Nothing gets the blood pumping quite like the Cheltenham Festival and, with just 8 weeks to go to the 2015 instalment, it’s time to start taking a weekly look at some of the Festival’s most prestigious races – starting with the biggest of them all – The Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The Gold Cup, sometimes referred to as the Blue Riband of National Hunt Racing, is a 3 mile 2½ furlong grade-1 chase that requires horses to jump 22 fences. At the end of it all there’s the Cheltenham hill, a place where hearts are broken, a place where dreams die – a place where only the toughest of battlers poke their head in front to lift what is arguably the most sought after prize in jumps racing.
Since the first Gold Cup in 1924, only seven horses have won it multiple times: Easter Hero (1929-1930), Golden Miller (1932-1936), Cottage Rake (1948-1950), Arkle (1964-1966), L’Escargot (1970-1971), Best Mate (2002-2004) and Kauto Star (2007 and 2009), whilst Kauto Star became the first horse to regain his crown after losing it.
Of the Gold Cup winning trainers still training, Kim Bailey’s triumph with Master Oats dates back the furthest – giving us 19 relevant renewals to make a statistical analysis of.
Of those 19 winners, seven where 9-year-olds, five 7-year-olds, five 8-year-olds, one 6-year-old and one 10-year-old though, perhaps more importantly, all but See More Business where winning the Gold Cup at their first attempt – with the obvious other exceptions of multiple winners Kauto Star and Best Mate.
Paul Nicholls (4 wins) and Nicky Henderson (2 wins) are the only trainers still training to have won more than one Gold Cup, whilst jockeys AP McCoy, Barry Geraghty and Ruby Walsh have all ridden two winners.
Siviniaco Conti 3/1
The highest rated 3-mile chaser in Britain and Ireland is rightly favourite after becoming the latest dual King George winner. Being a 9-year-old trained by Paul Nicholls are obvious plusses, but the big negative is that he is trying to win the Gold Cup at his third attempt.
Road To Riches 9/1
Rapidly improving 8-year-old that seems to handle most ground, and has impressed over 3-miles on his last two runs. Lack of experience of Cheltenham is a negative as is his trainer’s, Noel Meade’s, poor strike rate at the Festival.
Another 8-year-old, though this one has won at the last two Cheltenham Festivals. Those runs may have only been in handicaps off marks of 140 and 145, but he then ran even better at Aintree a few weeks later. Typically at his best in the spring – as is his trainer Jonjo O’Neill.
Lord Windermere 16/1
Brilliantly peaked by his trainer Jim Culloty (who rode Best Mate to all three of his Gold Cup victories) to win the 2013 RSA Chase and the 2014 Gold Cup, and there’s no reason why the reigning-champ won’t put up a stern defence.
Bobs Worth 16/1
Won the Albert Bartlett, RSA Chase and the 2013 Gold Cup at consecutive Festivals, but there’s no denying that three of his four runs since have been way below that standard. Bids to become the second horse to regain his title – but looks a tough task at the age of 10.
Many Clouds 16/1
Oliver Sherwood’s 8-year-old bids to mirror Denman by winning the Hennessey and the Gold Cup in the same season – but he’s not as highly-rated as Denman was and his Cheltenham record, 9th and brought down, hardly inspires confidence either.
Boston Bob 20/1
Master-trainer Willie Mullins will surely win a Gold Cup soon, and Boston Bob is no forlorn hope. His Cheltenham record, 2nd/fell/last/6th doesn’t tell the whole story as he fell at the last when leading the 2013 RSA Chase won by Lord Windermere and was staying on when finishing 6th in last year’s Ryan Air Chase. However, there’s a suspicion he’s better on a flat-track, is yet to hit top-form this season, and he’s a 10-year-old.
On His Own 20/1
Improved massively in his three years at Willie Mullins’ stable, culminating in an agonising near miss when runner-up in last season’s Gold Cup. However, you have to go back to 1962 to find the last winning 11-year-old.
Yet to win at Cheltenham in four attempts and, though he will be trying to emulate his connections’ 2012 Gold Cup winner Synchronised, his aim may well be the Grand National.
Smad Place 33/1
Alan King’s 8-year-old has been placed in two World Hurdles and an RSA Chase, and could sneak another place on genuine good ground.
The Giant Bolster 33/1
David Bridgewater’s 10-year-old has finished 2nd/4th/3rd in the last three Gold Cups – and could reach a place again at decent odds, though it’s hard to see him being a winning 10-yearold at his fourth attempt.
Top-rated Silviniaco Conti could provide Paul Nicholls with a 5th winner in the race but the odds looks stingy, whilst there’s no proof that Road To Riches won’t take to Cheltenham. For ante-post value though it has to be Holywell, whose price could come down dramatically if Jonjo O’Neill bursts into form or a certain AP McCoy is booked to ride.
2 points each-way Holywell @ 14/1