» Thoughts on Rupert

Thoughts on Rupert

By Rory King

Thoughts on Time For Rupert’s return to winning ways in a graduation chase at Newbury today … The bare result, a length and a quarter defeat of The Giant Bolster, still leaves him some way short of Gold Cup class. Ladbrokes certainly think so, they’ve eased him out to 25/1 for the Cheltenham feature.

In many ways it was a good run though, and one that puts him back on track for Cheltenham after a rather disappointing run in the Betfair Chase, if the Haydock run even sent him off the track that is. The Betfair Chase was never going to be his race, Haydock wouldn’t suit him, a flat, speed track, and he was rather run off his feet. The race possibly came a bit soon for him too after his encouraging return in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.

Today was much more like it. The big, galloping track at Newbury played much more to his strengths, although still not as much as Cheltenham, and he probably wasn’t particularly suited to having to make his own running, especially into the strong headwind that the runners faced up the home straight. His jumping in his first two novice chases last season had been impeccable, and it was good again here after it had been put under pressure at Haydock. He is nimble and athletic for a big horse, and he was able to deliver a stride whenever he was asked by his new jockey Denis O’Regan. He picked up nicely at the top of the home straight, came up well at the third last and again at the last, and only had to be pushed out on the run to the line to hold off the strong-finishing runner-up. Victor Chandler and Sportingbet are clearly more optimistic about his Gold Cup chances, both firms cutting him to 14/1.

After the horse bled in the RSA Chase and wasn’t able to give his true running, he had to prove this season that he was able to perform at the top level over fences. Having made a perfectly satisfactory return at Wetherby, albeit a non-winning one, the Haydock run left many feeling he was a rung below the best over fences. So today was a big day for connections, not least because of the decision to replace Will Kennedy, hitherto the only jockey to have ridden the horse, with Denis O’Regan. Let’s face it, Kennedy has done very little, if anything, wrong on the horse. If the horse had been beaten today under O’Regan, having as he did upwards of 10lb in hand over his three rivals on official ratings, then not only would it have been hard for connections to justify staying on the Gold Cup route, but it would not have reflected well on them at all having jocked off Kennedy, a jockey whose career is yet to hit the heights it promised as a conditional, but who hoped that this would be the horse to take him to those heights.

So back to the original issue, did Time For Rupert enhance his Gold Cup claims today? I’d certainly be more in the Victor Chandler camp than the Ladbrokes one, that’s for sure. The Giant Bolster is a good horse, an under-rated horse due to his jumping issues, but one good enough to finish sixth to Peddlers Cross in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle a couple of seasons ago, and he started at just 20/1 for the RSA Chase himself last season. O’Regan is one of these jockeys with whom it is hard to tell how much a horse has in hand when they win by a narrowish margin, but he says there was plenty left and I would be inclined to take that view too. He never looked anxious, he only had to push the horse out with hands and heels, and the horse ran on willingly to the line having been out in front by himself the whole way.

Given a bigger field in which he can sit just behind the pace rather than having to make it himself, two and a half furlongs longer, and perhaps more importantly a return to Cheltenham, a track which clearly suits him down to the ground, Time For Rupert is still a big player in the Gold Cup. It is hard to over-emphasize the impact of the track for a horse like this. Newbury suited him better today than Haydock (or Wetherby) did, but Cheltenham clearly suits him far better still. Prior to the RSA Chase last year, in which he probably did remarkably well to get to within sixth lengths of the winner given his problem, he had run five times at Prestbury Park, winning three of them and filling the runner-up spot in the other two. He recorded a higher RPR when coming second to Big Buck’s in the 2010 World Hurdle than Grands Crus did in the 2011 renewal, and yet, in most lists, he is a bigger price for this season’s Gold Cup than Grands Crus, a novice who has had just two runs over fences and who is most unlikely to run in the race this year.

That probably makes Time For Rupert value at 25/1. Whether you think so or not, after Rubi Light on Sunday, it is at least good to see another challenger throwing his hat into the Gold Cup ring, and there could yet be a big shake-up to the Gold Cup picture after the King George.

By Rory King