite has clearly gone backwards. He’s had another wind procedure after a lackluster effort in the King George (and preceding Betfair Chase). You have to have a lot of confidence that this will help the son of Scorpion to rediscover the magic he produced in 2017 and 2018. Even at 14’s or bigger I’m not ready to take a punt on this.
Can Willie Mullins finally win a Gold Cup? He got close with Djakadam a couple of times. There are those that say, despite running four in this year’s renewal, he’s not the quality to win it. There’re others who’re sweeter on his chance this year. Including myself.
There is Irish Gold Cup winner Bellshill. Only nine runs over fences for the nine-year-old, he appears to be still on the upward. He’s clearly come a long way since finishing a 10 lengths beaten third behind Might Bite in the 2017 RSA Chase. Nearly an Irish National winner, now a Punchestown and Irish Gold Cup winner – you have to respect his chance.
Bellshill goes on any ground, he stays the trip and even on ratings – particularly if you’re in the camp believing the market leaders are a bit overrated – he’s got little to find to be right up there. I find little wrong with him anyway – he’ll be bang there.
There is not a lot wrong with Kemboy. He really stepped up this season, winning a Grade 2 on reappearance followed by a wide margin Savills Chase success at Leopardstown.
Nearly the same as for Bellshill applies, even though there is a little niggle in my head – despite having form on slower ground, whether Kemboy simply found perfect conditions, both in terms of ground and how the race panned out at Leopardstown? Both clearly favoured his speed hence do we overvalue this form?
Despite Bellshill finishing well behind Kemboy that day, I feel he’s got more improvement to come and in a match race would be my choice.
That says, purely on prices, I do fancy Al Boum Photo the most of this trio – Invitation Only really should not be good enough. But Al Boum Photo has definitely the potential to be good enough.
Surprisingly, the seven-year-old flies quite a bit under the radar. True, Tremore form is hardly sexy, and New Year’s Day may feel like a long time ago now, as that was the last time we saw him – however, it shouldn’t be forgotten what he did that day as he slaughtered a pretty decent field in the Savills Chase.
The seven-year-old has not too many miles on the clock, but during his career he’s certainly been somewhat an ‘unlucky’ horse: most prominently in last season’s Punchestown Champion Novice Chase when he ran out before the last fence while looking like the winner of the race.
Earlier that season he won the Gold Cup Novice Chase beating Shattered Love which came right after a late fall in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham, where he would have finished at least a clear third (most likely second, I believe) behind Presenting Percy. He wouldn’t have caught the winner, but running so well as a 6-year-old in that type of race rates significant in my book.
Al Boum Photo looks incredibly talented and Willie Mullins alludes to the fact that despite all the excellent performances the gelding has beside his name, we haven’t seen the best of him yet.
Soft in the going description will be vital for Al Boum Photo. Given the current whether forecast it looks likely we’ll get that come Friday. Unlikely it’ll be heavy, but it should be still riding on the slower side is my prediction.
This type of conditions are key to my second fancy also: Shattered Love. The only mare in the race, at the bottom of Official Ratings and certainly not seen as a serious contender whatsoever, judged by the betting market.
The market may have it wrong, though. On RPR’s she’s got to find 6-12 pounds with the market principles. If my assumption is correct that Native River and CDO are overrated, then, taking the 7lb sex allowance into considerations, Shattered Love is suddenly right up there. That doesn’t take into considerations potential race conditions and any sort of improvement the mare could still show.
The facts are: the mare has a 45.5% win rate over fences, she has been outside of the money only twice in eleven starts over the larger obstacles, she is in the right age group as an eight-year-old and most importantly she has Festival form.
Cast your mind twelve months back, when Shattered Love stormed up the hill to win the JLT decisively. It wasn’t a fluke. She followed up with strong runner-up performance behind Al Boum Photo in the Gold Cup Novice Chase at Fairyhouse.
That was last season. Has she trained on? Absolutely! Two fine second place efforts this season, most notably chasing home Min over 2.5 miles in the John Durkan can be classified as rock solid form – notably upgraded because they came on unsuitably fast ground.
Hence I’m not worried about Shattered Love’s below-par run at Leopardstown over Christmas. She needs cut in the ground and Gordon Elliott said afterwards he’ll keep her fresh, not risking her on ground too fast until the Gold Cup.
While it is true the mare needs to improve a bit, I feel she may well do so and is certainly entitled to more respect than she is currently receiving. Shattered Love has a lot going for herself either way: the weight allowance will help her allot. She has pace but stays well also. She proved good enough to step into open company. She’ll primed for the run of her life comes Friday.
5pts win – Shattered Love @27/1 MB
5pts win – Al Boum Photo @22/1 WH