PREVIEW CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP GRADE ONE
Irish-trained horses have won six of the last eight renewals of the Gold Cup, culminating in Henry De Bromhead training the first and second in 2021. According to the market we should expect more of the same in 2022 with Irish trainers being responsible for five of the first six in the market. That list of five includes the one,two,three from last season.
A FEW NOTES TO COMPARE WITH YOUR OWN THOUGHTS
I have had a few each way multiple bets running on from Energumene. My position in this race will be partly dependent on how Vauban does in the Triumph Hurdle. If Vauban happens to win, I will stand to win a fair pot should either A Plus Tard or Minella Indo come home in front. Consequently, given that scenario I will consider my position very carefully prior to this race. This may result in a couple of short price lays or backing one or two of the dangers pre-race or in running when hopefully only one or two rivals still appear to be of some concern.
Plenty of water to go under the bridge before having to think too deeply about this matter…
As for the race itself I remain of the view that the A Plus Tard/Galvin form is the strongest on offer and the Irish-trained Minella Indo and Al Boum Photo represent the biggest dangers. The fact that the market agrees with me would probably make this a non-betting race without the possibility of the multiple bets coming to fruition.
The drying ground is likely to be quite tiring and leaves us in a difficult position. Will the ground be faster than ideal for Royale Pagaille? – Yes
Will it have enough give in it to allow him to perform well? – Possibly
The Venetia Williams yard has had a good week and I do think Royale Pagaille is up to this sort of level in the right conditions. I also believe that his right conditions are more likely to come when he returns to compete at Haydock in November.
The form of the Nicky Henderson yard this week offers plenty of encouragement for the claims of Chantry House. Conversely, his latest four performances would leave him with plenty to find in my view. If he wins today, it will be time to reassess my thoughts on him.
Of the British contingent I prefer the claims of Protektorat who is versatile with regards the ground and also has a very strong Cheltenham run to his name earlier this season. The distance should be in his favour, and I hope to see him perform well.
I have had a few small bets on Asterion Forlonge at 40/1 and 33/1 and he remains a ‘hit or miss’ proposition in the Gold Cup. It could easily go horribly wrong for him going this way round; conversely, if everything falls into place for him, he is one of the few horses in the race with the ability to win it.
Depending on what happens in the first race, I may send out a Gold Cup update later.
SIGNIFICANT DIARY NOTES
A Plus Tard
28th December 2021 – Leopardstown – He was in sixth place and some four or five lengths behind the two leaders jumping the third last fence. By the time he jumped the second last fence he was alongside Galvin and just behind the leader. In retrospect this proved to be a race losing move; furthermore, it was a move made whilst travelling four horses wide round a bend. He shut the door on Galvin coming off the bend and still posted a very fast time from two out to one out in comparison with Galopin Des Champs. He was okay at best over the final fence and tired from there to the line. This allowed the strong stayer Galvin to make up the ground and catch him on the line. A Plus Tard made up a lot of ground in a very short space of time whilst competing off a relatively slow pace. If he had enjoyed a more effective trip through the race, I suspect he would have run out a good winner of this grade one chase. In that respect, I would suggest he remains the right favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
20th November 2021 – Haydock – There can be little doubt that the Betfair Chase could not have gone much better for A Plus Tard. After jumping extremely well throughout he simply sauntered clear of his rivals from the third last fence to the winning line. His winning performance presents even better when one compares his sectional times with Bravemansgame who ran over a shorter trip an hour earlier.
28th December 2021 – Leopardstown – It probably turned out to be a blessing in disguise when the eventual runner up shut the door on him off the final bend. He lost ground and momentum as a consequence and had to be switched wide to challenge. He was outpaced in the early part of the home straight before his stamina kicked in from the last to the line. He beat Minella Indo fair and square at Down Royal last time out and has beaten the current Gold Cup favourite in a tight finish here. His form at Cheltenham is excellent and the uphill finish should play to his strengths. His trainer seemed quite keen on his Gold Cup claims post-race which is very understandable; however, it is also interesting to remember that after his seasonal debut victory in October Gordon Elliott stated:
“I think the Grand National would be up his street more than the Gold Cup to be honest.
His latest two performances have altered the thinking of his trainer and why not given who he has finished in front of. On the balance of his profile, one would have to suggest that good to soft ground would be better for him than a really testing surface at Cheltenham in March. That said, he did appear to handle the soft ground well at Down Royal in November which suggests all might not be lost if the ground rode very soft at Cheltenham in March.
5th February 2022 – Leopardstown – This was a far better performance than his second-place finish to a 157 rated rival might suggest. The time comparisons with the Arkle show that this was a slow run race with a very strong finish from down the far side to the winning line. This played into the hands of the winner who has the pace for an intermediate trip. Conversely, a real stayer like Minella Indo was seriously inconvenienced by the way the race was run and has done very well to fill second spot.
26th December 2021 – Kempton – He clearly went too fast for his own good and dropped away quickly from the sixth last fence. If we take it that he needed his first run, then this one performance is an easy one to forgive. He is now as big as 8/1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup which looks quite big given how few serious contenders we are likely to see line-up on the day.
Al Boum Photo
28th April 2021 – Punchestown – His awkward jump at the third last and his mistake at the next did not help his chances of catching the leader. He had briefly appeared to be going best immediately after that third last fence; however, the winner was well on top from the last to the line and one would be hard pushed to suggest that his error two out made the difference between winning and losing. He ran below form when getting beaten by Kemboy in the 2019 renewal of this race and maybe was not at his best here either. On both occasions he arrived at Punchestown on the back of a tough battle in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
19th March 2021 – Cheltenham – I suspect there is a perfectly reasonable chance that he has performed up to the level of his two previous wins in this contest. His winning margin over the fourth horse and the rest of the field adds plenty of substance to this supposition.
5th February 2022 – Leopardstown – He jumped the third last fence very fluently and moved into a menacing looking position in fifth spot as a result. He seemed set to play a big part in the finish when getting in far too close to the second last fence. He breasted the fence and lost ground and momentum as a consequence. He then found himself very quickly detached from the rest of the field in last position. From there to the line he made up many lengths to join and head Kemboy on the line for fourth place. On the one hand his finishing effort offers plenty of encouragement for his stamina for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and on the other, the way he got the second last wrong which is on the turn is concerning with some of the fences at Cheltenham in mind. I would not be ruling out his chances in March on the strength of that one mistake; that said, I would still strongly suggest that his best chance of grade one success this season lies in the Punchestown Gold Cup.
26th December 2021 – Kempton – I would mark him up as the best horse in the race on the day the way it panned out for him. He raced next to or just behind Clan Des Obeaux throughout this contest which meant they both raced too close to the brutal gallop. He was briefly outpaced when the pace quickened again at the fourth last fence. He was slow over this obstacle which may have been a blessing given how quickly the horses in front of him went on the turn for home. He still jumped three out in third place alongside the eventual winner who had enjoyed a much kinder trip up until that point of the race. He was in the process of drawing clear of Clan Des Obeaux and closing on Tornado Flyer when he crumpled on landing at the final fence. I doubt he would have beaten the winner if he had stood up; nonetheless, I don’t think there would have been more than a length or two in it which would have meant him finishing at least seven lengths clear of Clan Des Obeaux. He endured a similar trip through the race compared with the Nicholls horse so it is massively to his credit that he would have beaten him by so far.
Asterion Forlonges is clearly a very high-class horse on his day, if not one guaranteed to jump round error free. Previously, he was travelling all over Allaho in the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown when unseating his rider at the third last fence. I thought he stayed the three miles well at Kempton and was more than a little unfortunate to come down at the last. Even at this early stage of the season he looks the one they will all have to beat in the Punchestown Gold Cup assuming this will be his end of season target.
Prior to that, there is the small matter of the Cheltenham Festival and, although his overall form is best when racing right-handed; at the same time, he did jump straight and true when finishing third in the 2021 Marsh Novices’ Chase. The way he appeared to be finishing off his race in the King George Chase might encourage his connections to step up in trip and have a crack at the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
29th January 2022 – Cheltenham – He was on and off the bridle and his jumping lacked fluency on several occasions. After looking beaten even at the third last fence he eventually rallied and found enough to wear down his two rivals. This was a race without much depth and the form he showed here would leave him with an awful lot to find to finish in the first three or four in an average renewal of the Gold Cup. The third horse to finish is a northern handicapper with an elevated rating due to his performances in competitive northern handicap chases. Aye Right would not be sighted in a Gold Cup finish, and I would suggest he would be the most reliable marker for this form.
Chantry House’s final circuit time comparisons with the intermediate chase winner could have added something to this performance. Sadly not, as he was around a second slower than Torn And Frayed from the winning post with a circuit to go until jumping two out. From there to the line Chantry House lost another dozen lengths or more to the 131 rated handicap chase winner. I would not necessarily expect Chantry House to run faster than a horse running over an intermediate trip; nonetheless, a positive comparison would have added something to his performance. The Cheltenham Gold Cup winner can occasionally run faster over the final circuit compared with the winner of the Grand Annual. This may not be a marker of the quality of a Gold Cup winner; however, it may inform us as to how brutal a gallop the Gold Cup winner had to contend with over the final circuit.
4th December 2021 – Aintree – This was a day at Aintree to forgive any apparently disappointing display whilst, at the same time, keep a quiet wary eye on any seemingly out of the ordinary performance. It was more than a coincidence that only two of the ten runners completed the course in the handicap chase earlier on the card. In that contest two horses still seemed to be going okay jumping two out and yet both horses were pulled up before the final fence. In the Grade Two Many Clouds Chase the Paul Nicholls-trained Simply The Betts looked legless even as he entered the straight; furthermore, mud lovers like Native River and Sam Brown were toiling from some way out. As pleasing to the eye as the wide margin winner undoubtedly was, it is also vitally important to recognise that nothing else in the race was able to handle the taxing conditions.
Extreme conditions bring about extreme results which often need to be treated with a fair degree of caution.
12th February 2022 – Newbury – His trainer mentioned her concerns about the word good in the going description before the race. I strongly suspect those concerns came too fruition as he tried his best but lacked the basic speed to close down a horse stepping up in trip. He was level with the eventual winner three out, so he was given every chance if good enough. The winner was only a little slower than Funambule Sivola from three out to the second last fence. Royal Pagaille almost matched the time of Eldorado Allen at this point of the race and will have paid a price for that effort on ground quicker than ideal. The winner also ran a very similar time from the last fence to the winning line as the winner of the Game Spirit Chase which emphasises the difficulty of the task facing the Venetia Williams-trained stayer.
He is an admirably consistent chaser and for the second time he has performed to a decent level on ground faster than ideal. He will hold a chance on heavy ground in any staying chase including the Cheltenham Gold Cup; that said, the Betfair Chase at Haydock is clearly the race that is most likely to show him in his best light if the ground is testing at Haydock in November. He was beaten 22 lengths by A Plus Tard at Haydock on a sound surface which boosts the form of the Irish horse and helps place a marker on the quality of this form.
26th December 2021 – Kempton – This was only his second try over a trip of three miles and one would imagine he will be kept to this sort of distance in the future. I do not think there can be much doubt that the race happened to pan out for him in a very positive way. He was out the back early on in a race run at a ferocious pace. The two leaders dropped away which adds to the notion they both went too fast. The time comparisons with the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase also adds plenty of substance to this supposition. Frodon was around seven or eight lengths quicker from four out to three out compared with Ahoy Senor despite being left behind from first to fifth place at this point of the race. The Nicholls pace setter was then about six seconds slower than Ahoy Senor from the third last fence to the winning post. Likewise, Tornado Flyer was more than a dozen lengths quicker than Bravemansgame from four out to three out and then more than 20 lengths slower than the Kauto Star winner from three out to the line. This was also the part of the race where Tornado Flyer looked most impressive. This is a reflection on how differently the two chases were run rather than a comment about one winner being superior to another.
We have plenty of previous races to consider which all suggest that Tornado Flyer is well below grade one level compared with this one new piece of evidence to suggest he has suddenly improved leaps and bounds for the step up in trip. Whilst it is possible that the extra distance has brought about some improvement; it would be surprising if Tornado Flyer has improved as much as his winning margins in the King George would imply. He is now as short as 8/1 (Non-Runner No Bet) for the Gold Cup and yet on 90% of the available evidence one would have to conclude that his single figure price seriously overestimates his Cheltenham claims at this point in time. If Tornado Flyer does something similar in the Irish Gold Cup at the Dublin Racing Festival, then we may need to take another look at his profile.